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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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Classroom resources for Easter

shutterstock_177323042Easter is nearly upon us, so we thought we’d share some classroom resources to help you and your class celebrate as the holidays approach.

We’ve put together some activities from our materials within Oxford Teacher’s Club for young learners to help bring Easter into the language learning classroom. Enjoy!

 

 

 

Easter Songs and Chants

The Easter Egg Song

The Easter Egg Karaoke

Easter Card

An Easter Card for colouring & creative writing

Easter Crossword

Easter Crossword for primary level – vocabulary & colouring exercise

 


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Webinar: Having fun with festivals

A celebration of Holi Festival of Colors

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Vanessa Reilly, teacher, teacher trainer and OUP author, introduces her upcoming webinar on 27th and 28th May entitled: Having fun with festivals – cultivating interest in the target culture in your young learner classroom.

Just how important is the target culture to you when teaching English as a foreign language to young learners? Looking at a language from the point of view of speakers of that language and how they live makes the target language more real, not just a collection of words and sentences to be learnt.

All learners need to be introduced to the target culture, no matter how young or early on in their language learning experience, in order to provide them with the optimum conditions for success.

My webinar will provide an overview of the following:

Target culture in the very young learner and young learner classroom

Very early on in my teaching career, I remember reading Claire Kramsch’s book Context and Culture in Language Teaching, and this statement stuck in my mind:

If… language is seen as social practice, culture becomes the very core of language teaching. Cultural awareness must then be viewed as enabling language proficiency… Culture in language teaching is not an expendable fifth skill, tacked on, so to speak, to the teaching of speaking, listening, reading and writing.”

So I started to explore:

→ What are the implications for primary age children?

If, as Kramsch proposes, cultural awareness needs to be an integral part of language learning, then I believe that as teachers of English we need to explore the many aspects of English-speaking culture appropriate for all learners, however young the children we teach.

→ What can we do as primary teachers?

We need to look at culture through a child’s eyes and consider what will motivate a Primary child to want to know more about the target culture. Having worked with children for nearly 25 years, I have found even young children are really interested when I talk about what children in English-speaking countries do that is the same or different to their world. I find activities based on festivals very motivational and the children quickly become engaged in the colourful, fun activities; so festivals are usually where I begin to introduce culture into the Pre-school and Primary classroom.

In my upcoming webinar we will look at bringing cultural awareness to young learners through festivals that are important to the everyday lives of children in English-speaking countries. In this very practical session we will investigate stories, songs, games and other mysterious things to enjoy with our Primary children.


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Ready to write? Tips on preparing Kindergarten children to write

School children writingMargaret Whitfield, co-author of the forthcoming Kindergarten series, Show and Tell, offers some practical tips on preparing kindergarten children to write.

Have you ever thought about how complex writing is? It involves fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, control of the arm and shoulder, recognition of letter shapes, association of letter shapes and sounds, and so on. It’s a wonder anyone ever learns to write. The fact that children usually master it is proof of their amazing learning power. The early stages of learning to write involve developing concepts about writing as well as the basic skills that form the foundation of writing development.

Children begin to understand and to enjoy the idea of writing well before they are actually able to write. They see adults and older children writing and, as always, want to join in. Their experiences as they do so can influence both their progress and their later attitude to writing, so how can we ensure that they’re positive ones?

Encourage scribbling early mark-making

Make sure that opportunities for writing are widespread and varied, and that you praise all children’s efforts. When you refer to what children are doing as writing and ask about what they’ve written, you reinforce the idea that they’re doing the same thing as the ‘grown-ups’. You are valuing their effort. The marks may just be scribbles at this stage, but they’re a crucial stage on the path to recognizable writing.

Some everyday opportunities for writing:

  • writing labels for items in the classroom, e.g. toy food in a shop
  • writing a label on a picture they’ve painted or drawn
  • writing a message or a card for a family member

Be CREATIVE

Pencil control is a fundamental skill to master, but there are also many creative activities that will contribute to writing skills that don’t involve pencil and paper.

