Pass The Pigs – A Classroom Game To Bring Home The Bacon

10 years ago, I tried out a game on the Internet which a colleague recommended. Little did I know that, all these years later, it would prove to be a classroom phenomenon and the ‘1 small thing’ which is universally popular among my classes.

It really is very simple and can be found at the hyperlink below.

As you may be aware, Pass The Pigs involves taking turns rolling two pig figures. Depending on how they land, you score points. Bank the points if you wish, or continue to roll, but beware, because one particular combination will lose you any points gained in that round.

I usually play boys versus girls and it serves as the catch-all ‘plenary’ at the end of most lessons, with heightened levels of excitement among all classes of whatever age. If a question about the learning from the lesson is answered correctly, the team gets to roll (and then accumulate points as described above). If they answer incorrectly, you show them ‘what they would have scored’ by continuing to roll until they lose all points for the round. (This can be a particularly painful experience for the team concerned!)

It can be customised to suit any time length (from sudden death one-rounders, to the full marathon ten-round version). I like to keep a tally of the overall score of matches won throughout the year, which adds a long-term view and again, heightens the anticipation, especially with a small prize for each member of the winning team.

I thoroughly recommend it. Give it a try. Ham it up! (You’d be far rasher than me to try to avoid it).

By the way, if you ever roll a 60-point ‘double leaning jowler’, let me know.

(I’ve only managed one in 10 years).

pass the pigs


Picking Up The Lingo: My Ghana Challenge

I simply could not resist.

As a teacher of languages, the opportunity to try my hand at a new language was irresistible. So, whilst in Ghana during February half-term, I made sure that I tried to get to grips with Twi, the lingua franca of the country (other than English of course).

When faced with this new linguistic challenge (and with a limited amount of time), and after the initial foray into basic greetings, I sought out the following:

1) Verbs, 2) Connectives, 3) Tenses and 4) Opinions

I bang on in class about Vital Verbs and Nowhere Nouns, but found it to be true when I found myself in the position of a ‘beginner language learner’ again. (My note book soon became awash with infinitives).

Not only this, but my fascination for the differences between languages was kindled once more. Similar to Mandarin (I think), the infinitive of the Twi verb also acts as each part of its conjugation. Very economical and very sensible, in my opinion.

‘Di’ is the verb to eat.

‘Me di’ is therefore ‘I eat’.

‘Me pe’ is like.

However, to say I like to eat, it’s ‘Me pe se me di’ (I like to I eat)

In five days, I was only going to get a short distance, but I was always keen to try out my few words on anyone who would listen. I was unconcerned about making mistakes – much more unconcerned than if I had been speaking languages that I supposedly speak with greater competence.

All in all then, a great experience. Mostly because, as a linguist, there is no more natural position to be in than that of a language learner.


Blog Of A Visit to Ghana: Part 5 – The Future

With my trip to Ghana now more than two weeks in the past, the metaphorical dust has settled and I have had time to reflect on my visit.

Ghana newspaper pic 2015

It was definitely a major step forward on two fronts:

1) Students are now involved more directly with the work of the partnership.

2) As staff, we have a jointly-crafted action plan for the future, which may culminate (by is not entirely dependent on) a full student and staff exchange in 2017.

My aim now is to continue to publicise the partnership in school and draw students into our work together. I conducted an assembly with Year 9 on Friday and held an impromptu Ghana Group meeting after school today for the students who wanted to hear more. Further assemblies are planned.

Hopefully, the future will bring many more opportunities similar to the one pictured below.


Reflections on #ililc5: Baking mad

I count myself fortunate enough to have people such as BBC New York correspondent Nick Bryant (he went to my primary school) and Wendy Smith (member of the best pop group in the world, Prefab Sprout) among my followers. How I have not managed to lose them (and countless others) over the last 3 days is (frankly) beyond me, as my timeline has been swamped with my tweets from #ililc5 in Southampton, which must have most of the 26% of my followers who are not language teachers either scratching their heads or shaking them in despair (or both).

#ililc5 is the annual ICT Links Into Languages Conference which brings together all those who are passionate about languages and even more passionate about teaching our young people about them through the medium (when entirely appropriate, of course) of ICT.

This year’s extravaganza was eagerly anticipated and gave yet another opportunity for us all to renew or initiate real-world incarnations of virtual friendships, as most of us are connected via the #mfltwitterati on Twitter.

