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Using songs and chants in the YL classroom

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wpid-fb_img_1426189219067.jpgBoom Chicka Boom!

Thank you to those of you who attended my session at the IH Torun Teacher Training Day, April 18 2015. You will find a link to the handout at the bottom of this post.

Literature is full of references to the efficacy of music as a tool for both first and second language acquisition, but are songs and chants utilized as much as they could be in the second language learning classroom? I’ve loved singing and music for as long as I can remember, and been interested in using them in the classroom since I stepped foot in one.

How do you feel about using songs in the YL Classroom?

YL coursebooks are full of songs and chants. And why not? Using songs and chants as a pedagogical tool to teach children language is a natural and logical choice. Singing is a natural and popular medium for both parent and child and by the time children come to us in the second language learning classroom, they are often already equipped with a catalogue of songs, chants, and rhymes. Children live in musical worlds. In fact, according to research, babies as early as in the womb pay more attention to singing than speaking and it’s suggested that from very early ages there is little distinction between singing and speech.

Are you happy to sing? Why? Why not?

According to Trinick (2012), Lee believes songs are not being used as much as they should be in the classroom and suggests the root may be that they are viewed purely as entertainment, or that teachers lack understanding into the theoretical underpinnings or application and methodology. Could it be as Carless and Douglas (2011) surmise that the significance of the ubiquity of songs goes unnoticed? Trinick (2012) concurs and cites Tracey, ‘there is a tendency to overlook familiar, everyday materials and resources’. As Rogers (no date) attests, literature ‘abounds with positive statements regarding the efficacy of music as a vehicle for first and second language acquisition’. Indeed countless resource books for teachers, coursebooks, TESOL websites and blogs proffer advice, activities and encouragement*. *See handout link for resource list

Are you ruling the TEFL world Beyonce style in your classroom? Or are you pressing play on the CD and hoping for the best?

Maybe you do want to sing in class, and it’s not that you’re afraid to, but you just:

• can’t be bothered • don’t have time (you do one at the end of the lesson if you need to fill in time)

• aren’t sure what songs to sing

• aren’t sure how to sing the songs

• aren’t sure how to teach the songs

• have never done it before

• hate the songs in the coursebooks

• would rather teach grammar and other important things

• are actually a T-rex and therefore can’t sing. Or clap.

I urge you to think about using songs and chants in the YL classroom.


‘Children love rhythm, music and movement, and it is widely recognised that the use of rhymes, chants and songs contribute to young children’s overall social, linguistic, physical, cognitive and emotional development. When starting to learn a foreign language, rhymes, chants and songs play a special role in drawing children into producing language in ways which are natural, spontaneous and enjoyable. As well as enhancing children’s learning and acquisition of language, the use of rhymes chants and songs promotes the development of positive attitudes and motivation towards learning a foreign language in both immediate and longer term. Give their many potential benefits for learning, there is a strong case for making rhymes, chants and songs a fully integrated component of any programme to learn English.’

(Read 2007)


It’s all about confidence, enthusiasm and having fun. Songs and chants are perfect for the YL classroom as they present language in a fun and memorable way and allow our students to experiment with the sounds of English. Many teachers, however, despite being fully aware of the potential of songs and chants fall a little short because they lack the confidence to pull it off in the classroom. Confidence and enthusiasm is key. Students need to know the teacher feels good about the song in order for them to. It really doesn’t matter if you’re a little off key and no Mariah Carey. Chances are your students won’t notice or will feel more comfortable knowing you are normal just like them. What will stop your students joining in is if they see you aren’t 100% comfortable. It’s fine to have a CD player for back up. But don’t rely on it, and whatever you do don’t stand at the front of the class lip syncing and conducting (but not actually singing) expecting them to do all the work. If you are enthusiastic and singing along you are more likely to get them to join in.

Want to know more?

You can read my 5 tips for using songs in my YL Column in the next issue of the IH Journal here

You can get a handout on Using Songs and Chants in the YL Classroom here Boomchickaboom_handout_April2015

I’d love to know how you feel about using songs and chants in the YL classroom.

Until next time!

CARLESS, David and DOUGLAS, Kitrina (2011). What’s in a song? how songs contribute to the communication of social science research. British journal of guidance & counselling, 39 (5), 439-454.

READ, Carol (2007). 500 activities for the primary classroom. Oxford, Macmillan. Macmillan Books for Teachers.

TRINICK, Robyn Margaret (2012). Sound and sight: The use of song to promote language learning. General music today, 25 (2), 5-10.


Boom Chicka Boom!

