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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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Lesson activities – World Space Week

World Space Week - OUP

 

Since 1999, World Space Week has been used to celebrate humankind’s innate desire to explore the unexplored, and discover the undiscovered. Not only does it celebrate the achievements made globally in space exploration, it recognises the crucial contribution international cooperation across cultures and languages has brought to our learning of the great beyond.

Starting on the 4th October and lasting for a week, it’s the largest space event on earth, and now you can get your students involved with our ‘out of this world’ lesson plans and materials! Take your students on your own expedition, exploring new vocabulary and phrases along the way. With resources designed specifically for adult, secondary and primary learners, you’re guaranteed to make a buzz in any classroom environment.

Primary

Lesson plan.

Handout.

Flashcards.

Quiz.

Secondary

Lesson plan.

Handout.

Adult

Lesson plan.

Handout.

Found these lesson activities useful? Want to see more content like this? Let us know in the comments below.  


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Here Today, Here Tomorrow: Vocabulary learning strategies

Vocabulary learning strategies

Nick Michelioudakis has worked as a teacher, examiner and trainer for many years. He has given talks in numerous countries and he has written extensively on Methodology, though he is better known for his ‘Psychology and ELT’ articles in which he draws on insights from such disciplines as Marketing, Management and Social Psychology. He is particularly interested in student motivation and humour (he has his own YouTube channel – ‘Comedy for ELT’). You can visit his blog at www.michelioudakis.org.

It’s probably true to say that as teachers, we face the same problems the world over: 

  1. The students’ vocabulary is not what it should be;
  2. most students do note down vocabulary but fail to study it afterwards;
  3. most students record words like this ‘cast = ρίχνω’;
  4. when forced to study vocabulary, most students simply re-read their notes or rely on simple memorisation.

So how will this webinar help? Well, the idea is to offer some principles which will make vocabulary learning more effective. In addition, the talk will demonstrate ten very simple, very practical strategies which should help students practice on their own. Let me explain…

  • Principle 1: ‘Words are like Books’ (H. Puchta). This came as a revelation to me. Think: If you had 10,000 books in a pile on the floor, would you be able to find the one you wanted quickly and easily? The answer is of course, no.  So what do we do? We sort the books out on bookshelves of course – and these shelves are organised thematically.
  • Activity 1 – Grouping: You give your students 50 words (these could be 50 words from the students’ vocabulary notebooks!). You tell them to sort them out into different groups. How would they divide them up? What name would they give to each group? In doing so, students start to organise their vocabulary in mental ‘folders’, helping them to access the vocabulary quickly when they have to talk or write about a topic.
  • Principle 2: ‘Words are like Boats’ (H. Puchta). This is another striking metaphor. The idea is that if you have a boat and you just leave it there, it will just drift away. But of course, the same thing happens with words. Now, if we have a boat and we want it to stay put, we can tie it to a post; and if we have many boats we can just tie them all together. Ten or fifteen boats tied together will not drift away. Similarly, if we have a word and we want it to stay in our mind, we can ‘tie’ it to other words (or even to ideas).
  • Activity 2 – Linking: You give students some jumbled up words (preferably on the same topic) and you ask them to draw lines, literally linking words together. But they will also have to provide a justification (‘Lettuce goes with oil because you can find both of them in a salad’). Notice that in doing so, students also create a connection between these words and a third one (‘salad’).
  • Principle 3: ‘Words like being Married’. Perhaps the worst mistake our students make is that they record words in isolation. For instance they know what ‘test’ means, but when they try to use the word, they come up with things like ‘I wrote a test today’. This is why we need to encourage them to record collocations or whole phrases instead.
  • Activity 3 – Pairing: You give students some words and you ask them to find a partner for each. This is very important for verbs and adjectives. These particular words are desperate to ‘get married’. The reason is that they often do not mean much by themselves. It is crucial that students choose the right partners however; for me this means words which help convey the meaning of the original word. For instance, the right partner for the word ‘cast’ might be ‘a vote’; for the word ‘cunning’ it might be ‘Fox’.

Advantages: Did you notice something about these activities? That’s right. They are student and teacher friendly; i) they are extremely easy;  ii) they require no preparation;  iii) they require no extra materials;  iv) they can be adapted for all levels;  v) students can learn to do them on their own.

Not bad, all things considered… So there you have it: Three down, only seven to go! Hope to see you at the webinar.

For more info about the webinar, and to register, please click here!


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Using Video in the ELT Classroom Q&A

woman using video cameraJamie Keddie is a teacher, trainer and storyteller who has shared his insights and ideas in over 40 different countries. He is the founder of Lessonstream, the resource site for teachers. He is the author of ‘Images’ (OUP 2009), ‘Bringing online video into the classroom’ (OUP 2014) and ‘Videotelling’ (Lessonstream Books, 2017). Jamie is also an associate trainer at Norwich Institute for Language Education.