Without too much unnecessary detail, I wanted to share my thoughts on the weekend (which are just about settling in my head now, following 24 hours or more of swirling around)

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Keynote: Capturing The Zeitgeist- Joe Dale (@joedale) – the curator of all things #mfltwitterati provided another informative and thought-provoking journey through all that has been happening this year in the world of ICT and language-learning (unabridged Flipboard link). As someone particularly interested in the impact of on-line collaboration and PLNs, the research into the effect of the #mfltwitterati undertaken by Fernando Rosell-Aguilar (@FRosellAguilar) was fascinating. Joe also encouraged us to sketch – so I did … and the result is above!

Take-Away Homework: James Gardner (@Langnut) – the chance to find out more about this alternative take on a thorny issue. James was honest enough (thank you for this) to share the good, the outstanding and the disappointing results of an approach which gives the students more choice in the homework activities that they have. Can we ever reach the point where students WANT to do homework? I think we can, to a certain degree, if the right types of tasks are on offer. Take-away homework is one avenue that can help.

Get Crafty: Clare Seccombe (@valleseco) I firmly believe that there is an arty primary teacher in me that is trying to get out. That’s why I love Clare’s sessions. They are jam-packed to the rafters with ideas that can easily be transposed into the secondary classroom, like the mini-books idea which I took on board and used after #ililc4. This year, try door hangers, bookmarks, bunting and board games (just for starters), with templates and further fun ideas to be found at the LightBulb Languages web site.

Fabulous Formative Assessment: Rachel Smith (@lancslassrach) Considering the tech issues that we had at the start of this session (oh yes, it’s great when it all works, but a sod when it doesn’t), I was amazed by how much ground Rachel was able to cover in the time that we had, taking us through hands-on demonstrations of Kahoot, Answer Garden, Nearpod, Educanon and Plickers. I liked the immediacy and fun of Kahoot with the added bonus of being able to download the results for further analysis and subsequent reflection.

Talking Walls: Ceri Anwen James (@CeriAnwen) This was the most ‘magical’ session as we had the chance to try out and then create our own examples of Aurasma. This is an app which literally brings pictures to life (in pure Harry-Potter-esque fashion). Ceri showed us how she had used this in the context of her school in Cardiff and then let us loose on creating our own. Within a few minutes, my Arsene Wenger photo had a video of me mystically hovering over it, telling the pragmatic Frenchman that he should really go to Specsavers if he wants to see some of the incidents involving his players on the pitch which he claims to be unaware of.

The evening saw a more informal side to the #ililc5 gathering: the Show and Tell at the Highfield Hotel. A time for dancing and singing, eating and drinking …. but still (just about) maintaining a level of decorum appropriate to our profession (ahem)

There were many gems: Ceri Anwen James’s Song (Fliegerlied), Alex Bellars (@bellale, with a more than a little assistance from Mrs B – MrsBellacat) and ‘Le jeu de l’oie’ board game, Julie Prince (@PrinceLanguages) and The Porter Song (to the tune of the National Anthem!), Lisa Stevens’s (@lisibo) wonderful Chocolate Choco Choco Song, Daniel Cooper (@d_ewc – glad to see the Twitter handle is shorter now, Dan!) with the Great Spanish Grammar Off, Jo Rhys Jones (@jowinchester) with ‘Les Pouces En Avant’ and Rory Gallagher (@EddieKayshun) using YouTube to engage students and then exhibiting his own inimitable dancing to ‘crown’ the evening.

Sunday saw one or two late risers but we were back for more by 9am!

Keen and Connected: Vanessa Burns (@nessalovesshoes) This was part 2 of a 2-session series, but I was glad I joined for this one, because it re-united me with an old friend, namely Edmodo: the site where students and teachers can meet securely online to share resources, communicate and collaborate. I also re-visited the potential for QR codes through the use of QR code generator These quirky, dotty designs are so powerful and make vital sites and information accessible at any time. I can see the potential for using more of them in my room. Then there was the ‘Snipping Tool’ application in windows – one of those (for me, anyway) ‘insider’ secrets which comes as something of a ‘wow’ revelation when you discover it!

Google Apps for the Classroom: Jo Rhys Jones (@jowinchester) I’m only slowly discovering the potential for Google (and its myriad of components) for the classroom, so this session was particularly enlightening. I tried out Google Sites, Google Forms and Google Classroom for the first time with Aurelie Charles (@aurelagazel) as my buddy to help me when I got stuck. The way that Jo’s school has harnessed and then applied the Google resources is superb and the quality of work on show from her pupils is fantastic. My thought is that the key to success here is being a ‘Google’ school and approaching this with a whole-school perspective. Sure, you can use everything as an individual teacher, but only when the whole school is doing it the ‘Google’ way, will the full benefits be reaped, IMO.

