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Jake Hunton

Jake Hunton is Head of Modern Foreign Languages at Heart of England School in Solihull and believes in combining passionate, engaging and fast-paced MFL teaching with a focus on the highest of achievement for all students.

Click here to read Jake’s insights on teaching approaches, research and challenging misconceptions in education in his interview with The Learning Scientists.

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Publications by Jake Hunton

Fun Learning Activities for Modern Foreign Languages

Students learning modern foreign languages often comment that it is…

Author Blog

November 20 2016

Output Extension Tasks as Free Recall & Writing Under Real Operating Conditions

Skimming through ‘Extending the Boundaries of Research on Second Language Learning and Teaching’ and considering ways to promote students writing under real-operating conditions which,

‘…assumes that learners need to see how the target forms function in situations that closely resemble real communication…’ 1

This from Gianfranco Conti stuck with me,

‘Grammar teaching is currently taught in many classrooms through teacher –led explanations followed by gap-fills. This does not lead to automatization and fluency.’ 2

With this in mind and moving away from using isolated gap-fill exercises requiring students to conjugate an ending which only isolates the knowledge of how to apply that ending to an infinitive I have been using ways which intend to promote practice under time pressure but still in a ‘semi-structured phase’ as per Dr Conti’s blog.

So, instead of gap-fills and following a fair amount of time invested in automatizing how to conjugate the tenses I have been showing students a set of (usually only mainly) regular verbs with some extra detail already there like these below:


1.      comer en un restaurante local = to eat in a local restaurant

2.     comer los platos locales = to eat the local  dishes

3.     pasar tiempo en la playa = to spend time on the beach

4.     pasar tiempo en la piscina del hotel = to spend time in the hotel pool

5.     pasar más tiempo en el hotel = to spend more time in the hotel

6.     visitar un museo = to visit a museum

7.     bailar en una discoteca/en la discoteca del hotel = to dance in a disco/in the hotel disco

8.     visitar los monumentos = to visit the monuments

9.     visitar el centro de la ciudad = to visit the city centre

10.   hablar el idioma = to speak the language

11.    hablar con la gente local = to speak with the local people

12.   viajar en un barco/en un avión/en un coche = to travel by a boat/plane/car

13.   comprar un helado = to buy an ice-cream

14.   gastar mucho dinero = to spend a lot of money

15.   comprar algunos recuerdos = to buy some souvenirs

16.   comprar helados = to buy ice creams 

This is only a section of the full list but the aim is that instead of conjugating these verbs as they might appear in a gap-fill like,

‘Cuando estoy de vacaciones yo y mi familia __________ (hablar) el idioma…’

The students, following also some time spent teaching and testing time phrases and connectives and ‘warming up the infinitives’ with some VFLAs then have to write under a fifteen-minute time limit a short paragraph describing their holidays. As part of this semi-structured phase I have provided some prompts and reminders that the passage must be logical and that the infinitives and extra detail they choose must be structured so that the activities relate to one another. The students also know to write using I, We and They throughout.

The students have responded brilliantly to this and I have been removing the prompts and moving to a stage where it is becoming more like Free Recall; I project the list of infinitives with no other prompts and also reduce the time limit to ten minutes.

This has also become an extension activity in class with students being asked to turn to a blank page at the back of their book and to write all that they can from memory about ‘holidays’. The aim of this is also to promote ‘Output Extension Tasks’ where I ask the students to note down periodically throughout the year a short list of extension tasks in their books which demand that they are carried out totally from memory and with no support at all as Free Recall testing.

Tasks like, ‘Write all you can about the formation of the imperfect tense’, ‘Write all you can about holidays’ or ‘Write out all you can remember about how the present tense translates into English’ have two aims; Firstly, they have allowed me not only to use retrieval practice as a way of hopefully making the retrieval of everything to do with the Output Extension Task more accessible in future but also to focus on seeing how well the students have made sense of the extension task having carried it out under free recall, hopefully with the aim of promoting writing under real-operating conditions if the task requires that the students carry it out as such, while with certain tasks it has supported the students in developing a meaning in their own words. I can then identify misconceptions and misunderstanding when I take the books in to mark and turn to the back to look at what has been retrieved under free recall and mark unscaffolded work based on little of the imitation phase.   


1 Mirosław Pawlak, (2011) Extending the Boundaries of Research on Second Language Learning and Teaching, Springer Science & Business Media. p. 31.

2 Gianfranco Conti, (2016) ‘The skill theory principles which underpin my teaching approach’, The Language Gym (blog). See https://gianfrancoconti.wordpress.com/2016/08/01/the-skill-theory-principles-which-underpin-my-teaching-approach/.  

