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Q&A: Everything is better with music

Music in the ELT classroom

Children singing their favourite songs whilst learning English

Vanessa Reilly is a teacher, OUP author and teacher trainer. In this post, she answers some of the questions from her recent ‘Everything is better with music’ webinar.

As I promised in the webinar, although the session was for teaching pre-primary and primary children, I will address some of your questions about teaching teenagers and adults.

 

 

 

How can I use songs like ‘head, shoulders, knees and toes’ with adults?

If I were to teach beginner adult classes again, I would tap into all the things I know help children to learn, and TPR would be one of them.  I think I would be upfront with them and say, ‘this is a song I use with children which will help you to learn parts of the body with little or no effort on your part. I need you to count to ten and then do the song with me, but let’s pretend we are six-years-olds.  Let’s have some fun!’ Willingness to participate may depend on a whole range of factors, but I think my Spanish students would find it a fun and useful way to disconnect from their busy lives for a couple of minutes. You could even ask them to go home and teach it to their children or grandchildren.

How does TPR work in a large class of teenagers?

With any activity, it depends on the timing.  If a group of teenagers are lethargic and tired, a TPR activity is the perfect remedy to wake them up and get them moving.  I would be more inclined to give them the words and ask them to come up with the actions. You could tell them to prepare as if they are the teacher, teaching the song to younger siblings or cousins. That way they get the benefit of the language, without the activity seeming too babyish.

What about teens or adults? What music activities work for them?

As some of you commented, teens can often react badly to music a classmate has chosen or indeed, music you think is great!  With teens, I often like to go for music that has been made popular by a film or an advert, rather than jump straight to a pop song that you know some of the class won’t like.  Either that or I go for music that is so old, they cannot really object!

Older children, teenagers and young adults work well with music by the Beatles, ABBA and songs like ‘Wonderful World’ by Louis Armstrong.  The second webinar was on 21 September, World Peace Day; the song ‘Wonderful World’ was perfect for such a day, as was ‘With my own two hands’ by Jack Johnson.

Both these songs are proven big hits with my pre-teens and teens, and work just as well with young adults.  If used well, the lyrics should spark a discussion about how we can ‘change the world’.

I don’t make teens and young adults sing along to a song – this has to be something that they want to do.  Students will often sing along or hum to a well-chosen song, but it’s more important that they have the words in their head.

These three musical activities tend to work well with teenagers and young adults:

  1. Music critic – I choose snippets of songs based around the topic we are working on. The students look at the lyrics and listen to the music. They then discuss and write comments on each piece. Then we feedback to the class.
  2. There’s a letter for you – This is an activity I got many years ago from a CUP book called ‘The Standby Book – activities for the language classroom’, edited by Seth Lindstromberg.

I send the students the words of a song like ‘Wonderful World’ in a letter, starting with ‘Dear class…’ and end by signing off with the name of the artist; in this case, Louis Armstrong.  I handwrite the words and put the letter in an envelope addressed to the school. I photocopy or display a copy of the letter on the board. In class, we read the ‘letter’ and the students discuss what the sender means in the letter (lyrics). The students also talk about the sender of the letter, have they got a problem? What’s happened? Do they think the sender of the letter is a happy/positive person?

This activity works best with songs the students do not know, so they can form an opinion in the discussion. Once the students are finished with their interpretations, I would then play the song.  It is often a big surprise for the students to find out it isn’t really a letter.  Obviously, you can only do this once with a class, or they’ll already know your secret!  Here are some songs that work particularly well in a letter:

  • Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong (Letter: Dear Class… Love from Louis)
  • Love me do by the Beatles (Dear Linda… Love from Paul)
  • Perfect by Fairground Attraction (Dear + boy’s name…From + girl’s name) 
  1. Story songs for teens.

Did you know that some songs have been made into books? These are great tools to use in class. You can tell your students the story, and then play them the song as a surprise!

The three Bob Dylan songs ‘Blowing in the wind’, ‘Man gave names to all the animals’ and ‘Forever young’ have all been made into books.  I have used all three with students and they are very surprised to hear the song at the end. When doing this, you may find a more recent recording of the song will better appeal to your teenagers. I used the Jason Mraz version of ‘Man gave names to all the animals’.