I recently got to do my favourite all time sessions, not once, but twice! First at the ‘Young Ones’ Conference at ILC Brno and then at the SCIO project conference here in Prague.

Boom Chicka Boom: Using Songs and Chants in the YL Classroom is a session I’ve done quite a few times now. I mix it up a bit each time, but the principles remain the same. Each time I do it it gets a great response and people request slides and handouts. Until now I didn’t have a handout. Drum roll….here it is!

Boomchickaboom_ handout October2014

I’m also uploading the powerpoints

boom chicka boom BRNO 2014

boom chicka boom SCIO 2014

I’ve added some resources to the bottom of the handout. Please share more in the comments if you have them. I have a little project up my sleeve and hoping to collect as many resources and links as I can.

Until next time…


Boom chicka Boom!

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It’s been a busy weekend indeed! First I had the International House Young Learner Conference, which kicked off Thursday night and came to a close Saturday night, then Sunday was the International House Prague conference.

Between meeting and greeting and boat trips and dancing and getting my fill of inspiration, I’m totally spent and could do with a week of couch time! But every aching muscle and brain cell was worth it and then some. As if receiving not 1 but 3 jars of peanut butter all the way from the UK wasn’t enough, I’ve also had an absolutely fantastic few days and admit I’m a little sad it’s all come to an end.

Aside from comparing myself to Lady Gaga, my IHWO YL conference presentations were a bit more on the serious side, so for Sunday I went for fun and practical. I talked about using Songs and Chants in the YL classroom, or rather I sang and chanted about using songs and chants in the YL classroom. I really enjoyed the session thanks to the particpants who were brave enough to sing and chant along with me and even did jazz hands!

I don’t have time to write a full blog post today despite promising a new one ‘soon’….but…have attached a copy of my ‘Boom chicka boom’ songs and chants session for anyone who’s interested (see link below).

Until next time!!!

Boom chicka boom!

They’re Little. Now what?

They’re little. Now what?

Procrastination prose part 2

Okay. Let’s refresh on procrastination prose part 1.  I decided that a good place to start (I’m supposed to be writing and online workshop remember) was with some questions participants might like answered. They were:

What are VYLs? (I think we’ve covered the basics)

What are their characteristics and the implications of these in the classroom? (we looked at some statements and made a checklist for the classroom)

Ok. That leaves this then.

How about some defined pathways designed to meet our goals? Validating teaching VYL to sceptics who say it is ‘just’ playing games and singing songs? Pleasing stakeholders in an increasingly competitive industry?

A normal step would be to assess the needs of the students and choose a coursebook (and use this as our syllabus. C’mon, don’t try and tell me you don’t). Let me begin by saying there are loads of fabulous coursebooks out there for VYL (My favourite is Cookie and Friends. Once you hear the weather song, you’re hooked for life) and a good way getting into the right mindset and arming yourself with great ideas is to spend some time reading the accompanying teachers books and asking yourself why. But for the sake of the blog, let’s get into the nitty gritty of it all.

How do we do a needs analysis for VYL? We could go in with pen and paper and ask them about their learning needs, not sure, however, what kind of response we’d get. Okay, I’m being silly. But with some lateral thinking we can in fact do a needs analysis by thinking about the characteristics we looked at in part 1. How? Have you read Nunan’s legendary ‘Syllabus Design’ (1988)?  Great book. Needs analysis 101: learners assumptions, purpose, societal expectations and constraints and other subsidiary questions….. that’s all very well for most learners, but….. VYL lack the cognitive ability and awareness required to enable them to indicate their present and future learning needs. VYL are not generally aware that they are acquiring a language, nor are they aware of societal values and attitudes placed on one language or another. Their needs are more immediate, related to providing tasks and topics of interest, and tools for basic communication in the classroom. AND let’s not forget. Stakeholders are involved. Mummy and Daddy are the paying customers here. So let’s look to Jim Scrivener and an old favourite of teachers around the globe  ‘Learning Teaching’ (2005) for some simple guidance, intended for adult learners, but indeed suitable for our purposes. He proposes 3 questions for a basic needs analysis.

  • Where is the learner coming from?

Er, Home? Sometimes our VYL have had some English before they come to us, but it’s more than likely they’ve been home with Mum (or Dad) and aren’t used to a classroom environment. They also (as I’m sure I’ve mentioned somewhere already) have a limited experience of the world. Their world is a lot smaller than ours. It extends from Home, to Preschool to Grandma’s, to Tesco, to the Playground…you get the idea. It’s useful to know the child’s cultural background. Have they always lived in the country they live in now, what language is spoken at home etc. I could go on here, but let’ not go overboard.