The following will all develop children’s motor skills, and parents may also like to do some of them at home:

  • Manual craftwork, e.g. manipulating small pieces of paper to make a collage picture
  • Making marks in sand with sticks or fingers
  • Covering a chalkboard with chalk and painting it with a wet paintbrush

In addition, using modelling clay helps to develop the muscles in the hand – get children squeezing, squashing, and rolling balls and sausage shapes.

Focus on letter SHAPES

For children to develop from early mark-making to recognizable letters, they need to recognize the letter shapes. (They also, of course, need to associate letters with sounds before they can use letters meaningfully, but that’s another topic.) Flashcards and posters with the letters are really useful for this, but they can be supplemented and combined with lots of other activities. For example:

  • Have children make the shapes with their bodies. Give two children a flashcard of letter ‘b’, for example, and ask them to work together to make the shape.
  • Match magnetic letters to flashcards.
  • Have children make the letters of their name with salt dough. They can decorate the letters when they’re baked.
  • Letter hunt: give a child a letter flashcard and ask them to find as many examples of that letter around the classroom or on a page of a storybook.
  • Use objects such as buttons or pipe cleaners to make the shape of a letter shown on the flashcard. Watch teacher trainer, Freia Layfield, show you how to make the most of this kind of activity in class and download a free photocopiable activity template.

Make writing part of role-play

Role-play is a key part of children’s play at this age, and it can provide great opportunities for meaningful writing activities. If you leave clipboards with pencils around the classroom in different play areas, children can be encouraged to build writing into their play.

Here are some ideas for combining role-play and writing:

  • Shopping: write a shopping list
  • Firefighters: write the address of the fire
  • Doctors: write a prescription for some medicine or some notes about the patient’s condition
  • Superheroes: write a secret message to another superhero and hide it for them to find
  • Traffic cops: write parking tickets for scooters left in the wrong place – or even speeding tickets!

And finally, be patient

Different children progress at different rates. A child may, for example, have less developed fine motor skills but a good understanding of sound–letter correspondence. Try not to ‘correct’ children’s writing too much and remember to praise their efforts; they will be encouraged to write more and so get the practice they need to progress.

Would you like more practical tips on getting kindergarten children to read and write? Visit our site on Teaching 21st Century skills with confidence for free video tips, activity ideas and teaching tools.

Sign up for the free webinar on how to get kindergarten children writing on 22 January 2014.


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Managing the Perfect Classroom

Eager children in classKathleen Kampa and Charles Vilina, co-authors of the forthcoming Young Learners series, Oxford Discover, share some classroom management tips.

As teachers of young learners, we all know the benefits of a well-managed classroom. Our students are alert, focused, and excited to learn. All of our energies can go into teaching the lesson, rather than dealing with management issues. So how can we achieve this perfect classroom?

It’s important to remember that good classroom management is like fire prevention – our aim is to avoid problems in the first place. A teacher who is well organized and prepared, and who has specific goals for each lesson, is off to a very good start! However, there are other things we can do to keep our students focused and happy.

We’d like to begin with two broad perspectives on classroom management, and then move on to some simple strategies that you can use right away.

1. How students perceive learning determines a lot of their behavior

If students sense that learning is a one-way street, with information flowing only from the teacher to the student, management problems can occur from the very beginning of the lesson. Some students may be bored, others may feel forced to learn, and others may seek to stand out and be noticed by misbehaving.

The solution is to create a classroom of curiosity, nurturing a spirit of “wondering”. These qualities of curiosity and wondering are natural to students, but are often lost in traditional classroom settings. As teachers, we can reignite these qualities by being curious and wondering ourselves, as in:

I wonder how caterpillars turn into butterflies.
I wonder how this machine works.
I wonder if there is another way to do this.
I wonder how energy is created and used.