How do you calm children after an energetic song?

The key is choosing when to play a song.  If the music stirs the group, use it when they need stirring. However, if the children are energetic when they get to class, I would use music to calm them down before doing anything more energetic.

Should we have background music while we’re teaching English in our classrooms?

I often use background music.  If the children are doing desk-based work, I will often play the song from the course book related to the language they are working with, it helps to reinforce the language.

Try playing music that is 432 Hz in the background. 432Hz music is used in places like spas to calm us down. Here’s some YouTube inspiration.

It is believed that music tuned to 432Hz will fill you with a sense of peace and well-being, regardless of the style of song you listen to. I know many teachers that use music tuned to 432Hz to calm down children and adults in their classes.  Mozart and Verdi composed music tuned to 432Hz, and so did artists like Bob Marley, The Police, Prince, and Jimi Hendrix.  Check out which style best suits your students.

Thank you to everyone for attending, and for your questions. I hope to see you all in another webinar soon!


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Everything is better with music

Vanessa Reilly is a teacher, OUP author and teacher trainer. She has an M.A. in English Language Teaching specializing in very young learners and young learners. Vanessa is co-author of the OUP Resource Books, Very Young Learners and Writing with children. She is also the author of the many OUP course books for pre-primary and primary. She is currently working on her PhD. In 2014, Vanessa trained as an official Zumba teacher and teaches Zumba Kids to Spanish children in English!

Music in the ELT classroom

Music gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.  Plato

Plato’s words epitomise what music means to many, although we may not express ourselves quite so poetically!

Music has always been very important in my life. I have music playing around the house, in the car and I usually have one song or another going around in my head.  Those who know me well consider me to be a happy, optimistic person and I think that having music in my life has a lot to do with it.  Is music important in your life?

 

Music is a more potent instrument than any other for education.  Plato

I agree with Plato again here. We are actually surrounded by music in our everyday lives, in shops, adverts on TV, soundtracks to films and the radio. Boyd Brewer (1995) however asks, “How is it that for most people music is a powerful part of their personal life and yet when we go to work or school we turn it off?” Luckily, in ELT, we tend not to turn music off. In fact, all those years ago when I started teaching English to primary children, I soon discovered that music and songs were also my closest allies in the classroom.

As well as teaching the children new language with a song, I used music for classroom management, having a Hello/Goodbye song, songs to mark transitions like the start of story time or circle time, music to play in the background to settle the children to a desk-based activity, or a stirring tune if I wanted them to be more active.  At one point, colleagues would ask me if I actually did any work in my classes as the children just seemed to be “all singing all dancing”, to which I would reply, “Do the children leave your class singing the maths curriculum?  They could do! If you need any songs, just ask.”   If a song is memorable enough, children will take the English song out of your classroom, into the playground, and all the way home the English will be in their heads. Murphy (1992) refers to S-S-I-T-H-P, Song Stuck in the Head Phenomenon, when a song is catchy and you just cannot get it out of you head.  You know the feeling, that song you hear first thing on the radio in the morning which is still in your head at break time, lunchtime and sometimes on the way home. It’s the same with the children in your class and luckily for us, most children’s songs are catchy by nature.

Some years later, when I reflected on how much music means in my classes, I realised that it is one of, if not the most important element in my lesson planning for children. This was a serious issue when choosing a course book for my English classes. I always made listening to the accompanying CD paramount and I encourage teachers on my training courses to never choose a course book without having listened carefully to the songs first, as you could be living with them for years!

Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents. Beethoven

There are many advantages to using music, songs and rhymes in a language class.

Why use songs and music with primary age children?

