Engaging Learners in the Languages Classroom.

 Natascia Servini- Associate Leader and Curriculum Leader World Languages

Tuesday 26th September was European Day of Languages. As we continue to celebrate the cultural and linguistic diversity of our school, we are also aware of the wider context in which we are teaching.  There is a decline in the number of students taking languages at GCSE nationally, so it is more important than ever to hook our students and teach them to love learning languages from an early age.

Here are my top tips for engaging and motivating students that could be applied to any subject:

  1. Use competition and games

I love using games in my lessons: after all, if I’m going to be teaching for 5 hours a day, I want to have some fun too!

The most popular game is ‘splat’ where I have a selection of images on the board that represent a new word; students have to race to touch the correct image when they hear the new word. I have played this game every week of my teaching career to date, and I’m always amazed that students still get excited at the very thought of it.

  1. Technology

Technology is second nature for many of our students. There are numerous ways we can harness their skills and interests in order to enhance their learning experiences. One such way is the app Memrise. My students can’t get enough of Memrise. It’s completely free and an invaluable resource that helps students learn vocabulary. You can even track how many minutes they have spent on it each week. Memrise also has courses for other subjects and if they don’t have exactly what you’re looking for, you can create something of your own.

  1. What’s the point?

The future can be a very abstract concept for young people. Some rarely know what they will want to do in a month, let alone in decades to come. It is therefore vital that everything we are teaching has a purpose and enables our learners to make clear links to real life skills beyond school.

Students also love hearing about their teacher’s lives – why not share how studying your subject has impacted on your life and career?

  1. PIP

Think about the last time a colleague motivated you. Was it because of the positive, encouraging words they uttered recognising your excellent work? How did it make you feel?

In the same way praise has an impact on us, praise also significantly impacts our students. A recent student voice survey conducted at Sarah Bonnell highlighted that the thing most students wanted as a reward over money, sweets or prizes was a phone call or postcard home.

  1. Show your passion!

During my training year, a ‘Teachers TV’ video called ‘The Queen of French Grammar’ really inspired me to develop my passion. The teacher was clearly a skilled practitioner but  what impacted me the most was her comment at the end of the video: “love your subject, love your students”.

I think of this every time I plan and deliver a lesson. As well as this, I believe that a teacher’s classroom environment is crucial. An environment that is bright, tidy, welcoming and includes lots of resources can support students in their learning and help them become more independent. Look around your classroom, what does it say about you and your passion for teaching your subject?


To end,  according to a recent survey by TES, the quality that most students want in a teacher is sense of humour. So start and finish every lesson with a smile and enjoy it!


Collaboration, Group work, Literacy, Oracy

Five Ways to use Collaborative Learning in the Classroom

Nick Bentley-Lead Practitioner 

Follow him on Twitter: @MrBentleyTweets

“What the child can do in cooperation today, he can do alone tomorrow.”  Vygotsky (1986)

I remember the first time I used collaborative learning in my English classroom; during my PGCE year I separated my class into groups to create short role-plays to summarise the five acts of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It all seemed to be going swimmingly until the Act 5 group took to the stage, and inexplicably turned the joyful comedy of the wedding scene into a violent, gruesome bloodbath. I was rather worried about what my subject mentor would think when he spoke to me afterwards. Thankfully, he was pleased with the creativity and comedy that they were able to unpack in a rather different way within the lesson! It supported us to explore the genre of comedy in a fresh way, and I remain very pleased that it happened.

Although I am not entirely sure if this is the kind of learning he had in mind, if we put to one side his gendered use of language, Vygotsky (1986: 188) has outlined a really interesting point about the benefits of collaborative approaches to education. So, I would like to use this post to share five ways of using collaborative learning in the classroom which, though some teachers may be aware of, will hopefully be meaningful for others.

Process Drama

Despite the unexpected twist I experienced during the Midsummer lesson, drama can be a valuable way of encouraging learners to collaborate. Whilst many drama practitioners advocate teaching the subject by focusing on the creation of polished pieces of theatre, Bolton (1986: 22) has instead outlined how drama can be used as a learning medium emphasising “interaction with the objective world at a feeling/thinking level,” naming it ‘Process Drama’. Process Drama allows students to work in groups to explore topics from across the curriculum through drama. Examples of this might include learners creating still images to represent key words and tricky concepts, role-play to act as scientists, mathematicians or journalists and performances to explore poetry, foreign language material and historical texts.

Structured Conversations

Radhakrishna and Ewing (2015:85) have suggested that think-pair-share conversations might “keep students prepared [and] to get more involved in class discussion and participation.” A helpful way of facilitating this increased participation can be structured conversations, which ensure that all students within a class care able to share their points of view, or approaches to completing a task, without one dominating.  It can involve sentence starters, time-limited conversations, or even a “speed dating” approach; ensuring that the interactions learners have with each other are clearly structured, can be a wonderful way to improve the quality of their conversations.

Roles and Responsibilities

A common concern with group work is that students might be passive in their learning, and allow others to do all of the work without making any contributions. Allocating roles and responsibilities to each student within a group can be a helpful way of avoiding this potential pitfall of cooperation in classrooms. Roles and responsibilities can have all kinds of different names – directors, leaders, champions, or even mini-madams to name but a few – but it really can support effective differentiation in the classroom, by ensuring that the learners are each given areas of focus which meet their particular capabilities, interests and needs.

New Groups

In line with Vygotsky’s theory of a Zone of Proximal Development, wherein effective cooperation can mean learners are stretched to reach new understandings, Wells (2000: 58) argues that “dialogue [serves as] a form of collaborative meaning-making in which both individual and collective understandings are enhanced.” So, swapping groups during the lesson can be a helpful way of students sharing and presenting different levels of challenging information to their peers, alternating between differentiated and mixed attainment groups, and developing learners’ social and communication skills across the lesson.


Helpful for developing a positive buzz or atmosphere around the classroom, offering learners the opportunity to participate in a carousel is a fun way to embed collaborative learning. Students work in groups to complete a task at different stations in the room, before swapping to another station, rotating around the whole classroom until all students have worked on all activities. I like to play carousel music to signal to the students that it is time to move around the room, although I appreciate that not everyone would enjoy this approach!

These various forms of collaborative learning can facilitate effective differentiation, social learning and improved communication skills. As Vygotsky suggests, however, an integral point is that by working together, they can stretch their skills into new areas of achievement. Undeterred by my students’ rewriting of Midsummer as a grisly tragedy, I have thoroughly enjoyed embedding collaborative learning in my lessons. Whilst I am sure that many will be familiar with some of the approaches I have described, I hope that some of these strategies can be helpful, interesting and enjoyable for practitioners helping their students learn new skills and synthesise new knowledge.



Bolton, G. (1986). Selected Writings on drama in education.  Essex: Longman Group Limited

Radhakrishna, R. and Ewing, J. (2012) “TPS (Think Pair Share) as an Active Learning Strategy”. NACTA Journal 

Vygotsky, L. (1986). Thought and Language. London: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Wells, G. (2000). Dialogic inquiry in Education: building on the legacy of Vygotsky. In C.D. Lee and P. Smagorinsky (eds) Vygotskian perspectives on literacy research. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press