Michaela French – How we use Knowledge Organisers

Knowledge Organisers are central to the French curriculum at Michaela.

What’s in them?

Each knowledge organiser is a text of around 25 short lines. The text is made up of around 10-15 full sentences on a variety of topics. The text is predominantly high-frequency vocabulary and structures that can be recycled in a wide range of contexts. We focus on PROFS (Past, Reasons, Opinions, Future, Subjunctive) and PIE (Proverbs, Idioms, Expressions). Here is an example from year 7.

We use full sentences so that pupils get used to seeing the language in context – as a result, when they come to write themselves, they find writing full sentences very easy. They also get used to the syntax of French, which is aided by the translation into dodgy English. They are crystal clear on the meaning of every word.

We try, as much as possible, to pitch the language very high, in the knowledge that pupils have plenty of support and scaffolding. The language is authentic, and meaningful, and interesting, and fun. It is written and reviewed by subject experts – the Michaela French team.

We have experimented with presenting the KOs in the form of questions and model answers. Here is an example from year 8. The downside is that pupils then see the language as specific to that question; they also miss out on the story-like element of the longer text, which serves to enhance their memory of the language.

How do we use them?

We begin by reading them aloud in lessons. The teacher reads and pupils follow, sheets flat, reading with a ruler. They hear excellent pronunciation modelled. They then read out loud, and correct one another wherever mistakes are made in pronunciation. We read for expression, projection, articulation and, of course, understanding. We use CUDDLES to draw attention to particular phonics, patterns and meanings. Teachers (and often pupils) create mnemonics to help with the memorisation of different words. We repeat this process regularly.

As time passes (we would usually focus on one text per half term), we would do more with the text. We manipulate the language within the text based on the grammatical patterns that pupils have learned. For example, if the text says ‘j’ai fait mes devoirs’, we would then conjugate to ‘il a fait ses devoirs’, ‘elle a fait ses devoirs’, ‘ils ont fait leurs devoirs’ and so on. We might cover the English and translate from the French to the English, and then do the reverse. We might practise negative forms, or change verbs from ‘j’aime’ to ‘je déteste’ etc. It is the springboard for a huge amount of practice.

We create several different versions of the organiser, in order to promote complete understanding and memorisation. We may present the French with the vowel combinations replaced by asterisks; the next version would have only the initial letters of each French word and perhaps the number of letters for each word and a cue for accents. The next version would only have initial letters, and the final version might only have a few cue words from the English. These additional practice versions take all of 10 minutes to create when the original organiser is made.

We can then substitute in other vocabulary. We can do translation sentences based on the text and other, previous texts that pupils have learned. We can do dictations and transcriptions of similar material. Pupils can do ‘freestyle’, ‘creative’ writing, but always based in the secure knowledge of some excellent French that they use as a model, that they can mimic.

Homework and Quizzes

Pupils use the Knowledge Organisers for their homework. Each week they complete one A5 page of Self Quizzing on a section of the knowledge organiser. The quantity (how many lines?) and nature (particularly tricky phrases?) set can depend on the capacity of the class. Pupils are encouraged to read aloud as they write, to CUDDLE carefully, to quiz themselves regularly, for 10 minutes at a time, in order to embed the language. When they do their quizzing, they begin by copying letter by letter to promote accuracy. Later on, when they know the language better, they can take a more Look/Cover/Write/Check approach.

Each week, after pupils have done their homework, they will be set a quiz on the lines that they have learned, as well as recapping previous organisers, or practising de-contextualised HFV (high frequency vocabulary). The recapping of previous material is very important, as it impedes the forgetting curve.