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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…



Teaching VYL

Teaching VYL

I’ve been busy the last year being a part of the writing team for a new IHWO teacher training course, the IH VYL.

International House Certificate in Teaching Very Young Learners

We piloted the course face to face  in 4 different schools around the world and now it has been released online via the IHWO OTTI (Online Teacher Training Institute).

First online course starts 27th September 2014 October 25th!

They’re Little. Yeah yeah. Got it. Let’s get on with it!

They’re Little. Yeah yeah. Got it. Let’s get on with it!

Procrastination Prose Part 3

Practical Tips for Teaching VYL

The Classroom

If possible, have lots of bright colours and some toys, small tables and chairs, small scissors, big markers.  And remember, nothing dangerous. They are super quick on their feet.

Think about how you will use the classroom space. If possible put their work on the wall. They love to see it displayed and makes the space their own. It’s a good idea to have certain places (as well as routines) for certain activities e.g. a storytelling corner. It’s a non-verbal way of letting them know what is coming next and what is expected from them.

The Teacher

  • Ready and willing to nurture a whole range of needs, not just linguistic, a MUST.
  • Patient
  • Creative
  • Energetic
  • Organised
  • Quick thinking!

A VYL teacher needs to be super talented indeed, but above all they need to be flexible and have an affinity with young children (or at least like them! Don’t laugh, I’ve met a VYL teacher who didn’t like children. Her lessons were well planned and logically staged etc but classroom management was impossible – they sussed her out immediately). They are intuitive little things. They can sense fear and whether or not you genuinely like them. They also seem to know when you are unorganised and delight in taking advantage of this and why not? when their number 1 goal in life is to enjoy themselves.

Materials and Activities

Before we get into the ideas, don’t forget some rules of thumb.

  • Set up the activities clearly and have all your materials ready to go. Turn your back for a moment to get your flashcards and you’ll lose them. Give clear simple instructions and demo if possible. If you do leave your materials on the other side of the room – don’t panic! Just give them something to do so there is no waiting time e.g. get them to close their eyes and count to ten’
  • Recognition before production. Give them plenty of opportunity to hear the word and recognise the word before they say it. When they are ready, saying it in a song or chanting with the group gives them the opportunity to experiment with the sounds.
  • Stirrers vs settlers. What this means is don’t have the whole lesson sitting on the floor (they’ll get fidgety and lose interest) or the whole lesson running around (They’ll get over excited and impossible to calm down and control). It just won’t work. Think about not only using the classroom space well but also their energy.  Keeping them calm but engaged keeps them focussed.
  • Repetition, repetition, repetition BUT don’t forget to mix things up and move from activity to activity quickly and smoothly. Have whole lots of tricks up your sleeve. Their attention span matches their size and just because they loved a particular game last week doesn’t mean they’ll dig it this week. Be prepared to be flexible and don’t get caught fighting a losing battle. Keep activities short, focussed, fun.
  • Think about why you are doing each activity and what they need to be able to do in order to complete it. Don’t forget that language isn’t the only limitation. Pair work ? Forget it, try to make each child feel they are working with you. Them and you. They don’t generally cooperate well together and are sometimes, but not normally, competative. A race to see who can line up first won’t go so well if they don’t care what their team mates are doing and don’t care if they are first or not. Some team games will work, but keep their developmental needs in mind. Give lots of individual praise.


Bright, easily recognisable flashcards (It’s a good idea to have them uniform: same size, same type, same coloured backing etc. VYL tend to make their own rules about what they see and may think if one is a different shape or size it’s for a reason). Making up actions for the corresponding flashcards is also a good way to help them remember the vocabulary and make it their own.

What to do with them?

There are hundreds (maybe more) flashcard activities. Here are a few to get you started.

Presenting the language

Work with what they already know. Hold up the flashcard and talk about it. Ask easy questions you know they can answer and HELP them.

e.g. Look! A monkey! Monkey!. What colour is the monkey? Is it brown? Yes. How many legs has the Monkey got? Let’s count. 1,2. MONKEY.

Find the Card

It’s good to have a game where there are no losers and children aren’t afraid to try. Here is a VLY version of pelmanism.

  •  If possible, teach some actions for the flashcards.
  • As you place each flashcard on the floor (face down) say each word clearly and (if applicable) do the action and encourage the children to join.
  • Count to 5 (the children should join in) and as you do so move the flashcards around so they  won’t be able to remember where each one is.
  • Show the children how to sit up nicely and put up their hands.
  • Choose a child who is sitting nicely and say ‘Where is the monkey?’ Then do the action.
  • As each child turns a card over encourage the rest of the group to clap if they find the monkey.
  • If the child doesn’t find the monkey say ‘No, sorry, that’s not the Monkey, that’s the tiger’
  • Repeat

Sometimes the children can be shy to join in other ‘finding’ games as they can’t remember the word or recognise what you are saying making them anxious. This takes the pressure of and makes it a ‘finding’ game as opposed to a language game. The bonus is they get to hear the language over and over again.

You could go on to play this with the cards facing upwards when they are more comfortable with the language.

Flashcard Boules

  • Get the children lined up into teams
  • Give each team a fluffy toy. Use the fluffy toy to name the teams plus an adjective e.g. the ‘Blue Teddy Bears’
  • Layout the flashcards on the floor in front of the teams
  • Call out a word and the children must throw the soft toy to the flashcard.
  • The team who is the nearest wins a point
  • Allocate points by putting a classroom object such as a building block in front of the teams.
  • At the end of the game count the building blocks with the children
  • If it’s a larger group you’ll need to keep those waiting occupied with a chant or perhaps counting.


