Thinking PoohBear

NURTURE 1314 – following the trend on Twitter to identify 13 highlights of 2013 and 14 hopes for 2014 – here is my contribution to the project. #Nurture 1314

Sometimes, as a teacher, a thought will come to me and make me think “But of course ! Why didn’t I think of this before ?” A lightbulb moment ? A hallucination ? Normal ? Abnormal ? Call it what you will, but it feels good to then begin to act on that feeling and to let your mind begin to think and to indulge in some musings. Today’s musings are on the question of …


If you googleimage “irregular verbs”, you can find all sorts of fabulous images to help learners master these dratted irregular verbs. The majority of my pupils at least went through the motions of learning them in 4e (aged 13-14) and I don’t doubt that at the time, they actually did know them … to recite, to complete a table, to use with their short-term memory.

But, what is left by the time the reach me in 2nde (16) in the lycée or even worse in Première or Terminale ? To the majority of my students, there is nothing disturbing, upsetting or just plain wrong about saying “He leaved” or “He goed” because there is no barrier which sends out the flashing lights to warn that this is an irregular verb (sorry for the mixed metaphors !!). So, why is this ?

I firmly believe that pupils are, on the whole, not intellectually ready for irregular verbs when they kick in at the age of 13-14. To my mind, they do not have the maturity to process this notion on the whole. Obviously there are exceptions, but as a general rule, it is too early.

Native speakers learn that the past is formed with V-ED but when they try out the ED form on an irregular verb, they are gently corrected until they learn that you don’t say “I goed to school yesterday”. Fond memories of my young kids saying “I putted” instead of “put”, “I drived” instead of “drove”, “the teacher teached us” instead of “taught”. We also went through the stage of trying out irregular verbs “he brang” instead of “he brought”, “he thunk” instead of “he thought”- but rest assured, as teenagers, they have learned to use the verbs correctly (although I am sure I heard a “leaved” from Tom the other day !!!). So for my students who don’t have the barriers, flashing lights etc, to my mind, they are still at that stage of learning where they need to the gentle corrector. I am sure my pupils need much more practice, revision than i have until now been prepared to give them –  a refresher session is called for on how to use the irregular verbs and in the lycée, with those extra years of intellectual maturity, for many everything will suddenly seem to click into place – the light bulb moment for them. Suddenly it is no longer Mother Chance that is structuring their sentences, but their own conscious thought processes because they now understand where that DID comes from and wny it is there !!

So resolution number 1 for 2013-2014 – more practice on forming and using the simple past tense.

And then there is the list …

I spent a couple of hours during an exam invigilation this morning examining the list.

abide / beget / bereave / chide / cleave / dwell / forsake / gird / hew / rend / shear / slay / smite / stave / strew /

I think I can say in all honesty, hand on my heart, cross my heart and hope to die, the majority of students will be able to make it through to the Baccalaureat without ever needing the above verbs (apart from in an irregular verb test ???).

The verbs cited above, I don’t even know what some of them mean, I wouldn’t use them myself and I certainly wouldn’t expect my students to master them. So, what is the point of putting them on the list ? Who writes the list anyway ? For the past year, I have been working on the list that is provided in the Agenda du Lycéen at the school where I work. Everyone has one and everyone has the list on them if they have their planner, in theory. Some chose to make a copy to be able to stick it into the exercise book – fine.

So, once I had established the absurdity of a good number of the verbs on the list, what next ? I decided to whittle them down to a manageable number that MUST be active and mastered by my pupils next year. Useful verbs only. Others may be added by pupils who specifically need them eg if  I have any knitting fans, any gardeners, any weavers … but on the whole, my list of 50 verbs should suffice.

I intend to organise a “Remise à niveau” in terms of verb forms and tenses with 1 hour a week dedicated to this between September and the October holidays. Activities in class, on line quizzes at home, learning using individual flashcards – we shall try out all sorts of tools to see if we can anchor these 50 verbs firmly in their heads within that 6 week period.

So, which are the chosen 50 ? Which verbs survived the cull ?

To see a full list, you can click here :