Magic French Verb Cards
Advance Materials
Jackie Garratt and Pierrette Macdonald
ISBN 978-0-9547695-3-6

Français! Français!
Deutsch! Deutsch!
¡Español! ¡Español!
Carole Nicoll
ISBN 1-905898-00-2 / 978-1-905898-00-8

Primary French Resource File 2
Sally Maynard
ISBN 1-905101-36-8

“…à la française”
Authentik Language Learning Resources
Kristina Tobutt
ISBN 978-1-905275-25-0
Reviewer Evelyne Maynard

Here are four new publications, all of which in their different ways will aid the MFL teacher in delivering the curriculum more effectively at primary level.

Perhaps the least ambitious of the three is the set of so-called ‘Magic Verb’ cards (from Advance Materials, at www.advancematerials.co.uk). These feature sixteen very commonly used verbs (e.g. être, avoir, aller, faire, aimer, vendre, connaître etc.—all the usual suspects), and sensibly restrict themselves to the present tense only. Each verb is presented on a separate card. First, second and third persons are each characterized by a different and distinctive ‘froggy’ cartoon character. Short but fairly wide-ranging (if not terribly inventive) sentences exemplify the verb in use.

There is a magic red ‘see-through’ cover for each card: the pupil puts this on top of the verb, and, hey presto! the French verb-form magically disappears from its sentence, and so has to be supplied from memory.

One can see this being used as an effective little starter activity, or whenever one needs to revise verbs quickly. The set of cards can be used with individual pupils, with pairs, or even with slightly larger groups, and one can conceive of ways in which learners might be encouraged to improvise their own original sentences using those provided here as models.

The overall presentation is reliable and unpretentious: it will ‘do what it says on the tin’, but not much more.

If you are an MFL non-specialist, or a specialist who is intending to focus mainly on speaking skills in French, Spanish, or German, then a series of undeniably useful starter-packs might be Carole Nicoll’s Français, Français; Español, Español; or Deutsch, Deutsch (all published by the Aberdeen-based Language Factory (www.language-factory.co.uk, and all definitely geared towards younger learners). These are discretely topic-based resources (about 30 such topics are covered, closely similar if not quite identical in all three packs). Each pack consists of a colourful book (perhaps a tad too worthy and workmanlike in terms of its graphic design); some decent electronic flashcards (some of them helpfully colour-coded for gender); and, as each pack’s pièce de résistance, a stunningly wide range of songs, raps, and karaoke tracks, together with quirky poems and jokes (mainly recorded by French / Spanish / German schoolchildren, so that they are both authentic and up-to-date). Some fairly basic grammar (e.g. articles, possessives, adjectives, prepositional phrases and basic verbs) is introduced as well. Photocopiable worksheets are provided, together with built-in assessment procedures. Apparently a CD-ROM is also in the pipeline. The accompanying ring-bound books help one find one’s way through the different topics and CDs. Everything has been carefully and systematically thought out and the layout is commendably clear and unfussy.

A far more substantial package, however, comes from the ever-reliable LCP: this is the glossy and colourful Primary French Resource File 2 by Sally Maynard (no relation). This is basically a continuation pack that expands on Resource File 1, and it has many virtues, some of which I will attempt to outline.

Firstly there are the very cogent and helpful lesson-plans, all linked both to KS2 specifically, and to the overall MFL national curriculum programmes of study framework. In addition there are many cross-curricular links, also very lucidly presented. The new vocabulary to be introduced is provided in list-form at the start of each well-defined and carefully designed unit. All this means that the package is extremely teacher-friendly. What else? Where does one start? Well, the large flip-book that has been provided is handy for stimulating creativity, or for introducing each new topic as it emerges. There is a good set of flash-cards. There are excellent suggestions for learning at home. The material is well differentiated throughout, and there is much good extension work. Starters and plenaries are laid on. The worksheets are simple and practical, and very coherently presented. There is a good range of songs. The topics covered include ‘School’, ‘Sport’, ‘Clothes’, ‘Where I Live’ and ‘French-Speaking Countries’. There are two accompanying CDs, the first of which contains the flashcards, the interactive flip-book, as well as other versatile resource files, and the second of which contains the French songs, together with a pronunciation guide.

Among the many strengths of this excellent package is its sheer flexibility: it allows individual teachers to play to their strengths, and to employ the teaching styles that best suit them and their pupils. Everything comes in both formats: the traditional printed format and an electronic one. The same content can thus be sampled in several different ways.

These resources are specifically intended for Years 5 and 6, but prep school teachers will doubtless be able to use them with younger pupils as well.

The fourth item under review is what I would regard as a genuine ‘top-of the-bill’ performer: “A la Française” from Authentik. This truly has star quality. I cannot be the only French teacher who has been dreaming of just such a package for decades—and here it is at last.

What is really exciting about it is that it is based on the sound premise that learning a modern foreign language demands both real content and significant context. Using the language becomes a much more meaningful activity for pupils when it is used as a means to learning some other subject at the same time. The subjects covered here are Maths (numbers up to 100, shapes, mental calculations and currency), Science (comparing animals), Geography (using maps, La Réunion, Europe), Music (recognizing different musical instruments), Art (Matisse, colour and form, designing a model), History (the Vikings in France, and child labour in the 19th century), and P.E. (following instructions).

This would be a valuable pack for both specialists and non-specialists alike, since it is easy to use and highly flexible (one can dip in at any point of entry, and no particular order is necessarily better than any other). Its cross-curricular credentials are impeccable, and it’s inter-cultural as well. There are clear references to the KS2 Framework and to the Languages Ladder. There are explicit and detailed lesson-plans, supported by simple Powerpoints and an audio CD, together with some helpful copy masters. A good range of follow-up activities is provided, as are useful links to websites, and practical suggestions for extension work.

One surmises that the principle behind this praiseworthy enterprise could have been pushed even further in some instances: why just the one French painter, when French art provides so many other worthy candidates? Why not even more paintings? Could the musical content not have been linked with the art content? What about poetry, and the opportunities it would generate for pupil creativity? How about an RS component?

But these are mere quibbles. This is a very welcome addition to the repertoire of anyone teaching French to children aged 5 upwards, and I cannot recommend it more highly.