After observing this type of questioning from their teacher, students are encouraged to join in and ask their own questions. They perceive that they are seeking answers together, and that there may be many possible answers. Students become empowered to learn and discover as a class. They are also eager to share what they have learned with their teacher, making them partners in learning. As a result, there are fewer occasions for misbehavior or boredom.

2. CCBA – Catch Children Being Amazing!

We created the acronym CCBA (Catch Children Being Amazing) to remind teachers that students respond better to praise than to criticism. By noticing and pointing out how something is being done well, teachers give students specific examples of good behavior and learning. As you continue to comment on your students’ good behaviors, creative ideas, and positive contributions, you can easily shift the focus of attention from bad to good. Here are some examples:

  • I’m really pleased to see how well you all made a circle and got ready to sing.
  • Look at how Jenna and Miki are making big letter shapes together.
  • Michael, you wrote your story so neatly in your notebook.

Noticing and commenting on your students’ good behavior and achievements also builds confidence. Students often tell their parents later about a CCBA moment in their class. In so many ways, CCBA creates a positive classroom environment that supports learning for the entire year.

Here are some simple classroom management strategies you can try tomorrow!

Kathleen Lampa demonstrating the 'quiet signal'

Kathleen Kampa, Oxford Discover co-author

1. Refocusing Student Attention

Occasionally, it is necessary to get your students’ attention, especially if they are chatting after an activity is over. It is best to do this in a calm, quiet, and confident manner.

Here are two simple strategies you can try. Before using them, it’s a good idea to practice with your students several times until they become natural.

The first strategy is called the “quiet signal”. To do this, raise one hand while placing the forefinger of your other hand over your lips. Students then imitate these actions. Soon everyone is quiet.

The second strategy is to use a simple clapping rhythm. When students hear it, they repeat it. This signal is a clear way to get your students’ attention.

2. Transitional Songs

Transitional songs help move students smoothly from one activity to the next. They’re particularly useful for classes with young learners. Here are two songs you’ll be able to use tomorrow in your classroom.

Come and Sit In Front of Me (by Kathleen Kampa)
Melody: The Muffin Man

Come and sit in front of me, in front of me, in front of me,
Come and sit in front of me, in front of me.

Let’s Make a Circle (by Kathleen Kampa)
Melody: Skip To My Lou

Let’s make a circle big and round,
Let’s make a circle big and round,
Let’s make a circle big and round,
Everybody please sit down.

3. Celebrating Success

Creating a climate of success is important. Students work hard in your classroom, so celebrate their achievements! Here’s a chant you can use often throughout your lesson:

We Did It! (Celebration Chant by Kathleen Kampa)

Celebration Chant – We Did It!

We did it! We did it! We did it today!
We did it! We did it! Hip hip hooray!

4. Working Together

When students work together in pairs or small groups, they’re building the 21st Century skill of collaboration. Students who work together toward a common goal are focused and engaged learners. When dividing students into pairs and groups, it is important that the students view the process as fair.

First, decide the size of each group, based on the activity and the number of students you have. Sometimes an activity asks for students to work in pairs, or groups of three or four students. Some groups can have one additional student if the class cannot divide equally into groups.

There are many ways to divide students into groups. For example, if you want eight groups, students count off from “one” to “eight.” If you want six groups, they count off from “one” to “six”. Students with the same number then work together. Another method is to have students pull colored cards out of a box without looking. Students with the same color work together.

Students can also be placed in pairs or groups prepared beforehand by the teacher. One strategy is to place shy students with more confident students. This creates a unique opportunity to unify the class and include everyone in the learning process.

Classroom management issues exist with every class. However, by creating a positive environment of curiosity, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and encouragement, your class will develop a group personality that embraces learning.

Happy teaching, everyone!

Kathleen Kampa and Charles Vilina

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

Sign up for a webinar on Making the most of classroom management on 17 & 19 December.