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‘All together now’: using songs and actions for kindergarten classroom management

Pre-school children singing

Photo courtesy of Gryphon House.

Margaret Whitfield, co-author of the forthcoming Kindergarten series, Show and Tell, offers some practical tips on using songs and games for Kindergarten classroom management.

There are many reasons for using songs and actions in the kindergarten classroom. They’re memorable, they engage different types of learners, channel energy effectively and – best of all – they’re enjoyable. But songs and actions are also fantastic for encouraging teamwork and managing the classroom.

How can songs and actions encourage teamwork?

Singing a song is in its nature a collaborative activity. All the children can join in to create something that they’re proud of. Harness this by allowing children to join in at different levels. Give them a tambourine if they’re too shy to sing – they’ll still be absorbing the language, learning the natural rhythm and intonation. If they’re super-confident, give them a line to sing solo. Try arranging the children in a circle and moving around as you sing the song – the children have to work as one or the circle collapses!

Ask groups to work together to make up actions or new verses. Have the group teach their verse or actions to the rest of the class, using props and flashcards, if appropriate. By working in groups like this, children are encouraged to collaborate and the less confident members of the class are more likely to contribute. (Try this free song activity idea from Freia Layfield, an Oxford University Press Teacher Trainer.)

Think about how you teach songs as a way of promoting teamwork. Encourage the children to be involved in the process. Begin by simple options – listen again, or sing? Clap the rhythm or ‘la-la-la’ to the tune? The children can move to different areas of the classroom according to their choices. Then have a child be in charge of the CD player. Teach the children simple phrases (Pause, please. Play it again, please.) so that they can direct the child working the CD player. With older children, once they are used to being in control, you could challenge a small group to work together with the CD player to learn the song.

How can songs and actions be a tool for classroom management?

All children have their own ideas about what they want to be doing, and it can sometimes be challenging to focus them on the job in hand, particularly if it’s not one they’re fond of.

My experience is that many very young children will respond better to commands if you sing them – however simply, and however badly. Clean up, put your shoes on, wash your hands, and so on. The same can be true with actions – it’s like a code you share with the children; for example, clap your hands to get their attention, hold them in the air, then rub them together as though washing your hands. One advantage of both these approaches is that you’re not using your voice in the usual way.

A step on from this is to turn everyday classroom routines into short chants and songs. This can be particularly effective if you use a tune that children know and like; for example, try teaching this ‘clean up’ song, sung to the tune of ‘London Bridge is falling down’:

Time to clean up everyone, everyone, everyone.
Do it together, let’s have fun,
Let’s get busy!

If you build in some actions, as well, you can ensure that children are focused on the song and not carrying on with what they were doing. In our forthcoming series, Show and Tell, my co-authors and I have included chants to support good behavior, so you can build these into your classroom routine and use them as a fun reminder. For example, when a child drops something (or looks as though he/she is about to!):

Little hands be careful,
Pick it up and hold it tight.
Little hands be careful,
And it will be alright.

You can also use songs as a reward. Leave time at the end of the lesson, pick a child whose work or behavior has been especially good, and ask them to choose their favorite English song for the class to sing.

These are just a few ways that songs and actions can be used to promote teamwork and help with classroom management. If you have any feedback or ideas of your own to share, please post!

Would you like more practical tips on classroom management and how to develop communication, collaboration and other 21st century skills with your kindergarten children?
Visit our site on
Teaching 21st Century skills with confidence for free video tips, activity ideas and teaching tools.

Sign up for the webinar on Making the most of kindergarten classroom management on 18 December.


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Look who’s talking! Getting very young learners to speak in English

Children in playgroundGabby Pritchard, co-author of the forthcoming Kindergarten series, Show and Tell, offers some practical tips for encouraging your Kindergarten children to communicate in English.

From the moment toddlers begin to discover the exciting world around them, they begin to acquire the language they need to express their curiosity and be understood by others. They very quickly learn to use simple questions to find answers. What? Where? When? How? and Why? become favorite words as they explore how their world works.

So, how can we create a classroom environment that encourages young children to continue their exploration of the world through a new language? Here are some ideas.

1. Begin with questions

Use posters, photographs, toys and real objects to stimulate children’s curiosity about a new topic. Let them feel the objects. Ask plenty of questions: What can you see? What’s this? What color is the…? How many…? Where is…?

Use the same questions every time you introduce a new topic so the children become familiar with them. As they gain confidence, encourage the children to ask some questions of their own too.

2. Cooperative learning

Organize children into small groups to carry out simple investigations and experiments, play language games, act out stories and complete craft activities.

By working cooperatively, your children will find they need to talk about how to complete tasks, assign roles and solve problems. They will also develop their social skills, such as learning to share and turn taking.

Always encourage children to use polite language when working alongside each other. Phrases such as: Let’s play with the… Please pass the… and You’re welcome are very useful phrases. They will help children develop respect for others and form positive relationships. Try teacher trainer Freia Layfield’s idea for a role-play activity that teaches children valuable life skills while getting them to talk in English.

3. Get more from stories

Young children love to immerse themselves in the world of make-believe. Using stories in class provides a great basis for getting children to talk about motivation, consequences and feelings.