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August 27 2016

Interleaving, Distributed Practice & The New Spec Writing Paper

‘Interleaving refers to the practice of spending some time learning one thing and then pausing to concentrate on learning a second thing before having quite mastered that first thing, and then returning to the first thing, and then moving onto a third thing, and then returning to the second thing, and so forth.’ 1

When I was an NQT and RQT I used to adopt the blocked practice schedule of teaching French with my Year 11s and leaving time from about March before the exams to revise with the class. So, the schedule used to be a simplified version of something like this,  

Obviously the issue that the students’ learning was supposed to fit into nice, chunky modules while all along assuming that allof the students would understand allof the grammar and retain all of the language before taking an end of module test which tested only that topic’s content before moving on to the next blocked topic was almost like a macrocosm of the 20 minute window of progress in lessons and progress fitting in nice one hour lesson chunks where students have the sense of a warm, fuzzy cognitive ease and an engendered fluency illusion. It didn’t allow anything to be really embedded of course and certainly not to beat The Forgetting Curve.2 What the students could retrieve in lessons being a poor indicator for what they could achieve in the final exam.  

The issues with this as a learning schedule for the students are obvious and nothing new in Edublogosphere I would imagine. The reason why I’m mentioning it here now is just to show that the impact it had on my revision with the students was disastrous and how it is informing what I am doing this year in terms of preparation for the Year 10s who will be faced with potentially troublesome linear exams.

This quote from a very interesting blog from Dawn Cox sums up the issues as to not building in forgetting time well in my view,

‘…we need to forget following the text book from the beginning to the end, and start planning for learning, not for teacher comfort or convenience.’ 3

Dawn Cox on the same blog refers to an innovative way of incorporating planning a curriculum around deliberate recall.  

Thanks to this innovative approach I have used this to replicate how I am going to apply what I believe will be a very difficult skill for the students to master when they come to do their final exams in languages; the one-off writing exams. The plan is to do the following with the Year 10 students and use the mocks at the end of Year 10 to review,

The idea is that when the first topic of Me, my family and friends has been covered I will be introducing low stakes, free recall tests on practising writing on this topic alongside free recall tests on the topic of Home, town, neighbourhood and region as we progress through this next topic.

As the My Studies topic goes on I will test retrieval through getting the students to complete low-stakes, free recall writing tasks on the My Studies topic alongside free recall writing tasks on the previous two topics and the same with the Free-time activities topic. Then to allow for more effortful retrieval through inducing some forgetting by leaving the first two topics when into ‘Spring a’ but continuing with the tests on the My Studies and Free-time activities while introducing more low-stakes’ tests as part of practising on the Social issues (Healthy/Unhealthy Living) and Life at school/college topics.

By ‘Spring b’ the idea would be that as the Travel and tourism topic starts up, in the normal, humdrum of class teaching (and as part of homework) there would be low stakes’ free recall tests on; Me, my family and friends, Home town, neighbourhood and region, Social issues (Healthy/Unhealthy Living), Life at School, Customs and festivals in Spanish-speaking countries/communities.        

All of the tests will come from the practice pack (please let me know if you would like these) which the students will have access to.
For instance one of the sample assessment material AQA questions for the writing paper is:

Tu amigo español te ha preguntado sobre tu tiempo libre.
Escríbele sobre tus intereses y actividades.
•  música
•  deporte
•  cine
•  restaurantes.
Escribe aproximadamente 40 palabras en español.’
So, one of the practice writing tasks to be used alongside this task when in the topic of Free Time will be:

‘Tu amigo español te ha preguntado sobre tu escuela.
Escríbele sobre tu escuela y tus asignaturas.
•  asignaturas
•  uniforme
•  profesores
•  planes para el futuro
Escribe aproximadamente 40 palabras en español.’

While wary of my cognitive bias I think that preparing the students through adopting some of these Desirable Difficulties by varying the conditions of practice particularly in preparation ahead of a one-off writing exam should help towards promoting students’ self-efficacy (see the epic Gianfranco Conti blog4 on that).  

1 James M. Lang, (2016) Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons From the Science of Learning, San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, loc 1246.
3 Dawn Cox, (2016) ‘Deliberate recall – don’t just leave it to chance’, missdcoxblog (blog) See https://missdcoxblog.wordpress.com/2016/07/11/deliberate-recall-dont-just-leave-it-to-chance/
Dr Gianfranco Conti, (2015) ‘Self-efficacy – the most neglected motivational factor in foreign language instruction’, The Language Gym (blog) See https://gianfrancoconti.wordpress.com/2015/05/30/self-efficacy-the-most-neglected-motivational-factor-in-the-foreign-language-classroom/

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