The Language Gym and deliberate practice.

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Recently, I listened to a Freakanomics podcasts entitled How to become great at just about anything in which the research of Pyschologist Anders Ericsson is discussed; particularly his work on deliberate practice. Ericsson talks about the idea of deliberate practice. This is the idea that practice is more important than IQ when it comes to student outcomes, I mean, how often do we see this at GCSE? The lazy MAT student vs the industrious and driven. Furthermore, practice should be increasingly challenging and allow students to come out of their comfort zone, much like when a bodybuilder increases his weight so that his muscle fibers break under the pressure and grow back stronger; lifting a light weight that he is used to will not allow him to grow. I would like to return to this idea and dedicate a whole blog post to it as I feel it is an interesting subject and goes hand in hand with the idea of desirable difficulty. However, today’s post is about a very useful tool for allowing MFL students to practice conjugation until they can do it with eyes closed, asleep and/or whilst watching the Kardashians.

The Language Gym is a website that allows students to practice conjugating a range of verbs online and against the clock. The programme gives the user an infinitive, a tense and a pronoun and the verb must be conjugate. Furthermore, it keeps your score and so you can compete against others but more importantly; yourself.

The website allows students to make the task more challenging by including a range of tenses, forms and types of verbs (e.g. AR regular, reflexive, stem changing etc…) or they can filter out to hone in on one particular group of verbs. I have also set them challenges, such as a particular combination which I know will take them out of their comfort zone. I often set this as a homework task but this does raise the question of how do we know that they are completing it? I ask my students to share a Google Doc with that has the test type (e.g. group of verbs, tense) the date, the score and the words that they found difficult/got wrong. They can then target those specific words in future homework/independent study to close the gap.

I hope you find this useful, there are other aspects of the website that exist so if you do find something else that you think is interesting or you think of a new way of using the verb gym, then do please comment on this blog post.






The Wheel of Everything

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Recently a company called Barefoot Coaching came into our school to deliver an INSET session on coaching techniques. We learnt a range of techniques but it was the Wheel of Everything that stuck most in my mind and I have since used it in the classroom as an effective way of students providing peer assessment and providing their own steps forward as a result. Also, it is entirely student led so it is definitely what I would consider a high impact (on the student) and low stress (on the teacher) activity.

Below is an image of the worksheet that I have adapted from the Barefoot activity that they carried out with us. I will then explain how it works.

Wheel of Everything 3

When students have completed a piece of writing, they then work in pairs to decide on the factors that make up a good piece of writing (or indeed, it could be used to assess a speaking piece). They then write the factors (e.g. use of opinions) on the outside of the circle, one per section. Students then swap books and complete the evaluation of their partner’s work on the wheel, by drawing a line that connects the two sides of that one section. The closer to the centre of the wheel signifies that the chosen factor is an area for development, and a line draw to the outer edge of the circle shows that the particular factor is a clear strength of the text. Obviously, you can shade or represent it as you like, no need to be constrained by what I’ve suggested!

Once this has been completed, the student hands the book and the sheet back to their partner. Their partner then fills out the rest of the sheet with their three weakest areas for development and devises their own independent steps forward that will improve their writing, as seen below.

Wheel of Everything 2

I have attached the sheet below so please feel free to download, use, adapt or chuck in the bin. Why not comment on the article saying how you’ve used it?

Wheel of Everything for students_1

Feedback – how are you using it?

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During feedback for a recent observation, my observer and I discussed (in true coaching form) the way in which students use feedback in my lessons. Although students in my classroom do make good use of DIRT/green pen marking and other such AfL techniques, the point was that after an activity, what are students doing with the information that they  got 6/10 in a listening test, for example? How helpful is that information to me but most importantly to them? I have always just thought that because most of the class got most of the answers correct then it is fine to move on as ‘they’ve more or less got it’.But…what are they doing with the three or four answers that were incorrect? How are they closing that gap?

In response to this, I have come up with the following vocabulary sheet. This is specific to one situation but can be adapted; I think it would work well for listening activities.

How it is used:

  • Students fill in the test from English to TL, in silence without help.
  • If students finish before the allotted time, they can go through their test with a green pen and fill in the gaps using their books.
  • When students finish mark in green pen (so that they can see visually the words that the knew and those that they didn’t).
  • Ask students to complete a SMART target at the bottom that will be used as part of their homework e.g. “I will create a set of flash cards that includes the green words from my test and revise them as part of my homework by the next lesson”.
  • N.B. I have included a list of vocabulary from throughout the whole topic which reinforces the spiral nature of learning.


  • Include the common unknown words into your lesson planning.
  • Customise a test for each student on their unknown words in the next lesson.
  • Create a whole class resource (e.g. Quizlet) that students could use for homework and upload it to Firefly).
  • Ask students to write their words into a glossary in the back of the book, which they could use to ‘look, say, cover, write and repeat’.
  • Create a bank of common misconceptions that occur and use this to inform your scheme of work.

Below is the first version that I have created, please feel free to give feedback where you think it is appropriate e.g. examples of SMART style targets to guide students.

feedback sheet pic

Download a blank copy Vocab Evaluation Sheet. Please feel free to adapt and change it.


Student character – do students have a stake in the ‘how’ of their own learning process?

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It has been a long held view in my school that learning is a process in which students take part; it is not something that is done to them. Not only should students know what they are learning and why they are learning it, but  how they are learning. Once they are able to hold a stake in this discussion, they are then able learn ‘it’ better.

