22 January, 2017

Decoding skills

In Spring 1 all the year groups are learning about environment in class. We have linked our language lessons to the topic of each year group and we have just started with our subject lessons taught in French.

In the CLIL lessons, the pupils are using the language in a meaningful context, which makes them incredibly motivated and interested in the lessons. Because they are studying the same topic, the children can make connections and they consolidate their learning. 

This week we have been discussing language learning strategies and more specifically, decoding skills: how can you guess the meaning of new words? what helps you decode new vocabulary and in this case, scientific vocabulary?

Year 6 watched an authentic video about the water cycle where the different stages are explained and the name of each is displayed in French. Most of the names of the stages are cognates, but the children had to guess the meaning of ruissellement and évapotranspiration; they also had to reflect on how their decoding skills helped them to know these scientific words.

Year 3 have been learning the names of recyclable materials in French. Then, they watched this episode of Peppa Pig.

I stopped the episode when the mum explains what you put in each of the recycling bins (poubelles de recyclage) and they had understood very well, even if there were new words that they didn´t know, like journaux, bouteilles, etc. Then, I stopped the video when Peppa and his family go to the recycling centre (la déchetterie) and they fed back to me what was happening in the episode.
When I asked the children how could they understand a whole cartoon in French they told me that they could understand because of my actions, the images and recognising familiar vocabulary in the video, like the colours and the names of the recycling materials they had just learnt.

Year 4 have started learning about the different types of pollution. This year they are not learning this in class, so I had to show them some pictures, explain the type of pollution in French and do some actions to reinforce my explanations. In pairs, I asked the children to tell their partner what was happening in the picture and how they would say in in English. In a CLIL lesson, we can move from the target language to English to check the pupils understanding and then go back to teach in the target language.

After understanding each type of pollution and translating it in English, I asked the children to compare the French and English forms and tell me what they noticed about the order of the phrases. This may be obvious for us, language teachers and linguists, but our pupils need to reflect on how language works to acquire language skills that they will be able to use when they go to secondary school and in the future.

These were just the first lessons of the unit and the following lessons the vocabulary will be more complex, the children will learn new grammar concepts and structures and they will manipulate language independently.

It is true that CLIL lessons are cognitively more demanding, and the thinking skills are higher as pupils are not just learning and remembering new vocabulary, but they are analysing, reasoning and putting the language into context. The children love the challenge, they enjoy deconding and using context clues to access meaning.

As a teacher, I really enjoy teaching French lessons linked to Science, History and Geography and I believe that learning structures and specific vocabulary through CLIL can provide a valuable platform for progression. Planning these lessons involves researching for quite a few authentic materials and the resources have to be created from scratch, but I think it is worth it after noticing the fantastic motivation and progression of the pupils.

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