Click here to check out Jamie’s most recent blog introducing his ‘Using Video in the ELT Classroom’ webinar series’. Missed the webinar? You can find it in our webinar library.

Where do you find your videos?

This is probably the question that I get asked the most so it is a good place to start.

The reality is that most of the videos that I use in the classroom are ones that I find by accident. We are all subjected to a constant stream of online content – through news sites or social media, for example. Once I see a video that I like, I immediately ask questions such as:

  • Would other people like this video as much as me?
  • Can I deconstruct the video into constituent parts (audio, stills, transcripts) and use these isolated components to get students thinking, speaking, writing or learning new language?
  • Can I find out more about the video and use the story behind it?

For me, it’s less about where or how I find videos, and more about recognising a good video when I see one.

What is wrong with using videos to introduce subjects?

In the webinar, I mentioned that I often ask teachers how they use video in the classroom. And in my experience, the most common answer is ‘to use them to introduce subjects and spark conversation’.

I didn’t want to imply that there is anything wrong with this approach. But I do feel that it is probably the weakest way to use video – a quick release approach in which the teacher presses play and delivers the video all at once.

Personally, I prefer to take a slow release approach: To look for ways to deconstruct the video, engage students and immerse them in the narrative. During the webinar, we explored three different deconstruction techniques: Using isolated audio, using isolated stills, and using a transcript-first approach.

How do you deal with technical issues and problems when using video in classroom?

Well, I suppose that the most familiar problem is losing or having no internet connection. Many teachers get around this by downloading videos from YouTube. When we download YouTube videos, we can store them on our devices and this allows us to display them in class without an internet connection. The problem is, however, that doing so is a breach of YouTube’s terms of services.

I suppose that my golden rule is to always have a back-up plan in case the technology fails. Not particularly useful, but surely important!

Have you ever shown your students a video you’ve filmed yourself?

Yes – absolutely! The video camera on your mobile phone is great for capturing spoken texts to take into the classroom. I often film my friends and family members and use the videos in class. Most of these are not public but I do have a YouTube channel which has a few videos like this one for example:

Would you give students the possibility to choose the videos?

I love tasks! Especially homework tasks where students choose videos that they like and then write about them. For example, ask students to go online and find an advert that they like. They can then describe it from start to finish, and put the narrative into words. But they shouldn’t say what the product it. In class, students can share their texts and guess what the mystery products are in each case.


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Using Video in the ELT Classroom

Jamie Keddie is a teacher, trainer and storyteller who has shared his insights and ideas in over 40 different countries. He is the founder of Lessonstream, the resource site for teachers. He is the author of ‘Images’ (OUP 2009), ‘Bringing online video into the classroom’ (OUP 2014) and ‘Videotelling’ (Lessonstream Books, 2017). Jamie is also an associate trainer at Norwich Institute for Language Education.

Can you believe it? – YouTube is over ten years old! During this time I have been working with teachers on ways of using videos in the English language classroom.

I often receive emails from other video-enthusiastic teachers that go like this: Hello Jamie. I just found this video on YouTube that I really like. I hope you don’t mind if I ask – what would you do with it in the classroom?

Here is an example of a video that a teacher sent me recently. It is titled: Googly-eyed Stubby Squid:

I don’t know about you, but I really like this video. So, let me put the question back to you: What would you do with this video in your classroom? How would you use it to teach English?

This is a task that I regularly set my own trainees. Suggestions will often fall into three different groups:

  1. To introduce a topic

In my experience, this is often the most common suggestion. In the case of the Googly-eyed Stubby Squid video, topics could include animals, colourful animals, unusual creatures, unusual pets, the sea, science, marine biology, etc.

There is nothing wrong with this approach. But wait! Shouldn’t we try to do something with video first? It is short in length but strong in narrative. How can we engage students with the story that it offers? This is exactly what I would like to demonstrate in the webinar.

  1. Listening comprehension

Another standard way to approach video is to focus on the spoken text. By spoken text, I am referring to the words that you hear – the monologues and dialogues that the video offers. As language teachers, we often consider that the audio contains the meat!

But wait! Authentic video can often be difficult to comprehend. Audio quality can be poor. People speak over each other. They make cultural references. They use low-frequency or technical words and phrases. So how do we deal with that? Again, this a question that I will be addressing in the webinar. 

  1. To teach [insert grammar point here]

Sometimes we recognise a possible language point in the material. In this case, for example, we could use the video to teach language for speculation (e.g. It could be a squid; It might be an octopus; Perhaps it’s a cuttlefish; It can’t be a crab; Etc.).

But wait – slow down! If we can regard the video as a story – if we can immerse students in the narrative – language can become more meaningful. In this webinar, I would like to show you how we can take a “meaning-first-language-second” approach to video.

The webinars take place on the 16th and 17th of August, and there are multiple times available. Click here to register today!

I look forward to seeing you there,

Jamie Keddie