Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Conjugating verbs with Year 6

Conjugating Verbs

The new Programmes of Study for Languages at KS2 include the following attainment target:

“understand basic grammar appropriate to the language being studied, including (where relevant): feminine, masculine and neuter forms and the conjugation of high-frequency verbs; key features and patterns of the language; how to apply these, for instance, to build sentences; and how these differ from or are similar to English.”

I have been focussing on verb forms with Year 6 and the storybook ‘Par Une Sombre Nuit de Tempête’ is ideal for this. The book is very repetitive, which makes it easy to spot patterns. It is structured along the lines of ‘repeat what has gone before and add a new element’ – the structure for stories like The Gingerbread Man, The Enormous Turnip, Chicken Licken, etc.

I love this book for so many reasons. Here are a few…

1.    The story is all about actions, which naturally makes the verbs the most important elements.

2.    It is what I call a ‘gold dust’ story. These are stories that have simple enough language for Year 6 but are not too ‘babyish’ for them in terms of content. Books like these are not easy to find.

3.    There are numerous examples of onomatopoeia. Year 6 know about this in English but it is fun to compare examples in English and French. For example, the owl hoots but in French “le hibou hulule”. Year 6 and I decided this is far closer to the noise an owl makes than “twit twoo”. You can also compare “craque” and “creaks”, “claque” and “slams” “cliquette” and “rattles”.

4.    The book is full of infinitives, not a part of the verb encountered so often. It is used in the book to form the immediate future e.g. “je vais hululer” / “I’m going to hoot”.

5.    All the verbs (with just one exception) are regular –er verbs.

6.    The story can easily be adapted by the children to create their own versions. For once, they don’t have to stick to merely changing nouns and adjectives but can change the verbs too. As I have said, the book is full of infinitives and that, of course, is the part of the verb that the children will find in the dictionary.

7.    Each time a new verb is mentioned in the story it is in the infinitive e.g. “Alors, je vais danser”. On the following page we meet the same verb but in a question, using the 2nd person singular, when another object in the spooky house asks why this object is behaving as it does e.g. “Balai, pourquoi danses-tu?” (broom, why are you dancing? – the candle asks the broom). In the reply to this question we get the verb in the 1st person e.g. “Moi, je danse”.

Finally, on the following page, we meet the verb in the 3rd person singular when one object is explaining to another what happens every dark and stormy night and what all the other objects do e.g. “Le balai danse” (“The broom danses” - the candle explains to the fire).


If you think about it, this book couldn’t be more ideal for covering the present tense of –er verbs, even it if it had been written for that specific purpose! It hasn’t, of course. It is actually a translation of the English story “Old Devil Wind” by Bill Martin Jr. The children might actually be familiar with the story, having read it lower down the school in English.


So, we have a book that is full of examples of onomatopoeia and examples of regular –er verbs in the infinitive and the 1st, 2nd and 3rd person singular. Given the attainment target mentioned at the start of this post relating to conjugating verbs, this is surely a golden opportunity.


Here is what I did:


1.    We explored the story in the usual ways. I won’t go into too much detail here as this is not a post on storytelling but essentially I read the story aloud and the class joined in with the repeated parts (adding more and more). You can also get groups of children to act the part of each object, with sound effects and actions. You can give individual children pictures to hold up when they hear it mentioned in the story. I gave Individual children sentence strips to wave when they heard that line. Pairs / small groups can then be given a series of sentences to re-order.

2.    Once we were familiar with the story I gave the children a sheet with quotations from the story, such as:

 “Alors, je vais danser.”

“Balai, pourquoi danses-tu?”

“Le tabouret trépigne. Moi, je danse.”

“Alors, je vais trembloter”

“Bougie, pourquoi tremblotes-tu?”

“Le balai danse. Moi, je tremblote.”


The children were asked to underline the verb(s) in each sentence. We did a few together as examples and they very soon spotted the patterns.

We discussed the fact that “vais” needs to be underlined as well as “danser/trembloter/etc” as they are both verbs.

We also discussed the word classes in the sentence “La fenêtre cliquette furieusement”, noting that “furieusement” should not be underlined as it is an adverb, describing how the window rattles. This was great revision for their English work.

