TL;DR: Teach your high-similarity vocab first to see faster progress across both the stronger and weaker ends of the class.
Students struggle with recall
However we look at it, the more words a student knows in a language, the more confident they'll be. A student may be able to form the perfect tense in Spanish, but if they don't have any vocabulary to use with it, they can't go very far. And there are over 1,800 words in the AQA Spanish syllabus.
Give students cognates earlier
We're not meant to be introducing KS4 content to KS3 groups (in any subjects), of course, but wouldn't it be sensible to start exposing students from year 7 to more cognates (even just at recognition level)? Doing this would help them:
feel like they are making faster progress in their MFL lessons, and earlier (which is really important for lower ability / lower motivation students)
start joining the dots between their first and second languages faster, and
start conquering the overwhelming feeling that languages present to so many students.
Strong cognates / weak cognates?
To that end, I've written a script that tells us how similar words are between Spanish and English, and applied this to all the vocabulary on the syllabus. Using this, we can sort and filter all the vocabulary by its similarity across both languages, on a scale: 100% meaning that the words are identical, and 0% meaning the words are completely different.
Start with similar language
When planning a new scheme of work, we might want to start by introducing the topic's high similarity language to our groups first. This would ensure faster and broader progress across both the stronger and weaker strands of the class. We could then start introducing the lower similarity language over our subsequent lessons, or in extension tasks.
Having topic-relevant, high-similarity language is also helpful for grammar teaching, when we don't want to impede students' understanding of grammatical concepts because they don't understand the vocabulary being used in the examples.
In theory, games and exercises using high-similarity words could also be tackled by students of all ages and all levels. So we could make handouts (eg. wordsearches) and put them around the walls for quick extension tasks that any student could do, at any time!
Here are the links to the similarity tables. To save a copy, go to "File > Download":
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As always, please also share this with the others in your department or trust if Spanish is not your teaching language (and with your PGCE students / NQTs!)