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Help! My students won’t sing!

Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto, co-author of Let’s Go, looks at how to make the most of songs in the English classroom – even when your students resist singing…

Most of the time, students (and their teachers) enjoy songs and chants, and they’re a staple in young learner classrooms. When students seem reluctant to sing or chant, it’s because they don’t feel confident with the lyrics or melody. You can increase your chances of success by presenting new songs and chants in a way that builds confidence and reduces stress. For example, have the CD playing as students enter the classroom. Have students listen to the song or chant and tell you which words they can hear – you don’t have to focus on the words they can’t yet hear. Songs and chants in Let’s Go always reinforce the language of the lesson, so students will hear words from the conversation, or the new language pattern, or the new phonics words. As they recognize words and phrases and get familiar with the melody or rhythm, they will be building confidence to sing or chant.

Every once in a while, however, you’ll have students who just don’t want to sing or chant. Perhaps your previously enthusiastic singers have become ‘too cool for school’, or perhaps your boys’ voices are starting to change and they feel awkward, or maybe you have a class of older beginners who think they’re too mature for the songs and chants in their books. You can always explain how songs and chants help students remember language, or improve intonation and natural rhythm, but sometimes it’s easier to have some alternative activities that enable you to reap the rewards of using songs and chants without a battle over actually singing or chanting.

Listen and order. Have students copy the lines in the song onto another piece of paper that is cut into strips (so that one line of the song is on one strip of paper), shuffle the strips and give to another student. This gives students practice writing clearly enough so that someone else can read their writing, and practice reading another students’ handwriting.  Ask students to read the lyrics and see if they remember the correct order. Play the song for them to confirm. If you want this to be more of a listening and reading challenge, give each pair or group of students a set of lines to the song and have them order them as they listen. If your students aren’t fluent readers, give them word or picture cards to order.

Busy, Busy, Busy from Let's Go 3

Song taken from Let’s Go 3

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20 years of learning and playing with Let’s Go

Let's Go authorsIt’s hard to believe, but the Let’s Go series is nearly 20 years old. We recently had a chance to talk with the series authors, Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto, Ritsuko Nakata and Karen Frazier, about the changes they’ve seen in publishing, and in teaching English to children, over the past two decades.

As a special thank you, Barb thought it would be nice to share a short video with you, as a little flavour of the last 20 years of working on Let’s Go. Thanks also to Barb for conducting the following interview.

Barb: Let’s Go was one of the first course books for teaching English as a foreign language to children. Quite a few features that are commonplace in young learner courses now started with Let’s Go. What were some of the “firsts”? Please complete this sentence: Let’s Go was the first English course to _____.

Ritsuko: It was the first English course to expose children to the Roman alphabet at such a young age. Let’s Go was also the first English course to include so many verbs. If you know plenty of verbs, you can talk a lot!  Also, it’s written so that children can actually use the dialogues they are learning.

Karen: It was the first English course to include full answers and question forms to get kids talking. With Let’s Go, kids don’t just learn one word answers to teachers’ questions, they learn the words to ask the questions, too. It’s so common now that it’s hard to believe that it was a pioneering approach back in the 1990s.

Ritsuko: I’m pretty sure it was the first book to include chants, and to include movement to help children remember sentences as well as the verbs.

Barb: What’s something teachers may not know about Let’s Go?

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Goldilocks and the three answers

Group of five young children jumpingIn her first blog post for OUP, Barb Hoskins Sakamoto, co-author of the Let’s Go series, considers how introducing language to young learners requires an approach that’s ‘just right’.

Imagine if you will, that Goldilocks teaches English as a foreign language to children. Her students have been learning about animals and are talking about which animals they like and dislike. She asks one of her students, “Do you like bears?” Assuming that the student does indeed like bears, which of the following answers does Goldilocks hope for?

Yes, I do.
Yes, I do like bears.

All three answers are possible, but like Goldilocks looking for her porridge, only one of them is just right.

Yes, I do like bears is too long. It falls into the category my co-author Carolyn Graham calls “not real English.” Grammatically, it’s possible, but is unlikely to be heard in conversation.

Yes! is too real. It’s a shortcut answer that’s convenient when everyone understands that yes is followed by additional (unspoken) information. Children learning English as their first language develop a passive language foundation that helps them do this. Goldilocks knows that her foreign language students get most, if not all, of their language foundation in her class. Unless she exposes her students to longer answers, they aren’t likely to learn that the implied meaning of yes changes, based on the question asked:

Are you happy? Yes, I am.
Is this a star? Yes, it is.
Is he twelve? Yes, he is.
Do you want some cake? Yes, I do.
Can you ski? Yes, I can.
Have you ever seen a bear? Yes, I have.
Will you study tonight? Yes, I will.

The answer, Yes, I do, is short enough to be “real,” but long enough to contain the information students need to build a language foundation that will eventually help them become successful readers and writers in English. That’s why Goldilocks knows that it’s just right.

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