Thought I would start of fmy first blog post by copying a message I sent to the ELL forum earlier this week in response to a series of grammatically themed posts by John Bald. Here's what I wrote...
"Thanks for these postings, John. They've made really interesting reading. I think it is really important that we don't shy away from issues such as spelling and grammar at KS2 and your ideas show that it can be fun (I know of teachers who say they don't do any writing at KS2 coz they don't want to "spoil" the lesson or take away the fun but it can't be healthy to view literacy as the antithesis of fun, surely?!).
I just wanted to add a couple of comments, based on my own teaching. Firstly re gender. This is such a hard concept for them to grasp, as you point out. I try to avoid them thinking "French is really weird" by mentioning lots of other languages that have gender like French. I also try to show that our own language isn't always as logical as we think. When I first introduce the concept of gender I usually take in a double-page spread from Hello! magazine. It is an article showing HM the Queen naming a ship, complete with champagne bottle (all electronic these days). I ask the children to join in with what the Queen said, "I name this ship____. May God bless..." I stop at this point and wait for the children to supply the word "her" (most of them usually do) and then continue "and all who sail in ...." again the children usually supply the word "her". I then ask why. Ususally for homework I ask them to discuss with their families what they'd say about a new car that runs really well. Would they say "He runs like a dream!" or "She runs like a dream!"? The next lesson we compare answers and find that we tend to say "she". Some children usually come up with a few other words that have "she" such as motorbikes, trains and planes. Then we consider what they all have in common and we notice that they are all transport. We also notice that it is always "she" and never "he". I then say that at least the French are fair as they use "he" and "she" and they are also more consistent, using these for all nouns, whereas we just use them for transport. I know this isn't quite the same thing and I do try to avoid any discussions as to why someone's dad might refer to the car as "she", but it usually gets the children into a more open frame of mind where they are ready to accept that another language might say things differently without necessarily being "wrong", "weird" or an exception.
Incidentally, I also take a similar approach when introducing age in French or Spanish. I usually start by asking who has a younger brother or sister and we find the class member with the youngest sibling (hopefully a baby) and I then ask how old the baby brother/sister is. I get an immediate answer e.g. "6 months". I then put on a puzzled expression and check "your baby sister is 6 months old?", "yes", "6 months..old?" We then discuss as a class who thinks the little brother/sister is old. We then move onto whether anyone in the class is old and we decide that no-one (including me!) can really be described as old. We then consider whether it is therefore a sensible way of finding out someone's age to ask how old they are. We finally try to imagine what a French teacher would say to her class in Lyon when trying to teach them how to say their age in English. We imagine how the French children would react when they were told to say "I am 8 years old". Only then do I introduce the way it is expressed in French and always make sure I point out that Spanish and Italian etc. say it exactly the same way (sometimes we have a child who speaks another language who can make a comparison, telling us how to say your age in Polish for example). I think this is time well spent as I never have children pipe up that "French is stupid" after that (whereas I used to get the odd comment like that before I started discussing English first). Sometimes it is only when we learn another language that we ever really take a step back and look at our own.
Finally, a quick comment on accents. After talking to the children about é and the job that the accent does in changing the sound of the letter I usually set a task for homework (for the week), asking the children to pay attention as they are out and about town and see if all the cafés have remembered to put their accent on. Next week name and shame any who have missed it off coz they are not cafés at all.... they are caffs! The children love this and find it really funny but it also sticks in their mind that the accent does an important job re pronunciation."