  • Most children like songs, music and movement;
  • For classroom management – starting, ending, marking transitions, stirring or settling the children. Songs can cut back on teacher talk time and help save your voice as children can join in with the classroom management instructions. You can often start the “Everybody tidy up” song and never have to finish it as the children take over and sing everything back to its place!
  • A well-chosen song can provide children with the language we have to teach. If the song includes a lot of repetition and can also incorporate movement and actions, these two elements enhance the learning process and help to make the language even more memorable. As long as we expose the children to a song with the right language, they can leave our class and spend the rest of the day singing our curriculum!
  • Songs are motivational for children at this early stage in their language-learning career as songs permit them to sing whole sentences at a reasonably fast pace, something many children consider to be a sign of being able to speak a language.
  • When a song contains chunks of language, teachers can refer back to these in order to help children remember and use the language more confidently.
  • Music can lift the mood in a class and make learning more fun. Cameron (2001) found that ‘… a new word needs to be met at least five or six times… before it has any chance of being learnt.’ Having to repeat a word so many times could become tedious, however, a carefully chosen song can provide this necessary practice and be fun at the same time.  A song where the target language is repeated the “magic” 3 times, means that on just one listening, we are making language learning more accessible. However, we tend to listen and sing a song many times and this brings us closer to our goal.
  • Murphy, (1992) said “With young children, language divorced from action seems to be mostly forgotten.” Songs with TPR provide instant clarification of meaning but also help children channel their natural energy into the learning process. Well-chosen actions can be used to instantly refresh a child’s memory and elicit language. As children get the hang of TPR and actions, I work with the class to encourage them to choose the actions.  We talk about the important language we want to learn and think of and select the best actions to help the children remember.  Actions can mean a lot more to children when they have chosen them.

In this practical webinar we will look at using music in a manner of ways to make our job easier, and make the language learning process more memorable for children.

Please think of your favourite children’s song so you can share it with the group.  Mine still has to be “Head, shoulders, knees and toes.”  I have a favourite version of this song though.  If you don’t know the Learning Station, check them out on YouTube.  I think you’ll love this version! It may get stuck in your head again though!

You’ll be singing “Neck, elbows, hips and feet” for the rest of the day!

Boyd Brewer, C, (1995).  “Integrating Music in the Classroom.” http://www.newhorizons.org/strategies/arts/brewer.htm

Cameron, L, (2001). Teaching Languages to Young Learners, CUP

Murphy, T, (1992), Music and song, Oxford University Press


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Making books look like candy

shutterstock_280154789Patrick Jackson, author of the popular Potato Pals series, Shine On! and Everybody Up!, explores the importance of design and ‘eye candy’ in materials for young learners.

In the natural world, colour and pattern are keys to reproduction and survival. The attention of bees is guided by precisely marked, competing flowers. Camouflaged moths hug tree trunks, invisible to their predators. Birds and animals show off their plumage and markings to attract a partner. Phosphorescent creatures in the warmer oceans mirror the night sky, filled with the stars that guide our journeys across its expanses.

The same is true with the learning journey we embark on with pre-elementary and elementary students. The learning materials we use must guide, motivate and excite, firstly and above all through the eyes of our young students. The characteristics and effectiveness of materials are largely determined by the visual impression they make and the deeper design decisions that undergird their development. As teachers and publishers we rightly should embrace the extent to which design decisions influence the whole learning process.

An Oxford University Press designer once said, “I like to make books look like candy.” Children, more than any other age group, are visual learners. The younger the learners, the more important the visuals are. That is not to say that they are not important with older age groups, but in the absence of a lot of printed text, children depend on what they can see on the pages (or increasingly, the screens) in front of them. The classroom can be very cut off from the outside world and exciting images from beyond the classroom bring the experience of learning a new language alive.

Young learners benefit deeply from interacting with different illustration styles and different media. These inspire creativity as well as maintain students’ attention. Good illustrations convey emotion and that in turn motivates young learners. The aesthetic experience should be pleasurable and the content memorable. No doubt we all remember our favourite illustrations from the books of our childhood. Furthermore, language itself is not linear and the visual presentation of language in context is a powerful tool that mimics the state of language in the real world. It has been proven that language is more memorable when presented with images, particularly images that children can identify emotionally with. Again, this replicates their experience of learning their first language.