Now There’s A Challenge: Eleanor Abrahams (@elvisrunner) – A real learning experience, this one. Eleanor crafted this session really well, putting us in the position of students, as we compared our own (rather amateur, speaking personally) solo efforts at drawing eyes to 5 different levelled examples of eye drawings, and then sought to improve our own version by learning from what we could see in these examples.

5 levelled examples

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My attempt before …

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and after looking at the examples …

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In short, students do not all need to be shown an A* example of work to inspire them. In fact, for most, this will be demotivating. They need examples of staged progression, so that they can find something that is just above their current level and aim for that, in the first instance. Eleanor then showed how differentiation works at her school, with different colours designating differing levels of ability. Activities are then similarly colour-coded, so that students can aim for achievement at an appropriate level, but equally could aspire to achieve more than this by going for an activity in a colour band above their own. She pointed to a new wave of differentiation, where ‘creativity is king’

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Full details of Eleanor’s workshop can be found in this entry on her blog

Kicking Dependence: Rachel Smith (@lancslassrach) Ever felt like a walking dictionary? (Yes). Then this session gave strategies to enable us to make students work harder and take more ownership of their learning rather than falling back on the ‘learned helplessness’ that many of them exhibit so readily (and, let’s be honest, we encourage). So, in short, be the guide. Don’t give students the answers, but provide them with all the support materials they need to be able to find the answers, whether it be dictionaries, wall (or window) displays or learning mats. Get your students to SNOT – go to Self, Neighbour, Other and ONLY THEN to the Teacher in search of assistance. Use QR codes to give students link to support. Give away all your teaching materials, making them available online for students to access. Set your classroom up in a way that encourages student collaboration. Again, lots of practical ideas.

Key note: Cooking On Gas – Lisa Stevens (@lisibo) Food, glorious food. Cupcakes, cracking cupcakes. A great finale to our time together saw Lisa ask us to think about what the ingredients are in our lessons. Do these ingredients always bring the same results? Are we star bakers, drawing out a show-stopping performance when required for an observation, or are we consistently good on a daily basis (which is my own personal definition of an outstanding teacher)?

Just as recipes sometimes go inexplicably wrong, so do lessons. If we try something once and it goes awry, that does not mean that we have put the whole thing in the bin. Persist. Re-group and try it again.

Who are your languages heroes? The ones who have inspired you to press on in your language-learning or language-teaching quest? Mike Sadler (Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School, Sutton Coldfield during my time there – 1980-86) was mine. Remember, each one of us is doing great work in our classrooms day in and day out. The right people may not walk in at the right time to see you in action, but they are not the important ones – the students are.

Thank you Lisa – and thank you for the cupcakes – the ginger ones were great.

So, what will I take away from this weekend?

Well, a whole headful of ideas are bursting for priority to get out. However, experience (this is only my 2nd ililc) has taught me that you have to start small, so my aims are:

1) Use Today’s Word in my classroom (from Eleanor’s session)

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2) Re-boot my Edmodo profile with one class

3) Try Kahoot

4) Look back to this blog when I have tried numbers 1-3 for more great ideas

Thanks to all those who made the weekend possible notably Zena Hilton.

Until #ililc6 …

Live Long And Prosper


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Blog Of A Visit to Ghana: Part 4 – The Partnership

One of the aims of my visit was to update the partnership plan between our two schools.

We have had an active partnership now for more than 6 years, but keeping the relationship between us bright and sparky is always a challenge, as life is so hectic at both ends. Our partnership plan has only really been updated once in the past 2 years, so was in need of an overhaul. Sat with the new head teacher and the key staff in the school, we drew up the following action points which were then distributed amongst staff both in the UK and in Ghana.

1) Regular contact – minimum of once a month via Skype and more regularly via email

2) Publicity – each school to publicise details of the partnership (including project updates and news) in newsletters and on a dedicated area of the UK web site.

3) Display area in school dedicated to partnership which is updated with new material regularly.

4) Schools to develop logos for the partnership which can be used in displays / publicity material.

5) Language awareness to be raised in the UK with signs in school building in Twi.

6) Develop use of an online environment where students can communicate quickly, safely and effectively (Google Classroom?).

7) Engage students in the project through a range of cross-curricular collaborative projects.

8) Plan for future reciprocal exchange opportunities for both staff and students.

This was a most productive part of my visit. The meeting was optimistic for the future of our work together, which I shall look at in the last part of this blog series.