  • What does the learner want/ need?

A great job in International Relations? I think not (but Mummy and Daddy may have that in mind). They want to have fun and ‘like’ being in your classroom. They want it to be a safe, fun, pleasant place to be and to enjoy positive and constructive experiences. They want/ need you to think about all the intelligences/ learning styles/ skills and teach them holistically. Word up, it’s worth looking in the Primary Teacher’s Guide on page 36(Brewster, Ellis and Girard, 2004). There are certain topics that VYL’s typically like and are interested in; animals, toys, colours, make believe (princesses, fairies, pirates etc) but it doesn’t hurt to ask them what they like (keeping in mind the answer is likely to change from week to week) and asking the parents what topics they like to talk about in L1.

It’s also a good idea to think about what lexical sets are relevant to their age and situation i.e. can be used in real contexts: family, clothes, weather. It’s also key to consider language items the learner can; use in real contexts : ‘I’m..’ ‘It’s…’  ‘It’s a…’ ‘I have…’ ‘Can I have…’ ‘I like/ don’t like…’ ‘yes/ no’ ‘Please’ ‘Thank you’ ‘Hello’ ‘Goodbye’ AND recognise in real contexts: ‘What’s your name?’ ‘Would you like..’ ‘Do you like..’ ‘Is it…?’ ‘What is it…?’ ‘put on/ take off’

Oh, I almost forget. It’s also about what the stakeholders want, need. Perhaps you need to work towards some sort of mini end of year production to keep the parents happy? Find out what their expectations are (and delicately educate them about what they can realistically expect if possible).

  • How would they like to learn it?

We know this one! Songs and games, right? Didn’t we already establish that that’s what other teachers think we do all day? They’re not too far off you know. These are the bricks (without the mortar) or a VYL lesson. They would ‘like’ to learn by experiencing the language, and, as forementioned, by having fun. Whilst most syllabuses include both linguistic and attitudinal goals, the attitudinal goals are often proportionately more important the younger the learner is. VYL lack literacy skills as well as the ability to make abstract deductions. They are often still making mistakes in L1 and therefore can’t be expected to follow a structural progression. Aiming for VYL to enjoy using the language is more appropriate. Linguistic and cognitive aims are embedded within the individual components of the syllabus, but the overall focus is to provide necessary conditions and motivating experiences for the target language to be acquired. Whoah. That was a mouthful (can one say that when typing? A keyboard full perhaps?). To summarise, how about taking a look at the goals of the VYL programme I coordinate at my school.

  • To provide a positive and constructive first language experience.
  • To introduce children to learning English in a fun and involving manner with a focus on recognition before production and exposing them to natural, communicative English through real communication.

I’ve chosen a list of topics, useful language and materials based on my assessment, experience and theories behind VYL. During induction, I highlight to my teachers the six features of the syllabus which reflect key methodology and approaches aimed at making learning enjoyable and meaningful for this group. The six key features: Routine, Stories, Songs and Chants, TPR, Games, Craft, can be incorporated into any VYL syllabus and would act as a good guide for those teachers new to VYL.

Routine is vital in any VYL programme. VYL like the familiar, it gives them a sense of security when they know what to expect (but don’t we all feel this way?), and it provides repeated exposure and opportunity for use of the language. The first month of my VYL programme has limited new language so that the teacher can focus on the routines and recognition metalanguage.

Stories provide an extension to the themes, appeal to a VYLs visual nature and inclination towards fantasy. Indulging in their imagination enables VYL to connect the language to real life. Storytelling is central to a child’s development, is generally a preferred activity in L1, and takes advantage of acquisition based methodology. Let’s have a look at an oldie but goodie from Krashen (1981:103), storytelling…

“ creates an acquisition rich environment and ideal learning conditions which provide comprehensible input, or language a little beyond the child’s current level of competence”

Songs and chants present language in a fun way, and also encourage experimenting with the sounds of English. (Ideally) coupled with this and a dominant feature is Total Physical Response (TPR). VYL learn through direct experiences via the five senses. This combination encourages cognitive development via concentration and coordination. What’s more, the repetition and parallelism is something they like and instrumental to memory.

Games play an important role as they are; motivational and enjoyable, can change the pace of

Once upon a time there was a very stressed out teacher, and then she discoverd storytime...

the lesson e.g. ‘stir’ or ‘settle’ to take advantage of energy levels, and provide opportunities for social and cognitive development such as ‘developing strategies’ and ‘turn taking’.

Craft or table based activities are a valuable way of providing comprehensible input, as following instructions is required. It also gives the learners a ‘silent period’ to consolidate the language, and provides them with a stimulus when their parents ask ‘What did you learn in English today?’.


