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Are your young learners getting their five a day?

Mother and Son in supermarketIn the light of recent food industry scandals, Everybody Up co-author Patrick Jackson asks some questions about what we are putting on the table for our young learners.

When I was little, breakfast was spent listening to our budgie Jacob telling my sister to wake up. I drew faces on boiled eggs, poor souls, then executed them with the whack of a spoon. Above all, I read the back of the cereal box from which you’d often get a small plastic toy. Nowadays, because I eat boring grown-up cereals, the backs of cereal boxes only give me nutritional information and charts showing me how I have made the right choice and will live for 100 years. To be honest, the magic has gone. No more mazes, jokes, cartoons or collectible plastic figures for me.

As educators, we are responsible for providing our students with a healthy balance of activities to make up a good all-round educational diet from source to table.

The recent food industry scandals have made us all think a bit harder about where our food comes from and who we trust to supply it. We should have the same rigour when choosing what we bring into the classroom. Home-grown and home-cooked are the most delicious but not everybody has the time or the expertise to prepare tasty food day in day out. When the ‘family’ consists of 40 or more with ‘meals’ running all day long, it is time to reach for something that has been prepared for you. Do your materials come from trusted suppliers and are those suppliers providing what they say on the packet?

The other day in the supermarket I was struck by how, down the whole length of the aisle, I could only see plastic, paper and glass. I could not see any actual food at all. What a shame it would be if we allowed our education system to become like that: depersonalised, delegated and always covered in expensive and unnecessary packaging.

Patrick in the supermarket

So what are you bringing to the table? Are your lessons nice and fresh or a bit stale and mouldy? Is your presentation crisp and crunchy or a getting rather tired and floppy? Do you use enough organic local ingredients? Are your lessons colourful and attractive or bland and uninviting? Do they change with the seasons or is it the same thing all year round? Do you even get to choose what is on the menu and do your students get to feel like they have choice too? Are there some tasty treats and snacks to brighten things up now and again? Is there enough variety and balance? What utensils do you use to prepare, serve and eat? Does it all come to the table piping hot or have your materials got the look and feel of yesterday’s cold pizza? Do your students get enough chance to ‘cook’ for themselves or is it always a one-way process?

And how about those essential five portions of fruit and vegetables we should be eating every day? What are the language teaching essentials that young learners absolutely need? Everybody will have their own ideas on this but I believe that the diet should include the following:

  • Music and movement
  • Links to real world wonder and discovery
  • Creative and imaginative activities
  • Stories and values
  • Personalisation moments

We owe it to our students to give them fresh and healthy produce. When we need to reach for processed fare, we should do everything we can to ensure it does what is says on the tin. What sort of meals are you laying on for your students?

Try the Everybody Up Global Sing-along for free animated songs, lesson plans and a great learning opportunity for your students.

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Music Makes It Stick

Musical notesSusan Banman Sileci, Everybody Up co-author, has a confession to make…

I have a confession to make: I forget to use music in my classroom. And then something happens that reminds me that using music to teach – not just to kids but to teenagers and adults, too – is one of the best ways to help them learn. It seems obvious, but I forget all the time. I use flashcards. I play games. I teach culture and history and I tell stories. But I forget to use music. Crazy, isn’t it?

Part of the problem is that I teach teenagers, between 12 and 16 years old. My eight students are children who live in one of the poorest areas of São Paulo, Brazil: Campo Limpo. They’re part of a special educational program that removed them from their overcrowded and undisciplined public schools and put them in a private school. I teach them once a week. Our classroom is in one of their homes, on a long table made of wooden planks set upon boxes, and the room’s one electrical outlet is on the other side of the room. The book we use, Oxford University Press’s Engage, is great. But Engage, like most books for teenagers, doesn’t come with a music program. As a result, I often forget how much these kids love music and how effective music can be.

I’m one of the authors of Everybody Up. This is a primary series which comes with an incredible music program and is entering the second year of its outstanding and award-winning Global Sing-Along. You wouldn’t think I’d need reminders to use music! But I do. Here’s a story for you.

Before the books were ready, I received a sample CD of some of the music. I had the CD in my car and was giving several of my teenage students a ride to school after our class. My students love Beyoncé and laugh at Justin Bieber (although they won’t let me change the radio station when he’s on), and one listens to Guns N’ Roses in preparation for his career as a rock star. Instead of turning on the radio, I decided to keep listening to my new CD. A song for the Starter level, Boys and Girls, came on. The music was obviously for very young children.

