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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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Top 10 Strategies for a Stress-free Classroom

Teacher smiling at young pupilVanessa Reilly is a teacher, teacher trainer, and author. In this article, she shares her advice on how to make the Primary and Pre-Primary classroom a stress-free environment.

The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” (William James)

I am often asked for advice about ways of making our English classes efficient and motivational, yet fun. As teaching is such a complex skill, with so many factors to consider, it’s very difficult to narrow it down to just a few ideas but I have tried to limit myself to ten.

1. Establish a routine and rules from the first class

With pre-school or lower-primary children, setting up a classroom routine is as important as any other element of your class. Once routines are carefully established, children know what we expect of them. A well-chosen routine can save valuable class time, help with discipline, and allow you to spend more time on meaningful instruction.

It’s important to establish a clear routine from Day 1. Simple routines like a Hello and a Goodbye song to mark the start and end of English time, and different ways of controlling transitions between activities like using songs or chants to signal a change from story time to table-time are important in pre-school and early primary classes. Younger children love it when their lives are predictable. The best way to capitalise on this is to build a routine into your classes, making life easier for you too.

The reason why children at this stage love routines is because they do not have a developed concept of time and they measure their time in school by the activities they do at set times in the school day.

With older children you might have a lesson negotiating classroom rules where they volunteer behaviours which they think will help to make the classroom a happier place and to help them get the most out of lessons. You will often be impressed and surprised with some of their ideas; like treating each other with respect, always doing their best work and handing homework in on time! You can then make a list of their rules and even get everyone, including you, to sign it. Make photocopies of the list for everyone to stick inside their books and you can enlarge it to display somewhere in the classroom.

2. Use variety

Although chocolate is delicious and many of us could happily eat it every day, we would soon become bored with a diet of chocolate. Why? Because it would no longer be a novelty. We would actually start to feel sick of it! The same can true of any classroom activity. A favourite activity can be fun and educational, but if we do it in the same way every day and only do that type of activity, it can become boring. We know that different children learn in different ways and that different activities cater for their needs in English. Stories provide children with input, as do songs, rhymes and chants. Play, drama and well-chosen games help them internalize language and use it to communicate. However, there are many other activities children enjoy that help them learn language and we should exploit them to full advantage. For example, Alan Maley says of using art and craft in the English classroom:

While making things, children also make meaning. As they explore shapes, colours, textures, constructions, they are extending their experience and understanding of the world – and doing it through the medium of the foreign language.” (In the foreword of Wright, A, 2001)

3. Have fun

Creating fun in the classroom does not mean that the children have to be on the go constantly or that you, the teacher, have to be the all singing all dancing entertainer. Fun can be created in many ways – singing, stories, quizzes, chants, games, acting out, TPR activities… The list is endless. Believe it or not, one of my students’ favourite games is the List Game, where they choose 6 topics, which I write on the board and number from one to six, each number corresponding to the sides of a dice. The children get into teams. One team throws the dice and all the teams have 3 minutes to write a list of words from that topic. They have as much fun with this game as with a running dictation or TPR game.

4. There needs to be language pay-off

Whilst it’s important to make learning fun for young learners, in the limited amount of time we have for English, we need to make sure that there is what Rixon calls language pay-off in every activity. When preparing a game or any other activity, it is important to be clear about the language and learning objectives. We can sometimes get carried away when we see our students having fun, however we must be sure that there is enough language learning going on to justify the activity.

Monitoring is most important during communicative group activities as many will revert to L1. Children find an award very motivational, e.g. a gold star for the table using the most English, or you could give the table not using enough English an Untrophy.

5. Music and movement

The dictionary defines music as an “art of sound in time that expresses ideas and emotions through elements of rhythm, melody, harmony and colour.”  (http://dictionary.reference.com/)

Music has unique qualities and a well-chosen song or piece of music can provide language learning benefits from Pre-Primary all the way up to the end of Primary, providing the children with useful language input that can be fun at the same time. If the children leave your classroom singing an English song in their head they will carry it with them all day and at home too, something Tim Murphey referred to as S-S-I-T-H-P – Song Stuck in the Head Phenomenon.

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Singing in English on a global stage

Global Sing Along entryStephanie Reaume, a teacher in Turkey, writes about what the Everybody Up Global Sing-along brought to her classroom.

I first heard about the Everybody Up! Global-sing-along at an ELT conference in March where I had the opportunity to meet author Patrick Jackson who very enthusiastically convinced me to participate. After promising to look into it, I went home and watched the winning video from last year and was hooked. What a great idea, I thought; my students will love this. This was followed just as quickly by visions of costumes, props and complicated dance routines. However, as you will see if you watch the videos my students and I proudly submitted, the end result didn’t include any fireworks or gymnastics…

Enthusiasm was high when I first showed my students last year’s winning video. They were ready to shoot the video right then and there. They became a little less enthusiastic once they realized that I expected them to learn the lyrics and the meaning of the song too! But thanks to the lesson plans and materials available through the Global Sing-along website, the students were able to learn about cleaning up, the rooms of the house and the song lyrics in a painless way.