3.    Once we had found and underlined all the verbs I asked the children to look for patterns. I made sure that everyone was crystal-clear on the meanings of “je” and “tu”. We then discussed the endings of the verbs that follow “je” (they all end in -e), those that go with “tu” (they all end in –es), those that go with le/la____ i.e. talking about another object (they all end in –e) and those that follow “vais” (they all end in –er).

4.    I taught the children the term “infinitive”. I explained that it was sort of like the title of the verb and was also the part that they would find in a dictionary. I told them that French has 3 groups of verbs-  those that end –er, those that end –ir and those that end –re, but that we were only focussing on the –er group. (I had deliberately omitted the verb ‘gémir’ from the previous exercises and now I told the children why).

5.    Finally, we made a physical representation of the verb, as it would normally be set out. I used the verb “danser” as our example. Volunteers came out to the front to hold large text cards. The person with the “je danse” card stood up, holding it. The person with the “tu danses” card sat on a chair in front of that person. I chose a boy to hold the card “il danse” and he crouched down in front of the seated child. I chose a girl to hold the card “elle danse” and she crouched next to him. In this way, we had 3 different heights from je to tu to il/elle. I asked the tallest child in the class to come out and hold up the ‘title’ – the infinitive “danser”- standing behind the others.

6.    I had covered up the ending of each verb on the text cards using mini post-it notes. I asked the rest of the class to predict what the hidden ending was in each case. Some knew already whilst others used their worksheet for reference. (It helped that all the verbs had been underlined).

7.    When all the endings had been revealed, I asked the children which part of the verb they thought was normally referred to as the “1st person” – he, you or I? They all said “I”, which was great because it showed that it made logical sense to them. Similarly, ‘you’ seemed to make sense as the 2nd person and then “he/she” referring to a 3rd person.

8.    Finally, we read the phrases aloud, in order, starting with the infinitive (“title”). I set them the challenge of trying to remember the term ‘infinitive’ for next week.

There is still a lot more to do. We are going to work on the plural forms so that we have the whole verb. Once we have the whole thing in physical form (the way it is set out in books) the children will copy it into their French books. (I think their Year 7 teachers in September will be pleased they are familiar with this).

There are some more creative activities too, though. We are going to create some leafy verb branches (a craft activity) and we’ll also be doing a rap/ chant / dance.

I’ll keep you posted!

Thursday, 8 January 2015

La Fête des Rois

La Fête des Rois

Epiphany is an important celebration in many European countries and so I decided to share this with my French classes today (our first French lesson of the year).
With Year 3 I shared the traditional song “J’aime la galette” and with Year 5 I shared the well-known story “Roule Galette” (if you don’t know it it’s just like the Gingerbread Man). With both year groups I told the children about La Fête des Rois in France and then everyone got to try a piece of the galette I had made.

I’m sharing the details of what I did as it might be useful to someone who has thought about covering this celebration but hasn’t yet. It is definitely not too late as, apparently, in many countries, the celebrations go on until the start of Lent!

Here is a link to the song “J’aime la galette”. Year 3 picked it up so quickly. I found the best way was for me to sing a line and for them to echo it. There are only 4 lines of words. We then sang the “tralala” bit together. This was just enough in a 30 minute lesson in addition to the explanation of La Fête des Rois, the galette and the fève and then the cutting and serving of the galette at the end.

I also wished the children Bonne Année and wrote this on the board. One child noticed the acute accent on Année and we compared this to the word café, which they already knew. I pointed out that, although it means Happy New Year, there are obviously only 2 words instead of 3 so it can’t mean that exactly. This was an opportunity to point out that things don’t always translate word for word and are said a bit differently another language. I explained that it literally means “good year” and we compared this to other expressions with “bon /bonne” such as “bonjour” and “bon anniversaire”. Once they knew that “bon” meant good I told them they could use it to describe the galette at the end of the lesson “c’est bon”.

