This week has been our school “Trips Week”, which has seen the whole of Years 5, 6, 7 and 8 out for most of the week at PGL, in Normandy, at Bude and in Stratford respectively. For a variety of reasons, though, a small number of pupils in each year-group did not travel, and so were combined into one class for the past 5 days, with colleagues still in school covering their lessons during the week. As I was on our French Exchange last week, I was here this week, and thus had the mini-class for 3 lessons.
What should I do with them, I thought… I wanted it to have an MFL slant, but NOT be based on French or German (or indeed Spanish). I also wanted it to be something that the group would have to themselves, so they could feel a bit special, and they didn’t feel as though they had missed out too much from not being able to go on their respective trips.
An idea began to take shape: we would spend the first lesson inventing a country from scratch, the second creating a lexicon of useful nouns based on everyday topic areas, and the third and final lesson putting together a verb system, allowing the pupils to make up sentences based on their devised language.
It worked brilliantly. In what was a pretty disparate group of kids, imaginations fluttered tentatively into life, before soaring off on flights of whimsical fancy that left me chuckling out loud on many occasions!
At the start of the second lesson, we explored what the various parts of speech were, before settling on nouns as our focus. Again, it took a few minutes for some of the pupils to realise that there were no real limits on what they could create: it was fascinating to see how hard some of them found it to have no “training wheels” on their linguistic bicycles, and to be making everything up themselves!
Another interesting little snippet: the pupil who drew “the weather” out of the hat started creating phrases based on the structure “it is (sunny, rainy, cloudy, etc.)” – “zo zing lou”, zo zing ming”, “zo zing nee”… but when she got to her little picture of a thunderstorm, I heard her say “hang on… this structure won’t fit – I need to make a new one”! And so she came up with “zam zing” for “there is (thunder and lightning)”. I just loved the way she was making this made-up language work, in her head, and fit into patterns she realised must exist in order for the grammar to hold together!
The final lesson was today. In a way, it was a shame, because the rest of Year 6 were back in school, and so my little group was reduced still further, meaning that they were not there to see the project to its final outcome… but those that were had by now grasped the essential need for random, pure creativity in their choice of new words. We looked at how verbs decline in English and in French, before deciding that in Coodextrian, there would be no change of endings to indicate a change of person; merely a different pronoun for each. (We didn’t have time to tackle tenses, but I imagine our version of that grammatical minefield would be just as efficient and simple!) So we made up 15 essential verbs, and then drew posters of them in use.
And all too soon the lesson, and the mini-project, was over. The pupils left saying “can we do that all the time?”, and I left delighted with how things had gone. It had been great fun, but it had also made the kids think about how language and grammar work – and how much simpler languages COULD be if we designed them from scratch!