To come in Part 5 – The Future



Blog Of A Visit to Ghana – Part 3: The Results

In Part 2 of my blog series, I shared the outlines of the projects that I took out to our partner school in Ghana last week. After 5 days working in the school and with an excellent level of support from the staff there, I came away with some fantastic work to share with my students and staff here in the UK.

Here are some examples:

English: Students in Ghana had chosen poems about Africa from an anthology, memorised them and then performed them with a carefully chosen backdrop and in appropriate costume. Here are two examples:

Art: Some examples of work that students in Ghana produced.

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Business: Powerpoint presentations with business plans were produced and have been brought back for analysis by UK students.

Music: Interviews about percussion and demonstrations of their use have been recorded. The choir were videoed singing both the Ghanaian National Anthem as well as the School Anthem (see below)

Geography: Students in Ghana produced work detailing their ‘Fantastic Places in Ghana.

The aim is now for our students in the UK to respond to these project outcomes and for dialogue to start between our two schools. We are looking at the use of shared areas on Google Classroom and Google Drive to assist us with this.

To come – Part 4: The Partnership


Blog Of A Visit to Ghana – Part 2: The Projects

As you saw from Part 1, one of my key aims for this visit was to engage students in cross-cultural projects. To this end, I asked subject heads at my school to put together projects for me to take out with me to Ghana, which I could then ask students to work on for the week of my visit and then collect and bring home to share with students in the UK.


Here are the outlines of the projects that I was armed with:

Performing Arts: Record a video of the choir singing the Ghanaian National Anthem which we can show at our School Summer Concert.

English: Write a poem about your school or about Ghana. Think about your choice of language, similes, metaphors, adjectives and the type of poem you wish to write e.g. sonnet, acrostic, haiku, free verse. You may wish to create your own anthology.

Dance: Choreograph and perform your own cultural dance which you can then video to teach pupils at Preston School. Film your dance all the way through with music and then again, but this time as though you are teaching it to someone step by step. Students at Preston School will then learn the dance and we will send a recording of the dance you have taught us back to you.

Music: Discuss on video how important rhythm and percussion are to you. What types of percussion instrument do you use? Are there percussion instruments other than drums that you use? Can you demonstrate them for us?

Art: Produce a piece of art work which captures your feelings about one of these areas: 1) our partnership, 2) the UK, 3) Ghana. (I may have to take photos of these rather than try to bring them all back to the UK with me!)

Languages: Produce a Twi phrase book with all the essential Twi phrases that you think we should learn. Produce a video guide for us and again, we will send you back a video of our students showing what they have learned.

Enterprise Challenge: Create a business / marketing presentation for a product of your choice (I will bring lots of help sheets for this)

Geography: Students at Preston have made a leaflet or brochure style page about a ‘Fantastic Place’ in the UK. I will bring these examples to Ghana for Sinai students to reply to them or make their own example about places in Ghana.

Science: ILA – My Gym. A multi-phase project based around creating a brand, marketing, designing a fitness plan and health and safety / first aid awareness


Clearly, the success of theses projects would depend heavily on staff support in Ghana. I was fortunate that a wide range of staff (with the support of key partnership advocates on the staff and SLT) helped to see these through.

To come in part 3: The results


Blog Of A Visit to Ghana – Part 1: The Journey

My third visit to Ghana was very different to the first in 2011 and the second in 2013 (reflections here)

The reason? No students to share the experience.

However, that was not to say that there was not plenty to do.

Having had a partnership with our school in Ghana for more than 6 years, we have achieved a lot on our partnership journey so far. We took students to Ghana 2 years ago and have hosted Ghanaian teachers from the school in the UK. The one area that has been lacking though, is student-to-student communication and collaboration. This was one of the areas I wished to address on my visit this time.

Here were the overall aims:

1) To cement a good relationship with the new head teacher
2) To initiate and oversee a range of curriculum based projects which originated from our staff and students and to bring back responses from Ghanaian staff and students which would hopefully lead to much collaboration in the future.
3) To learn more about the Twi language and culture, which can then be disseminated through a range of assemblies and Ghana group meetings on my return.

So, that was my starting point.

Fancy a little Ghana experience?

Well, join me in the video below as I make the journey to school from my guest house in Akropong-Akuapem, Eastern Region.

To come in Part 2: The Projects

Out Of Africa Again – Reflections on my visit to Ghana – February 2015

Note: This was written last Thursday evening in a hotel in Ghana in darkness (thanks to a power cut). Another blog entry will deal with the purpose of my visit. The following entry deals with what was on my mind at the time.

