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Using favourite stories for language learning

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Why not dabble in some basic MFL teaching with this lovely article? It has plenty of simple techniques that you can use to get the most from your group’s favourite stories.

Stories are a great tool for introducing a modern foreign language to your Early Years group. Bold illustrations, appealing characters and exciting storylines will grab the children’s attention enabling them to acquire new language effortlessly. New vocabulary can be introduced in an already familiar format, making it much more relevant to the preschool child as it is heard in context. Here are some simple techniques you can use to get the most from your group’s favourite stories.


Keep vocabulary useful

Pick out vocabulary that the children can relate to and use in everyday life. ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ for example, gives plenty of opportunity to talk about family, feelings or rooms in the house.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears - poster


Avoid translation

If you are reading a familiar story there is no need to translate key vocabulary as the children already know what’s happening. Pointing to the relevant illustrations as you read the story will enable your group to make the link between the foreign language they are hearing and the story they know and love. You can still check comprehension by asking simple questions about each page.


Be consistent

Many favourite stories involve a lot of repetition, ideal for language learning. The repetitive format means that children will hear the same words and phrases again and again and can memorize them easily. However, be sure to utilize words and phrases consistently throughout the story. For example the wolf in ‘The Three Little Pigs’ might say, “Let me in”/ “I want to come in”/ “Can I come in?” Each is correct, but choose one and stick with it.

Build with the Three Little Pigs


Bring the story to life

Hold the children’s attention by making the story as exciting as you can. Use different voices and facial expressions for the various characters and alter your tone to convey diverse emotions. In this way, even if your group doesn’t follow every word of the foreign language they will understand the gist of the story and enjoy listening to you read.


Involve the children as much as possible

Language learning should be an active experience so encourage your group to participate in the reading of the story, joining in with simple actions or sound effects. Help the children listen for specific words in the foreign language by giving them props from the story. With ‘Old Macdonald’ for example, each child or group of children could be given an animal. As it features in the story ask the children to stand up and make the appropriate animal noise.

Old MacDonald had a farm poster


The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Eric Carle’s ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ gives plenty of opportunity to talk about life cycles, food, numbers or days of the week. In the following lesson plan we have chosen to focus on fruit, though you can use the book again and again to target different elements of the story. If you are a fluent French speaker we would recommend reading the whole story in French using simple actions to convey the meaning of the various words and phrases. If not, concentrate on the target vocabulary listed below.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar


  • La pomme – apple
  • La poire – pear
  • La prune – plum
  • La fraise – strawberry
  • L’orange – orange


Caterpillar corners

  • Place pictures of fruit on the walls around the classroom.
  • Tell the children that you want them each to stand next to their favourite fruit.
  • Introduce the children to a hungry caterpillar toy or puppet and explain that it’s going to choose a fruit. If it chooses la pomme then the children standing next to la pomme win the game. If it chooses la poire then the children who stood by la poire win, etc.
  • Encourage the children to stand by a different fruit after each turn.
  • Play the game for about five minutes, trying to make sure each child has a turn at winning.

Group activity

  • Play a game of ‘My Grandmother Went to Market’.
  • The first child says, “My grandmother went to market and bought une pomme”.
  • The second player repeats the sentence and adds a new fruit, “My grandmother went to market and bought une pomme and une poire”.
  • As you play the game invite the children to pick up the fruit they’ve chosen and place it in a line as a visual aid for the next player.


Fruit pictures

  • Invite a member of your group to draw a piece of fruit on a whiteboard. Whoever guesses what it is can draw the next picture.


Musical fruit

  • Ask your group to sit in a circle and pass around a bag containing different fruit.
  • Play some French music, (there are a variety of French children’s songs which feature fruit available online).
  • When the music stops whoever is holding the bag takes out a piece of fruit and tells you its name in French.


Song

  • Invite five children to hide a different piece of fruit behind their back.
  • Sing the following song, which translates as ‘Who’s got the orange’, to the melody of ‘The Farmer’s in his Den’:

Qui a l’orange, qui a l’orange,

Ee aye andio,

Qui a l’orange?

  • When the song finishes, the rest of your group try to identify who has l’orange.
  • Whoever guesses correctly can now hide a piece of fruit.


Game

Play a game of ‘Duck, duck, goose’, substituting the usual words with fruit, for example, ‘Prune, prune, fraise’.
  • The children sit in a circle whilst you walk around and tap each child on the head saying, “prune, prune, prune …” until finally calling one child, “fraise”.
  • This child then stands up and chases you around the circle, trying to catch you before you sit in the empty space.
  • If the child catches you before you sit down you play again.
  • If you succeed in sitting down before being caught the new child is now on.


Food tasting

  • Tell the children you’ve brought some fruit into the lesson for them to taste.
  • Ask them if they can help you peel and slice the different items of fruit. (Clementines and satsumas are much easier for small hands to peel than oranges).
  • Check for food allergies before you start the activity.
  • Let the children slice the softer fruit with a blunt knife, but do the trickier fruit yourself to avoid accidents.
  • Encourage the use of target vocabulary by asking the children what they’d like to taste first, which is their favourite fruit, is there a fruit they don’t like etc.


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