Okay. Now the heavy stuff is over, it’s time for me to go make a cup of tea. BUT, stay tuned, I intend to write a third instalment. A practical component. Yay! They’re little. Got it. Let’s get on with it. Procrastination Prose part 3. Some hands on ways to apply all this theory. Basically, what the hell to do once you’re inside the classroom.

Until next time……

Reliving a favourite conference session. Did I like it? Yes, I did!

When I was a child, I liked cucumber. But, for whatever reason, as I grew older, I just didn’t much care for it any more. Maybe I was bored with it? I don’t know. Many moons later when I met my husband, who is Polish, he told me about one of his favourite foods, cucumber salad. He sold it so convincingly that I asked him to make it for me immediately. Not only did I fall in love with cucumber all over again, it became a staple in my diet and become one of my favourite all time foods.

A similar thing happened to me with Jazz chants. As a child, the Sesame Street  jazz chant, Pinball number count, was so ingrained in my mind and so loved that I sang it continuously and still remember waiting anxiously and being terribly excited each time it was part of the show. Again, many moons later as a TEFL teacher, me and the ol’ jazz chants had drifted apart and I never once glanced through Carolyn Graham’s  Jazz Chants book on our staff library shelf and often skipped any chants in coursebooks. Songs, yes. No problem. Chants? Meh!

Then I saw Jane Harding da Rosa give her Don’t Drawl the Drill session and the IH YL Conference in Mataro and it changed my life forever. Thanks to her presentation and personal twist, I reacquainted myself with a long lost love and have never looked back. So much so, that after reliving the (conference) moment of realisation while reading her blog, I decided to write this entry in her honor. Thanks Jane!

I thought I’d share a couple of examples.

Jane’s ‘It’s a…’  chant becomes ‘Were there? Was There?’

Problem. An all girls class of 10 yr olds, who are normally quite strong, understood the grammar but kept doing a switcheroo when speaking. Answer. A chant of course. Two groups (A and B)

First we played Kim’s Game with some ‘library’ vocab from the previous lesson to set the context.

A. Was there a dictionary?

B. A what?

A. A Dictionary!

B. Was there a dictionary?

A. Yes! Was there a dictionary?

B. Oh, a dictionary. Yes, there was.

A. Were there any magazines….etc etc

The girls decided that ‘B’ must stand for ‘boys’ as they are ‘stupid’ and had a great time pretending to be ‘stupid boys’. They giggled, they had fun, they wanted to continue after the lesson had finished. They got it right. They continue to get it right. And they know it. They still remember the lesson. Win win all round I’d say.

Doing it ‘Jane’  style in my free time

I recently went on holiday to Germany to visit a friend. Her partner’s 10 yr old son is learning English at school. He was, ever so sweetly, excited to meet a ‘native speaker of English’ for the first time and had  looked up some words and phrases on google translate so that he could talk to me. He was great for a 10 yr old with only 1 year of English behind him, but with limited classroom time there was only so much that could be said and my heart sank when I could see this realisation in his eyes.

He had told me, when discussing his hobbies,  he loved singing, so I decided to bring Jane and her jazz chants to Hildesheim. I got him to make a list of his favourite English words, then together we created a vocabulary jazz chant complete with jazz hands (of course) before he made a few of his own. I didn’t feel like a teacher. I felt like a person on holiday having a lovely time with a friend’s step son. Thanks again Jane (and Carolyn) and Jazz chants! Woop!

Jazz chanting up a story routine.

So this is a newbie and too fresh to report on its successfulness. We’ll see. I teach in a Preschool and so often use song and chanting as well as routines. I’ve always had a special corner in the classroom storytime but feel I need something else. So here it is….

It’s time for a story (open hands like a book)

1,2,3 (count on fingers)

It’s time for a story (open hands like a book)

Stand up please (motion to stand up)

It’s time for a story (open hands like a book)

Come with me (motion to follow to the story corner)

It’s time for a story (open hands like a book)

Sit down please (motion to sit down)

It’s time for a story (open hands like a book)

Quiet please (finger to mouth)

It’s time for a story (quietly – open hands like a book)

Shhh shhh (finger to mouth)

Story time (whispered – then start the story)

I could go on all day (or night as it happens to be right now) about jazz chants and how much I love them, this is just a snippet. My advice to those who are new? Give it a go, but donlt be afraid. If they can see you love it. They will follow.

Big thanks again to one of my gurus Jane Harding da Rosa. Hope you don’t mind me dedicating this blog post to you.

Until next time…

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