Read aloud, or play audio recordings of, short, simple stories. Then ask questions to get the children to think carefully about the characters and events. The questions should encourage a deeper understanding of how and why things have happened.

You can begin by asking simple questions, for example, Is the giant happy? Are the bears angry? Then move on to more probing questions: Why is Jack scared? Why are the bears angry?

When the children have explored a story, encourage them to work in groups to act out the story using props. You may be surprised by how much more enthusiastic the children are, and how much more they put into their acted versions of the stories, once they have explored the meaning thoroughly.

4. Show and Tell

A great way of rounding up a topic and reinforcing what children have learned is to set up group or class projects. These can include:

  • topic-related craft activities
  • hands-on tasks such as growing plants or preparing snacks
  • recording activities such as making graphs of class preferences or talents
  • bringing to class a favorite toy or book to talk about.

Start ‘Show and Tell’ sessions by talking with the children about what they are going to produce, getting them to contribute ideas about how they will do this and the sorts of equipment they will need to complete the project. Get the children to work together to produce different parts of projects where possible. If they need to work individually on a project, prepare sets of materials for groups to share, to encourage them to observe others and discuss ways of working in order to produce the best results.

Finally, have the children present their work to the class, to other classes, or even to their parents. This will help build confidence in their ability to express themselves and give them a real sense of achievement.

For a simple way to introduce the idea of Show and Tell to your kindergarten class, visit the page on ‘Teaching 21st century skills with confidence’ for another video tip from Freia Layfield. It comes with a free worksheet that you can download from the Oxford Teachers’ Club (it’s quick and free to register).

We’d like to hear from you

Please do share your experiences of getting children talking in class – we would love to hear about them. You can use the comments box below this blog.

Would you like more practical tips on developing communication and other 21st century skills with your Kindergarten children? Visit our site on Teaching 21st century skills with confidence for free video tips, activity ideas and teaching tools.


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Five Easy Ways in Which You Can Encourage Young Children to Think Critically

Child thinkingKate Read, co-author of the forthcoming kindergarten series, Show and Tell, offers some practical tips for getting your kindergarten children to think critically.

Too young for critical thinking?

When people refer to critical thinking, it’s often in association with older Primary and Secondary children who have mastered basic literacy and numeracy skills. Critical thinking is sometimes seen as a higher-level skill that can only be used after the children have mastered the basics of the language through traditional methods. But is this really true?

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is defined in a number of ways but in essence it means the ability to analyze information, make decisions based on information and insight, and find creative solutions to different problems and questions. These skills, once learned, can be used throughout a lifetime and are becoming increasingly important in today’s world.

Turning received wisdom on its head

When we set out to write Show and Tell, our forthcoming kindergarten course for Oxford University Press, my co-authors and I decided that we would see how we could take basic critical thinking skills and apply them to a kindergarten context. The more we wrote, the more we became convinced that not only was it possible to do this but it was vital to do this in order to prepare young children for the years ahead. We realized that you’re never too young to start thinking critically.

We see an approach that places critical thinking at the center as a way of creating a partnership in the learning process with the child. An approach in which learning isn’t just about memorizing isolated words but is about exploring concepts through the medium of language. We also see it as harnessing what is already there: the young child is abounding in curiosity about the world and that curiosity is the most important learning tool you could possibly have.

Five easy ways in which you can encourage young children to think critically

1. Questions, questions, questions!

Encourage a child’s natural inclination to ask questions. Focus on why questions more than any other. Treat children’s questions seriously and enthusiastically and engage with them. Encourage other children to engage with the questions as well.

2. Allow children to discover

When presenting a child with a series of facts, the relevance can often be lost. However, if you guide children with ways of finding things out, they will understand and consolidate the understanding more easily. For example, if you are looking at shapes, don’t tell a child that a triangle has three sides and a square has four. Let them count, draw conclusions and verbalize their answers. In that way, it becomes more meaningful and memorable. From a young age, discovery can happen through observation, trial and error, and even simple experiments.

3. Wrong can be right

In order to be comfortable with critical thinking, children need to be in an environment where they feel confident and comfortable taking chances and getting things wrong. Try not to criticize a wrong answer but use it as an opportunity to further explore. We can often learn more from wrong answers than right ones!

4. Respecting and encouraging opinions

Children should be encouraged to form and express opinions on even simple things. Forming opinions means that they have processed the information, activated it and formed a judgment on it. Once expressed, their opinions should be treated as important. See if they can develop new ideas from that point onwards.

5. The seriousness of fun and games

Game playing can be a great way of critically assessing the ideas and attitudes of others while deducing ways of solving simple ‘problems’ that effective or good games present. They also give children those vital skills of reacting to the unexpected when dealing with other people and their ideas.

These are just a few ideas but I’m sure that the experienced kindergarten teachers out there could add and add to this. Use the comments section below to let us know what you come up with!

Would you like more practical tips on developing critical thinking, and other 21st century skills, in your kindergarten children? Visit our site on Teaching 21st century skills with confidence for free video tips, activity ideas and photocopiable downloadables.