French » GCSE

How to tutor French GCSE

Posted 4 days ago by Alice Farrell

French is a bit like Marmite for GCSE students: generally either they love it, or they hate it. Though students often say, ‘Oh, I just CAN’T do French’, I’ve found that students who struggle with French have often found their teachers uninspiring, or struggle to see the ‘point’ in learning French.

I see my job as a tutor as not only helping my students to understand the French language, but also showing them that French can be fun!

Preparing for your first lesson

Teaching your first lesson can be a bit daunting, but if you prepare properly, you’ll be just fine! It’s important to find out what your student wants to get out of their lessons and to set a 5-lesson plan in the first lesson. A student might want to work on their grammar, or prepare for the speaking exam – or they might want to do a bit of everything.

You might want to start off by asking a couple of basic questions such as ‘Comment t’appelles-tu?’ and ‘Quel âge as-tu?’ to get your student in French mode.

Use the first lesson to get to know your student by asking them what they like about French (if anything!), and what they find hard. If your student can’t pinpoint what they find hard, assess their speaking, listening, reading and writing skills in the first lesson, so you know what to focus on in subsequent lessons. You might want to start off by asking a couple of basic questions such as ‘Comment t’appelles-tu?’ and ‘Quel âge as-tu?’ to get your student in French mode. You’ll know how much to push your student, based on how confidently they reply. Following this, ask your student if they find any of the topics especially challenging, and work through some questions related to this topic. Make a note of the topics your student would like to focus on, so you can prepare a list of relevant vocabulary for the next lesson. Bring some interesting listening and reading materials to the first lesson (more on this below!) which you can listen to or read with your student. Discuss the extract (using English as little as possible), and ask your student to underline/highlight any new vocabulary or grammatical structures. Ask your student what they think about the extract – are they pleased to hear this piece of news? Do they agree with the speaker/writer?

Most importantly, make sure your student is engaged throughout the lesson, so they look forward to the next one! I like to end each lesson with something light-hearted, in the hope that my students will enjoy French culture throughout the week. All students are different, but lots of my students have enjoyed listening to Stromae recently!

Here is a sample 5-lesson plan:

Lesson 1:

  • Comment t’appelles-tu? Quel âge as-tu? And other questions…

  • What do/don’t they like about French

  • Grammar: revise the passé composé.

  • Listen to an extract and discuss.

  • Listen to Stromae!

Lesson 2:

  • Qu’est-ce que tu as fait hier?

  • General discussion about family and friends.

  • Grammar: revise the futur simple.

  • Read an extract and discuss.

  • Watch an extract of ‘A bout de souffle’

Lesson 3:

  • Qu’est-ce que tu vas faire demain?

  • Mock speaking exam (using a past paper!)

  • Grammar: revise the present tense.

  • Listen to an extract and discuss.

  • Listen to Françoise Hardy

Lesson 4:

  • Aimes-tu la musique?

  • General discussion about education.

  • Grammar: revise conjunctions.

  • Read an extract and discuss.

  • Watch an extract of ‘Jules et Jim’

Lesson 5:

  • Quelle est ta matière préférée?

  • Mock speaking exam (using a past paper!)

  • Grammar: revise negation.

  • Listen to an extract and discuss.

  • Watch an extract of ‘Un sac de billes’


Speaking and listening exams

Most GCSE students are especially nervous about the speaking exam, because they’re not used to speaking exams, and they feel ‘put on the spot’. It’s important to help students to feel as prepared as possible for this exam, so practice really is key. Start each lesson by asking your student a few questions in French to ease them into speaking French aloud.

I find these resources invaluable for helping students to improve their French:

  • BBC French Bitesize is great for finding example questions and listening exercises

  • More advanced students might enjoy the range of podcasts here

  • Even more advanced students might enjoy listening to the Journal en français facile, which is produced daily

Remember, speaking and listening are two sides of the same coin so preparing for the speaking exam will help your student with the listening exam, and vice versa.

Reading and writing exams

Here again, practice is crucial. Go through past paper questions with your students, encouraging them to read and translate questions before answering them.

Highlight that it’s important to give as much detail as possible and point out that, in the writing exam, you don’t need to tell the truth – it’s better to say ‘je suis allée au cinéma’ if you know how to spell ‘le cinéma’ than ‘ je suis allée au theartur’, even if you went to the theatre, not the cinema.


Why are French verbs so weird?

This is the question I’m asked most often by GCSE students. There’s no real answer – unless you want to delve into the history of French – but students do need to get their heads around French verbs.

My students have often found it helpful to spend a couple of lessons making big verb tables where they conjugate around 10 key verbs such as avoir, être, aller, faire, jouer, dire, voir, vouloir, pouvoir, savoir.

I encourage my students to revise one verb for each lesson (or more, depending on how soon the student’s exams are).

It’s also important to set out which verbs are conjugated with être in compound tenses (MRS VANDERTRAMP verbs):

Test your students, and encourage them to test themselves by covering up parts of the verb table and filling in the gaps.

Why I love tutoring French

Tutoring French is rewarding for me because I’m passionate about the French language, and it’s great to see students grow to love (or at least like!) speaking French. For me, the best thing about teaching French is that as a student’s French improves, their confidence grows too.

Written by - Anna Tankel

Anna Tankel graduated with a First in French from the University of Oxford in 2016, and now she works for MyTutor. She has completed over 200 hours of private tuition. Her interests include yoga, dance and French culture.

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