GCSE reading (French) continued

This is a very odd piece of writing. For a start, the title is Mother’s Day, but without explanation the first sentence introduces grandmother’s day. Further, the passage is paragraphed incorrectly. It is organised: introduction, history, dates in different countries. Here is the text uchanged except for proper paragraphing:

6 Mother’s Day

For several years we have had a special day for grandmothers in France. It is a way of showing them that we love them. It is much the same for mothers. There is a special day to thank them for all that they do for us.

It is far from being a modern day. The Greeks and Romans had a ceremony every spring to honour the mothers of their gods. In the nineteenth century the Emperor Napoleon had the idea of honouring mothers who had a lot of children. It is only after his death that his idea became a reality and that these mothers have been given a medal. During the second world war France suffered greatly and lost a great many of its young men. That is why Mother’s Day as we know it was set up.

Mother’s Day is always on the fourth Sunday in May. In the United States it is on the second Sunday in May, and in England they celebrate Mother’s Day in mid March. In Germany mothers do not work on that day, so fathers and children do all the housework. In restaurants in Spain they give mothers a flower. In Canada it is a tradition for little children to give their mother a present they have made themselves.

The text still does not make any kind of sense. It is a collection of random facts about Mother’s Day without any obvious reason for writing it (hence for reading it).

Michael Hoey’s work on discourse structure offers a framework for showing up the inadequacies of this text. It is taught in Book 3 of Breakthrough to Learning (Part 2 of the Fasttrack) to enable students to grasp the structure of written texts. Texts are not mere collections of words and grammatecal forms: they have to make sense at the higher level of discourse. For example: problem / solution, general / particular, compare / contrast, time sequence.

Mother’s Day does not conform to any meaning structure at this level. It would be possible to compose texts on this subject, with no more advanced vocabulary and grammar than the original, but which make sense. For example, in the text below the basic structure is general / particular. Note that the only “new” words to be taught are for example, which is recognisable enough!

(to be continued)


GCSE reading comprehension (French)

I’ve been working on a problem raised with me by the Head of Modern Languages at MMHS. He is using the Michel Thomas teaching programme, which has transformed the take-up and the success of Modern Languages learning in the school.

The more advanced part of the GCSE reading exam consists of passages in French with True/False answers in English, thus ensuring that reading comprehension is not confused with writing skills. The teacher had been disappointed that his pupils had been unable to guess unknown words from (a) the context and (b) the fact that the words are cognate with English. He gave as an example climatisation, which means air-conditioning, which they could not guess (a) from the context of amenities in a hotel and (b) its relation with English climate/acclimatization. Continue reading

BtL and Science (conclusion)

Book 3 of BtL (and Part 2 of the Fasttrack) teach the discourse structures described by Michael Hoey in his 1983 book On the Surfact of Discourse. Earlier blogs have applied two of these discourse structures – Compare/ Contrast and General/ Particular (= Abstract /Concrete) to a GCSE paper in Science.

Hoey’s third structure (first in his book) is Problem/Solution. This has an important place in scientific thinking:


 This structure comes into Science through considering the application of scientific knowledge to practical problems. This demands concrete not abstract language. Continue reading