I had made one galette per class (6 in total). I found a nut-free version on a French website and there is a link to it here. I explained to the children that it would traditionally be made with frangipane (containing almonds) but they were thrilled to discover that their version was made with chocolate instead! It was actually very simple to make. I used Jus-Roll puff pastry and used a dish as a template to cut each sheet into a circle. (I found a dish that was the same diameter as the width of each rectangular sheet). The chocolate filling is then fairly simple to make (melted butter, melted chocolate, sugar and eggs). Spreading it was trickier! I found that it was better to make the filling first and let it cool down and thicken while I did the pastry (otherwise it was too runny). Even so, I need to use a flan dish rather than a baking sheet.

As for the fève…. I hadn’t been able to buy any proper ones in time so I used a traditional dried bean. This was very small and wouldn’t be a choking hazard and would also be edible if accidentally swallowed. Having done this now with 6 classes I have to say it was only semi-successful. Only 2 classes found the fève. I suspect that it had started to cook and soften a little and was too hard to spot in the other galettes. I’ll use porcelain figures next year. Alternatively, you could use a jelly bean but remember to insert it after cooking the galette, not before (as I stupidly did with my first attempt!!).

You can decorate the top of the galette with any pattern. I did some with a lattice-work pattern but then my daughter remembered we had a crown-shaped cookie cutter, which we used to make imprints in the top.
I presented each galette with a crown on the top. Whoever found the fève got to wear the crown. I found some at Hobbycraft that were thick foam with gold glitter and which were fully adjustable. They are sturdy enough that we'll be able to use them again next year.

The story I shared with Year 5 was “Roule Galette”. It is a traditional tale, which we compared to The Gingerbread Man. A few children remembered the story as it had been read to them in Year 3 or 4 (it is part of the Catherine Cheater scheme of work for Y3). However, I wanted them to participate in the telling of the story. First of all I took the song that the galette sings in the story and gave a different line of the song to different groups of children. There were 5 groups and the lines were as follows…

Group 1 “Je suis la galette, la galette”

Group 2 “Je suis faite avec le blé…”

Group 3 “…ramassé dans le grenier”

Group 4 “On m’a mise a refroidir”

Group 5 “mais, j’ai mieux aimé courir.”

Some lines are harder than others so I differentiated it where possible. We also added actions. The actions we did were…

Je suis = point to yourself

la galette = draw circle in air

le blé = hold up imaginary piece of wheat

ramassé = mime gathering with your arms

le grenier = hands over your head in a roof shape

refroidir = shiver and rub arms

mais = wave index finger in air (one sharp movement as if saying no)

courir = running action

The last line of the song we all said together “Attrape-moi, sit u peux” but we said it with attitude (as one boy described as a ‘nah nah ne nah nah’ voice) as I thought the galette was portrayed in the story in that manner.

Once we had practised saying these various lines, with me ‘conducting’ the groups, it was time to read the story. I read it aloud, cutting out little bits here and there and translating occasionally so they followed it. I got the children to guess as many words as possible, such as ‘forêt’ and it was surprising how many words they knew from other contexts. Each time the galette met a different animal I read it out but didn’t show the picture and then got the children to tell me which animal it was. They remembered ‘lapin’ and ‘renard’ from our woodland animals theme last term.

One of the great things about this story is that it is very repetitive and each time the galette meets an animal he sings his song, at which point I got the children to say their lines and do their actions in their groups. This broke it up nicely so that they didn’t have to listen for too long before they were doing something. By the time we reached the end they knew the song / rhyme pretty well.

There are many things you can pick out of this story. For example, I pointed out that the fox managed to trick the galette by using flattery and that that happens quite often in stories. We then compared it to some of Aesop’s Fables such as the Fox and the Crow.

The funniest part (or the “ewww” moment, depending on your point of view) is at the beginning of the story when the little old woman has no flour. The little old man sends her up to the attic to sweep the floor and find some grains of wheat to make into flour…which she does!   I was quick to reassure the children that I had not used that method to make the galette they were about to try!!

I would definitely recommend this story. I would also recommend the nut-free galette recipe I used. Out of 166 children only 4 didn’t like it! Success!

My funniest moment of the day was in my first Year 5 lesson this morning when I had just told the children that I had made them a cake. One boy put up his hand and asked, “Madame Prince, is it edible?” J