I am the ‘abruni’, the ‘white man from far overseas’, the fish out of water, the ancestor of one-time colonial masters …

This is my third visit to Ghana. I feel that during the time that I have spent in this enchanting country, I have got to know the people, the culture and the language to a much greater extent. Yet, there have still been occasions on this visit when I have been overwhelmingly convinced that I have barely begun to understand this land of complexity and contradiction.

In the morning of one day, I see students completing mock Mathematics examinations in the medium of English (a second or third language in addition to their mother tongue) which appear to include equations surely known only to Einstein and his ilk.

School dormitory: triple bunks packed into what used to be a classroom

School dormitory: triple bunks packed into what used to be a classroom

Yet these are the same students who sleep 48 to a room, who wake at 3.30 a.m. every school morning to clean the student showers and toilets and sweep the grounds with primitive brushes, who study in classes of at least 60 in temperatures of over 30 degrees, who snake across the school grounds, adroitly carrying buckets filled to the brim with water on their heads to wash their uniform for the week ahead. In the afternoon of this same day, I see at first hand the communities where some of these students come from: simple clay buildings, often in the grounds of semi derelict or incomplete buildings that once were dream projects, but are now concrete shells. There is so much of potential here, so many young futures that promise so much.

Bright future: Meeting the student prefect team

Bright future: Meeting the student prefect team

Yes, in so many ways this is a land of positivity, but daily life is lived against a backdrop of adversity and harshness. The climate is oppressive and the basic infrastructure is fragile, as the recent years of power cuts have demonstrated. Yet, the people (on the surface at least) adopt a resilient, communal response. They just get on with it.

And this is not where the contadictions end. The people are as attached to their smartphones as anywhere else in the world, yet the cars they drive are often unroadworthy, dented and relentlessly punished by the Ghanaian roads which are often seemingly no more than a complex network of yawning potholes interspersed with ribbons of tarmac.

The vast majority of the people here are multilingual, yet I write this in darkness as we suffer another power cut, one in a series of power outages that has peppered the last three years across the entire country.

Ghana is an assault on the senses. (I’ve decided that Africa has an aroma all of its own, which I have termed earthy musk) It is also an assault on your sense of perspective. Contradictions live side by side, seemingly mutually coexisting fully aware of the other and willing to nod to each other every morning.

I sat in a speeding car this afternoon that swerved across the road to avoid potholes, as I listened to my four Ghanaian companions singing and tapping along to Phil Collins singing ‘Another Day in Paradise’. The backdrop to this was a typical Ghanaian scene of young boys playing football with goals formed from sagging bamboo poles, women of the village washing clothes and pounding fufu by the roadside and men sat next to makeshift stalls of bananas. Students who arrive to school in clean, well pressed uniform walk past their pre school counterparts who sit in the earth surrounded by wandering poultry and stray dogs.

As I return to the UK, the line ‘Think twice. It’s just another day for you and me in paradise’ has never cried out with as much ferocity before.

Life Is Beautiful: My Top 10 Foreign Language Films

A quick glance through the top 100 films listed in the Halliwell’s Top 1000 Films of all time shows that 30 of them are foreign language films.
At the very start of his acclaimed series ‘A Story Of Film: An Odyssey’, Mark Cousins points us immediately away from Hollywood as a focus in favour of what has happened cinematically in Senegal, India and Japan.
I would half expect the younger generation to shy away from anything that is not English or American in origin, but there are more than a few adults I know for whom there is a whole untouched world of film experiences out there, through the language barrier.

For a more extensive list of all that is out there, try Marie O’Sullivan’s excellent cine365 blog

However, in no particular order then (and acting merely as a starting point), here are my top 10 foreign language films:

Amélie (2001)
Quirky and yet totally heart-warming and life-affirming.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Spectacular, mythical aerial duels that take the breath away.

Das Boot
Claustrophobic and atmospheric. The U-boat creaks with the pressure, as do our nerves.

A series of ten short films based (loosely) on the Ten Commandments. Genius.

Hitler’s descent into madness as witnessed by those around him.

I’ve Loved You So Long
After all, who can resist Kristin Scott-Thomas?

Late Spring
Understated, yet such a keen portrayal of family interaction

Life is Beautiful
The transition from slapstick comedy to tragedy has never been so sensitively portrayed

Pan’s Labyrinth
Visually stunning, in places shocking. It has del Toro written all over it.

Three Colours Trilogy
A glorious set of three (totally different, yet interlinked) films from the master director Kieslowski (see Dekalog also)