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Cross Training – Mix Languages and PE

Cross Training – Mix Languages and PE

Main Subject: Lesson Plans

Subject: Languages

Author: Liz Black

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Squeeze more into the school day by mixing PE with foreign languages, to the benefit of both subjects, suggests Liz Black...

Teaching foreign languages works best in regular, short bursts, but this can be difficult to timetable in practice. One way to get round this, however, is to teach new vocabulary within other areas of the curriculum – as demonstrated by this lesson plan that combines PE / sport with learning key phrases in your target language.

As well as teaching vocabulary and grammar, in particular the difference between sports that you play and sports that you do (e.g. je joue au tennis; je fais du judo. Or, ich spiele Tennis; ich mache eine Wanderung), the activities also present the opportunity to develop children’s empathy and teamwork. I usually give pupils a bit of time to reflect on these grammar rules to increase their overall awareness of language. Grasping the basic concepts can help when they come across other sports phrases. They might still make mistakes, but if children’s curiosity about language is increased, it must be a good thing.

Some prior learning in the target language is necessary in order to take part, e.g. children will need to know numbers, colours, simple directions, sports, and foods that promote healthy diets. The ideas could be used over several lessons.

Today you will…

* recap prior learning on numbers and practise saying your sporting likes and dislikes.

* think about the lives of children in other circumstances, reflecting on fairtrade initiatives

Starter activities

There are many free or extremely cheap apps available that promote healthy lifestyles: mapmyrun, mapmyride, myfitnesspal, and fooducate to name a few. Though based in sport, these programmes create many incidental opportunities for language learning. Using French, German, Spanish, etc, children can count the number of steps they take, miles they cover on a bike, or record start and finish times. The associated mathematical and scientific concepts (e.g. speed = distance / time) need to be constantly reinforced through a child’s learning, and links to geography increase children’s awareness of place and distance.

I have always found short surveys increase pupil talk and help children to become more confident in asking and answering questions in the target language. Once the class is familiar with some basic sporting vocabulary, they can carry out a simple survey about which sports are favoured by their peers (limited to 10 sports). Get children to walk around the class asking each other questions, such as “Do you like…?” (Tu aimes le tennis? / Magst du Tennis?). The results can then be collated and recorded on a graph.

Main activities

* Playing with language

During PE lessons, warm-up games played using the target language are a fun way to help children recall vocabulary quickly. Parachute games such as ‘fruit salad’ (where children are sorted into pears, apples, bananas, etc and have to swap places when the name of their fruit it called) work particularly well.

Learning a new sport like handball or endzone can also be combined with language practice – team colours, or keeping score, for example. It’s worth approaching the local secondary school to see if they have students who can support your PE lessons and teach the children some simple phrases such as “Pass me the Ball”, “Shoot”, and “Save” (using verbs such as passer / marquer le ballon; sauver un but / den Ball abspielen; schießen; halten). This is a wonderful opportunity for older learners to share their language expertise – they could even help to set up sports days for KS2 pupils as part of a transition project.

* Clear directions

During the recent winter Paralympics, I noticed children were very interested in the blind skiers and their guides, who they had heard on the television issuing instructions. (A short video about gold medallist Kelly Gallagher and her guide can be found online – – and shared with the class.) A simple game that gives children an understanding of the problems blind or partially sighted people face can be played in pairs. Start in the school hall or another big space and ask one child in each pair to blindfold his or her partner. The child who can see must then guide his or her classmate around the space using simple directions in the target language. If all goes well, children could guide each other to different areas of the school, or perhaps complete a slalom course.

This could be followed by a blind tasting of different healthy foods. Although it’s useful for children to use the target language to name what they’re eating, they should be encouraged to say this in the context of a sentence, e.g. “I think it is…”. Can they also express an opinion on the taste? This is a really good way to get children talking spontaneously, and sometimes boldly.

Finish the activity by exploring the website for the blindekuh restaurant, which serves its food in complete darkness ( Ask the children to think about why this unusual dining experience has spread across the world, from Dans le Noir in London and New York to Senses in Hong Kong.

* Discussing ethics

A more challenging way to practise language in a sporting context is to consider the ethics of sporting equipment produced using child labour. Children can try to guess which country produces the most footballs, the age of the children employed to make them, the number of hours they had to work and what they were paid. Vocabulary from the target language can then be woven into this discussion. Larger numbers can also be introduced by trying to predict the number of stitches in a football (650).

Watch the Fairtrade Football Story with the class (, which answers some of the questions above and shows how the introduction of fairtrade footballs has benefited communities in Pakistan. As a follow up activity, children could devise a role play in the target language about a child’s daily routine working in a factory before the advent of fairtrade. Useful vocabulary should be taught in advance, for example “I’m tired”, “I’m hungry” and “I’m thirsty”, and times of day. Each role play should begin with children simply stating their character’s age, name and country of birth. From here, they can demonstrate how their lives have improved, using mime if necessary. (The use of non-verbal communication can and should be encouraged as people use this outside of the classroom context when they are lost for words.) In Year 6, children could also learn phrases such as “I don’t think it’s fair”. These are not difficult to say and, in my experience, older children feel they can use foreign language to express their thoughts on deeper issues.

Extending the lesson

* As a follow up to the activity on child labour, pupils can research the words for ‘fairtrade’ in other languages, e.g. le commerce équitable, comercio justo, commercio equo. They could also explore fairtrade websites written in the target language.

* Comparing the prices of equipment on websites such as can improve children’s dictionary and reading skills.

* Singing songs to accompany physical activities can increase children’s exposure to the target language.

Useful questions

* Why do children all over the world enjoy team games?

* Why have some people received such low wages and big companies made so much profit?

* Should all footballs carry the fair trade label?

* Should all children have the chance to go to school?

About the author

Liz Black is a freelance consultant and member of the Association of Language Learning Primary Special Interest Group.

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