After two weeks of rehearsals, and several dreams involving students with brooms singing ‘OK!’ at the top of their lungs, it was time to tape the videos. After setting up the camera in a way that all the students could be included in the frame, it proved nearly impossible to get them all to look at the camera at the same time. This problem had a simple solution, however: all the students would look in the right direction as long as their teacher was jumping up and down and waving her arms behind the camera!

Watching my young students proudly point themselves out to their parents during the ‘world premiere’ (when we loaded the videos to YouTube) made it all worthwhile. I was also inspired by the level of teamwork showed by the students. They happily helped each other memorize the lyrics and even chose to spend their break times practicing.

The best thing about the Global Sing-along is that it is a project open to everyone, regardless of their English level, age (I have even seen videos submitted by high school students), singing or dancing abilities. Nowadays many schools are only interested in winning. In fact, when I asked my vice principal’s permission to participate with my students she suggested choosing ‘the best’ students from each class and making a video with them. Even though this would have made my life easier, I refused. In my opinion, the point of making these videos is to give everyone a chance to participate in something on a global scale, practice their English and, most importantly, have fun.

This is why, next year, my students and I will definitely be joining the Global Sing-along again. Hopefully this time we will be able to add a few of those complicated dance routines and props that I dreamt about at night! And one thing is for certain: my former students will know the difference between the living room, bedroom and bathroom for the rest of their lives.


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How music changed my teaching life

Patrick Jackson in a class of kids

Havin’ a bit of fun

Patrick Jackson, author of Potato Pals, Stars, and Everybody Up, all published by Oxford University Press, shares with us the power of using songs in the classroom. This article was originally published on the Super Simple Learning blog.

Before I went to Japan and started to teach kids, I ran a late night café in Dublin. While there are some similarities between customers in a restaurant and students in a classroom, I certainly wasn’t qualified to be a teacher. I had very little training and, like many other foreigners who get a job teaching English just because it’s their mother language, I basically walked into a classroom with no idea at all about how to teach young learners. It’s an unacceptable situation that the TEFL industry has to look at. Anyway, I really didn’t know what I was doing and so I made it up as I went along. I had no connections with a wider community of teachers beyond a couple of people in my school who were in the same boat as me.

I soon found out that the only way to survive with young learners was to sing with them, and keep them moving.
The combination of music, language and movement is the most powerful tool we can use to teach young learners and, more importantly, it keeps everyone happy! After a while, I was pretty much structuring my lessons around song. I would include at least four or five songs in a forty-minute lesson. I could easily see that these refreshed everyone, kept the energy positive, gave the class a nice structure and really got the kids to remember the target language in a fun and effortless way. Songs are a great way to get the language in! This is accepted by most teachers nowadays. It always amazes me that there are some who still don’t embrace music and movement. In fact, I don’t know how they survive!

Do you have any tips for using songs in the classroom?

Give everyone something to do. Students can make simple instruments out of recycled materials and that will keep the whole class involved. You can also use props, costumes or get students to make and hold up cards illustrating the language while singing. This creates a stronger connection between the lyrics and the meaning.

Always add movements to songs and if you’re dealing with space issues make up hand movements that can be done even by students sitting at desks.

Get the rhythm going and the tune will follow easily. Clapping out the rhythm together will also create a good screen of background noise for shyer students to feel safe behind.

Divide the class into half or groups and break the song up, singing to each other. A bit of competition can even be fun and a good way to get the energy up. Singing rounds and parts will make it sound very professional!

Think about how the song ties in with your curriculum. Although singing most songs is fun, if you don’t make the connection to the curriculum, you are missing an opportunity to strengthen language acquisition by making those all-important links. With a ready-made course, that hard work has already been done for you.

Patrick Jackson presenting in China

All together now!

Look to combine your favourite storybooks with appropriate songs and vice versa. Projects and other supplementary activities will also build up those connections between the lyrics of the song and ‘real’ language.

Once the language is in, make sure you give students enough ways of getting the language out again – to really use it! I find that a combination of role-plays and personalized writing, drawing and speaking activities that all lead up to take home moments make for the best all-round approach.

How about songs in your books?

When I started authoring textbooks I was very happy to be allowed to make songs a major component. This was true of Potato Pals where every book is accompanied by a song, but to an even greater extent with Everybody Up. Everybody Up is a new primary ELT course from Oxford University Press that I was very happy to have worked on with the Super Simple Learning team. Actually, Everybody Up has more songs than any other primary course. Oxford University Press spared no expense in putting together a dream team of songwriters including Grammy winning Julie Gold (“From a Distance”) and Devon and Troy of Super Simple Learning. We really couldn’t have been luckier.

Everybody Up Global Sing-along 2013The Everybody Up Global Sing-along is an exciting project that encourages classrooms around the world to send in You Tube videos of themselves singing songs from Everybody Up. It’s something that would never have been possible before the easy access of technology and social media. Watching the videos come in from around the world has been the highlight of my career so far. It’s especially fun and educational for the kids to see themselves cooperating on the production of their videos and to be able to see other children all over the world singing the same songs as them. The competition is open until August and I would very strongly urge any of your readers that teach kids to enter. There is a huge prize for the best entry; an all expenses paid trip to Oxford to attend the English Language Teachers Summer Seminar 2014 at Oxford University, including flights and accommodation. The schools that submit the best entries can also receive a visit and concert from the songwriters and last year Devon and Julie Gold visited Taiwan.

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