The layout of activities on the page gives a book its feel and determines how we will respond. The lesson should flow smoothly from well signposted activity to the next. Icons and titles are part of this rhythm. The font and size of rubrics are also very important, as is the amount of blank space on the page. This informs how we perceive the level of difficulty of the material. The feel and finish of a course book are also vital to our experience of a book. Who hasn’t stroked the cover of a book or run their hands down its spine? Who hasn’t been frustrated as a child by trying to write or colour on the wrong quality of paper? All of these decisions, taken by the editorial and design teams, contribute to the soul of the materials and the ‘user experience’.

We call something superficially attractive but lacking deep meaning ‘eye candy’. They also say that ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’. On the contrary, we can and do tell a great deal about course books by looking at their covers, and a bit of eye candy on their pages for young learners is just what they like and need. Their first impression of the path ahead is partly determined by the design of their very first English book.

So let’s not underestimate the work of the design department as we choose the materials we use. Let’s celebrate those beautiful illustrations and gorgeous double spreads. Let’s obsess about clear, well-set rubrics. Let’s appreciate delicious paper quality. Let’s delight at a bit of bling on a cover. As a great scholar may or may not have once said, “Per pulchra ad astra.” Through beauty to the stars!


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Beyond the classroom…involving parents in learning

shutterstock_220645462Vanessa has been teaching English as a Foreign language in Portugal for the past 20 years. She is currently teaching at Escola Superior de Educação.  Her areas of interest are teaching YLs, Teens and Pre-Teens. She joins us today to preview her webinar, ‘Beyond the classroom… involving parents in learning’ taking place tomorrow, 28th June and Wednesday 29th.

While it is true that as teachers our main mission is to teach the students in our classrooms lots of exciting new language and skills, it’s also true that as professional educators we often invest a lot of our precious time in speaking to and dealing with students’ parents. For example, we may just say a friendly hello, offer a friendly reminder, provide a word of warning or perhaps simply give a student’s family and loved ones some feedback about their child’s progress. Whilst this may suffice for some parents, some teachers assert that this is just the tip of the teacher parent relationship. I would argue that there is so much more that could be done to encourage both parties to join efforts to guarantee that each student reaches their personal learning goals successfully.

This webinar aims to look at how we as teachers can actively involve our students’ parents in their children’s school learning process. Generally speaking, by nature, most parents are interested in their children’s academic life and progress, and want to help their children be successful at school. It is also true that more often than not they are true specialists when it comes to knowing their children’s strengths and weaknesses. Yet, in many cases this natural interest turns out to be a source of frustration as it is not always channeled correctly, and rather than feeling useful and engaged, parents end up feeling lost and frustrated. They know that there is so much more that could be done to help their children, but don’t know exactly how to go about doing it.

In order to revert this, we will begin the webinar by discussing and analyzing how parent involvement outside school can be set up in a practical manner. The webinar will be structured as follows:

  1. Setting up a clear and open channel of communication between teachers and parents.
  2. Suggesting and exploring various ideas and activities to get parents started on the right track and gently guide and encourage them to become active participants in their children’s learning process.
  3. Suggesting and considering ideas like how to plan and set up a revision schedule for their children, how to choose appropriate learning resources and how to use the Oxford parents’ website to find appropriate tasks and activities.

By the end of the webinar participants will have a fair idea of how to go about creating a game plan to apply in their schools to involve and engage parents to help maximize their students’ learning. We will end the webinar with an opportunity for participants ask questions and to share any valuable experience and tips that they may have.

If you’re interested in taking part in Vanessa’s webinar, register for free by clicking the button below.

register-for-webinar

 


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Classroom resources for Easter

shutterstock_177323042Easter is nearly upon us, so we thought we’d share some classroom resources to help you and your class celebrate as the holidays approach.

We’ve put together some activities from our materials within Oxford Teacher’s Club for young learners to help bring Easter into the language learning classroom. Enjoy!

 

 

 

Easter Songs and Chants

The Easter Egg Song

The Easter Egg Karaoke

Easter Card

An Easter Card for colouring & creative writing

Easter Crossword

Easter Crossword for primary level – vocabulary & colouring exercise