And my ‘too cool’ teenage students learned the words the first time, divided themselves into boys and girls and sang the song repeatedly. We drove through Campo Limpo with the windows down – past lines of laundry, small shacks and a large trash heap, through a park known for its drug dealers, over speed bumps and in front of the brick homes of one of their family members. ‘There’s my cousin,’ Camila laughed, and shouted, ‘Hi boy!’ out the window. The boy waved.

So, are we really too cool?

With these teenagers, I can use Everybody Up songs and they’re happy to learn them. They laugh. It’s kiddie music, but they always listen carefully, learn, and leave the class singing the song. I also like to use songs from the radio. We recently listened to Katy Perry’s Firework. It’s a song they know but never understood. They’re beginner students so I use a variety of techniques with songs, especially with complicated, non-ELT songs:

  • I don’t expect them to learn the entire song. That can be difficult, requires a lot of L1, and is certainly hard to remember five minutes after class is over.
  • I pick out a grammar point or a set of vocabulary. I pre-teach that language and give them the lyrics printed out with those parts missing. They listen, sometimes several times, to fill in the blanks with pre-taught material.
  • We talk about the general message of the song and listen one more time.
  • We talk about the cultural differences the song exposes. Elvis’s Blue Christmas surprised my students because something blue in Portuguese is happy. Thayza refused to believe me that ‘blue’ meant sad, but she’s beginning to accept the concept!
  • If there’s time, they can do post-listening activities like inventing dance routines, researching the singer or the song, or finding other songs with similar lyrics or messages.

I’ve made a personal goal of using a song – any song – at least once a month. I’m learning that if a song meets a need, students, no matter their age, don’t care if it’s a song for children, for Elvis fans, or for future rock musicians. There’s always something to be learned, and music makes it stick.

What about you? What’s your experience with mixing music styles in the classroom?

Visit our site for more information on Everybody Up and the Everybody Up Global Sing-along 2013.

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The Sound of Music: The Teenager’s Classroom

Boy playing guitarChristina Giannikas owns a chain of private language schools in Southern Greece. Here she talks about the benefits of using songs and music to teach English to teenagers.

There are many strategies and techniques that language teachers use in order to keep their teenage students interested and motivated. This specific age group can prove to be a challenge; for this reason, a teaching tool that would aid the educator is the inclusion of songs in lessons, specifically songs that the students can relate to.

Music and songs have been part of the human experience for as long as we can remember. The combination of music and lyrics has a very powerful effect on teenagers, therefore, the use of songs in the classroom can, in fact, be very valuable. Music tends to decrease anxiety and self-consciousness in language learners. Learning a new concept or vocabulary through a song is, without a doubt, less threatening and intimidating than a typical worksheet. Including songs in a language lesson can enrich teaching material and supply the lesson with more meaning. Students become more engaged, stay focused for longer and retain the information offered in the lesson.

One important reason for using songs in the language classroom is that they are excellent examples of colloquial English, that is, the language of informal conversation. Teenagers can be exposed to more informal language that can bring them closer to a more genuine usage which they may find more realistic. Furthermore, songs and music can often supply the language classroom with a context to better understand the target language. Pitches, melodies, rhymes, and phrases can function as musical context and can be a way of triggering meaning and comprehensibility. It has also been argued that through this teaching technique, teenagers can experience a wide range of accents, depending on the different songs they are exposed to. It could be British English, American English or any variety of regional accents. Consequently, through the lyrics, the accents and the artists, language learners are brought closer to cultural elements of the target language, a feature that could often be overlooked in the classroom.

Drawing from personal experience, after a ‘song session’, I leave the classroom feeling positive that a fun and prosperous lesson was delivered. The best part of it all is that my teenagers, this wonderful yet difficult crowd, enjoy themselves whilst learning. The teacher is immediately given the opportunity to develop a rapport with teenage learners, letting them know, in a way, that they may have similar tastes and that their teacher is not from another planet. In the process of this realisation, students develop their cognitive skills by being involved in various tasks connecting to the song at hand. An example comes to mind where a teacher could pre-teach unknown vocabulary, ask students to fill-in gaps in the song, spot ‘grammar mistakes’ the singer makes (such as ‘ain’t no sunshine’ or ‘I wanna dance’), guess what the singer would do next and discuss various scenarios. The possibilities are endless!

The selection of songs should complement aspects of a thematic unit and value, or a topic of interest that students have requested. It is not difficult; on the contrary, teachers find themselves enjoying it just as much as the students. If the teacher can employ a song with enough resilience to stick in the teenage mind long enough to experience triumph with language structures, learn an aspect of the target culture and/or achieve listening enjoyment, then the teacher will have reached their goal.

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