Essentially, students should be able to self-regulate and plan accordingly. They know best their process of learning and if they are finding a task ‘too difficult’, and then what their natural response is to this situation (e.g. poor behaviour, avoidance or procrastiantion to name but a few responses). Our task is to help students to intervene at this point, so that they manage their own effort levels and approach through meta cognitive strategies. There a number of ways in which students can do this and in future posts I will share some (most of which I have ripped off and adapted from other sources, and will credit accordingly where possible).

Some of our students work hard, very hard, but there is always a way to improve, to work harder and to challenge themselves. Particular texts that deal with this concept are Phil Beadle’s ‘The Book of Plenary‘ (the latter section which talks about meta-cognitive strategies students can use to plan their won learning) and the ‘Growth Mindset Pocketbook‘ by Barry Hymer. The former for its ideas that students should plan for how they learn i.e. if they are to go off task, why is this and what is their plan to be back on task. The latter as I feel that all far too often students are not resilient to failure and miss the opportunity to turn a fail into a First Attempt in Learning.

I feel that, from what I have observed, that often students lack independence and qualities such as grit and resilience; as soon as something is too hard or challenging, that they resort to off task behaviour and then there is lost learning time. There is a host of material which covers this very concept; from a recent Educators Podcast (click here) about the KIPP school in the USA, which teaches character (grit, determination, empathy etc) to Angela Duckworth’s Ted talk “The key to success? Grit” (click here).

In summary, I am starting to drip feed in to my lessons more resources which will allow students the opportunity to manage and regulate their own learning, which in turn will give them the opportunity to develop those key characteristics of grit: growth, resilience, integrity and tenacity. I will make these resources available for all to use, reinvent or ignore and please do feel free to leave any feedback in how they could be work even better!

In this post, I will start with the Effort Level Regulation Sheet that I have produced for KS3 Spanish lessons, which was developed from something which a colleague handed to me (which in turn means it was taken from somewhere else and I therefore do in no way present this resource as entirely my own work). The idea is that they read the effort descriptors and decide at which level they currently are. They write a next step into the box, to which I have responded in a red pen to make sure that targets set are SMART as well as to maintain a student-teacher dialogue. We will then review this at a later date (I did it at the beginning of this half term and will revisit it just before the Christmas holidays to see if students feel there has been a shift in their effort levels).  Click Effort Level Reflection Sheet Spanish to download.

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Quick and simple listening activity

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Quick and simple listening activity.

I wasn’t particularly well prepared for my first Year 11 lesson back from the summer break, mainly as I’m firmly buried beneath avalanche of tasks that I should have found the time to do six weeks previously.

However, in having such little preparation time, I did try a listening activity (inspiration taken from elsewhere…can’t remember where…). Where the student had learnt a range of words today (about school subjects and buildings) I then asked them to close their books and write the word from the list for which I gave a definition in Spanish. They did this on mini white boards and only raise their answer on the count of 3. This meant that students couldn’t copy each other.

e.g. Teacher “Un sitio en que se puede comer durante la hora de comer”

Student writes (hopefully) “el comedor”

Whilst not being particularly earth-shattering, I think this is a good activity because it breaks the need for students to simply answer a question, or tick a box from a CD. It becomes more of an acitivity in both memorising/reinforcing the new words learnt than simply a test. Yes, perhaps the native Spanish speaker on the CD may have a more authentic accent than I do but it does mean that it is easy to react to the class and how easy/difficult they are finding it.

Want to make it more challenging? Why not get students to write a sentence using that word? Or get them to give the definition in the first place.

Using students to lead the lesson.

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Last week, as most of my group were doing and exam in the main hall, I took the remaining part of my year 10 group outside to the playground to do a session on grammar; I thought the sun would make a nice pay off for having to do a whole ninety minutes on conjugation.

However, I was now faced with the dilemma of what I should do with the rest of the group for the next lesson? They still needed practice on grammar, and being as busy as I have been this week I didn’t want to create and entirely new lesson from scratch.

So I decided to try using the six students as student teachers for that lesson. I assigned them four students each and gave them the materials needed to teacher the lesson. Not only did the student teachers lead their groups well and give feedback by marking work and offering support, the other students responded well by completing all of the work,  and behaviour was very good.

It is said that retention moves up to as much as 90% if students engage in participatory learning such as teaching others (Discussion groups and practice by doing comes at slightly less). This is compared to only 5% retention if a lecture style is used[1].

I have no doubt that the student teachers (who had a range of ability profiles) remembered the information taught in the previous lesson as they asked me very few questions regarding the material, and through effective AfL I could see that the other students performed very well.

So, how else could this be used? I am looking now to use this as a model for flipped learning for HATS (High Achieving and Talented Students). I will give them a different homework in which they learnt a concept and then teach it to small groups the following lesson.The teacher can then work in a supporting role. Don’t think they will all do the homework? Why not pair up HATS and so that one could lead the group if the other did not do the work.

[1] Simulations (2015) The Learning Pyramid [online] available from  [accessed 11th of June 2015]

Retention of information as a results of different teaching method
Retention of information as a result of different teaching method

Quick Key – create, scan and automatically mark multiple choice quizzes.

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Create a range of quizzes, exit tickets or “do now” activities using your online account. Students then use the standard paper form (fig.1) to answer the questions, the teacher scans the paper and the results are saved online. It takes an average of two minutes to scan a whole class set of paper tests. Click here for a tutorial video for how to scan the tests.

You can also create online quizzes which students can access via Google Chrome and there is the function to create teams to add an element on competitiveness to the classroom.

Click the following links for video tutorials:

Fig.1 image from

Fig.2 image from

  • Fig.2 how the forms are scanned and a ‘quick view’ of the results
    Fig.2 how the forms are scanned and a ‘quick view’ of the results

    Fig.1 standard 30 question paper form (100 question bet now available)
    Fig.1 standard 30 question paper form (100 question bet now available)