What do snow and learning a language have in common?

what have snow and learning a language have in common?

This December we’re pleased to have Vincent Everett sharing his festive ideas on the Teaching Languages Today blog.

I remember, one winter’s day, taking a frustrated pupil out of a French lesson to cool off a bit by walking round the school site. It was just after a “snow day” and I think he would still have preferred to be at home. The conversation developed into an extended metaphor comparing his level of French to the now melted snow. The pupil had been in all the lessons when the French was happening, but hadn’t made enough of an effort to grab hold of some language, roll it into a snowball, make it his own and start having fun with it. As a result, all his French had melted. The metaphor became one we use as a department. The teachers give pupils the message that it is their own responsibility to stop their French melting, but also we have to make sure that the curriculum gives them more and more language that all sticks together so their snowball gets bigger and bigger.

In Key Stage 3, this means developing a repertoire of language which can be deployed across topic areas. In this blog we look at the kind of activities we use in order to develop longer and more spontaneous answers. “Keep Talking” activities offer a scaffolded approach to speaking tasks which permit students to personalise and extend, while also providing a structure which can be practised over and over again until growing confidence allows the support to be withdrawn.

Resource 1 is a “Keep Talking” scaffolding Spanish activity with a Christmas theme, but which is easily adapted to all topics.

If your pupils are used to giving opinions, justifying them, talking about past and future, and are familiar with the vocabulary, they can navigate the sheet from the start of the lesson. If they are unfamiliar with the language, the easiest thing to do is to give them a version of the sheet with the English supplied next to the Spanish. Start the lesson by asking them to delete any English help they don’t need. Then periodically throughout the lesson ask them to remove more of the English they can do without.

Following the boxes in order, it can be used to generate answers such as:

Me gusta pasar la Navidad en la casa de mis abuelos con mi familia porque puedo comer demasiado, aunque tengo que comer coles de Bruselas. El año pasado fuimos a España entonces este año quiero tener una Navidad tradicional. No me gusta pasar las vacaciones en un hotel…

I like to spend Christmas in my grandparents’ house with my family because I can eat too much, although I have to eat sprouts. Last year we went to Spain so this year I want to have a traditional Christmas. I don’t like to spend the holidays in a hotel…

Pupils work in pairs using the “Keep Talking” sheet. Partner A’s job is to focus on constructing a coherent answer. They tell Partner B what to say, in English, box by box. Partner B uses the sheet to simultaneously give the translation for each chunk into Spanish. The emphasis here is on the fact that thinking up a coherent answer is more of a challenge than saying it in Spanish.

When pupils appear to be unable to speak in the target language, often it is because the cognitive load of thinking up what to say, and how to say it, and how to make it good, and how to avoid mistakes… is all too much to cope with. Splitting the task means one pupil is working on thinking up what to say, and the other is working on the Spanish.

The ultimate aim of the lesson is to move towards greater autonomy and spontaneity. To do this the teacher needs to create a situation in which the pupils are less dependent on their partners feeding ideas to them and less dependent on using the “Keep Talking” sheet. They could practise over and over with the same partner, but it is far better for them to work with a series of partners in a Speed Spanish version of the same activity. Each new partner challenges the pupil to say something slightly different in Spanish. Pupils should keep talking until the teacher moves them on to the next partner. They can follow the boxes on the sheet round more than once, building longer answers. As the activity goes on, the teacher encourages the pupils to look at the sheet less and less, turning it over and only looking when they need to. At the end of the lesson, pupils return to their original partner, and see if they can talk independently about how they like to spend the holidays.

As an alternative, you could add extra Christmas activities to the verb boxes on the sheet, or adapt it for talking about Christmas traditions in the target-language country. Use the same activity and core of language when you move onto other topics, replacing the Christmas language with the infinitives, people and places suitable for your new topic. That way, pupils are building up their snowball of language, having fun with it, and stopping it from melting away.

And finally, here is a Christmas present for French teachers. Resource 2 is a Letter generator worksheet is another scaffolding activity, this time using dice to write a letter to Father Christmas.


Use it to generate letters such as:

Cher Père Noël, 

Cette année donnez-moi de l’argent parce que je ne veux pas une paire de chaussettes et j’ai été sage. Par exemple je n’ai pas jeté des bouts de papier aux profs et j’ai laissé une carotte pour Rudolph.

Dear Father Christmas,

This year give me money because I don’t want a pair of socks and I have been good. For example I haven’t thrown bits of paper at the teachers and I have left out a carrot for Rudolph.

The random nature of using a die means that students may end up creating some very strange combinations of phrases so you may want to remove the element of chance from some boxes. Alternatively, students may enjoy having a competition to see who generates the silliest letter to Santa!

Merry Christmas!


About the author

Vincent Everett is Head of Languages at a school in Dereham, Norfolk. He is also the author of the Oxford AQA A Level Spanish Grammar and Translation Workbook.

2 thoughts on “What do snow and learning a language have in common?

  1. Nice blog about snow and learning languages, today a group of fellows have discussion that it opens a space in our brain that how we can achieve some thing big y learning many languages.

  2. A unique Topic with a Unique Explanation I Personally like it , very Touchy and Motivating Post.

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