  • Place flashcards around the room
  • Call out the word and the children run to the flashcard
  • Alternatively give further instructions (pre taught) e.g. jump to the monkey, swim to the tiger

Musical statues

  • Play some music, the children dance
  • When the music stops the children freeze
  • Once they get the hang of this, call out a word when the music stops e.g. monkey. They freeze, wait for your command, then do the monkey action
  • Alternatively they can do more than just dance to the music e.g. you can give them a task before pressing play ‘jump, run, swim, fly’.
  • If you have a musical instrument at your disposal this is even better than a CD/ MP3 as you can change the tempo for each instruction

Run and find

This requires preparation, but can be used over and over and the kids love it.

  • Prepare small pieces of paper with pictures of the target language
  • Get the children to help you scatter them around the room face down
  • Think of a chant or song to go with the vocab (or create one)
  • Put the children in 2 or more teams
  • One at a time the children have a time limit to find as many bits of paper as they can. Here is an example…

I photocopied the pictures from a zigzag book (Cookie and Friends PMB) and cut them up. I also made a paper picnic basket (Cookie and Friends PMB) for the children to put the pictures  they collected in)

Teacher says ‘ Mmmm. I’m hungry. I want….Ice-cream! 1,2,3, GO!’ (can point to a picture on the board or mime if necessary)

1st child in line runs, turns over pictures one at a time, if Ice-cream takes them, if not, turns them back over

Rest of class and teacher sing (to the tune of, the super wonderful, Frere Jacques);

I am hungry, I am hungry (rub belly)

I want ice-cream, I want ice-cream (mime ice-cream)

Yummy Yummy yummy, Yummy yummy yummy. (rub belly and lick lips)

I like Ice-cream. I like ice-cream.(nod head and mime ice-cream)

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 STOP

Once the child hears ‘stop’ they must run back to the team and we all count the pictures together.

What is it?

For the same reasons as the find the flashcard game, this game is a game of chance. An opportunity for the children to say any words they know. This is good when they are not yet confident with the language.

  • Shuffle the cards
  • Encourage the children to say stop
  • Say (shrugging shoulders) what is it?
  • Don’t show the card or give any clues. Hold the card close to your chest and shrug.
  • Encourage the children to hold up their hands and choose each child to say a word or if it’s a smaller less rowdy group allow them to call the words out.
  • The idea is they will call out what they know – not that they are ‘proving’ they know the word to match your card.
  • If they need help start listing some of the words ‘monkey, tiger, elephant, snake…’
  • Children can take it in turns to be the teacher (holding the cards)

Of course there are many other ways to play this such as giving a quick glimpse of the flashcard or a slow reveal, but I like to give them the chance to say as many words as possible rather than only the word which corresponds to the flashcard, although, later as they are more confident it can be confidence boosting for them to ‘prove’ to you that they know and understand the words.

1,2,3 Bye Bye!

A VYL version of Kim’s game.

  • Lay the flashcards on the floor (or stick to the board) saying the words clearly as you do
  • Hold hands cupped in front of you
  • Say ‘1,2,3 Bye Bye!’ (Move hands up and down as you count and cover eyes when you say by bye)
  • Remove one flashcard
  • Say ‘Hello’ and all children uncover their eyes and call out what is missing


Lots of songs. Simple, repetitive, even better with actions. Use them for language work, use them for fun, use them for routines. Don’t be afraid to make up your own.

What to do with them?

Frere Jacques is an amazing song. The tune is so memorable. So many ways to use it. Getting them settled;

Look and Listen, Look and listen

Shhhh, shhhh’

Point to eyes, then ears, then mouth. First line is to the tune of Frere Jacaque

OR a Flashcard game using the whole Frere Jacques tune.

  • Shuffle flashcards with the pictures facing the kids
  • Encourage the kids to call out ‘stop’
  • Sing

Look and listen, Look and Listen (point to eyes then ears)

What is this? What is this? (hold out arms shrugging and point it flashcard)

Is it a…..(pause for a moment to scratch your head like your thinking and then say a word from the lexical set you’re using) monkey?

Is it a monkey? (mime monkey)

  • Look at children waiting for response, indicate thumbs up and thumbs down for those who are too shy to join in with the yes or no.
  • If it is a monkey children sing

Yes, yes, yes. Yes, yes, yes (nod and give the thumbs up)

  • If it isn’t a monkey

No, no, no. No, no, no. (shake head and thumbs down)

  • Repeat process

The old favourite Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toesis a great song with Actions. I like to mix things up a bit by singing it the first time really slowly then repeating it getting faster each time. I also like to sing the last ‘Knees and Toes’ of the song in a really deep voice as the kids love experimenting with their voice. Or, you can skip out words like in this wiggles video.

I also like to ‘act out’ the songs. For example I love ‘Five little ducks and ‘Five Little Monkeys. First I teach the songs with sitting down actions. Once they are familiar with the songs it’s fun to get the kids to act them out. This also helps them with meaning.

Use songs and chants for paper based activities such as colour dictation.

  • Set up the task and give first instruction e.g. ‘Colour the ball blue’ and demo
  • Start singing the following colours song from Cookie and Friends A to the tune of ten green bottles (while monitoring and helping as necessary)

Red, Pink, Yellow. Purple, Green or blue?

Red, Pink, Yellow. Purple, Greenor blue?

What’s your favourite colour, please tell me do, is it

Red, Pink, Yellow. Purple, Green or blue?

  • Repeat the song if necessary. Once you can see that a few children have finished call out

5 4 3 2 1 STOP!

  • Put your hands on your head and tell the children ‘hands on head’.
  • Walk around and take away the blue marker/ pencil/ crayon.
  • Repeat process with new colour and be firm to  make them stop with the blue during the second colour.
  • By the time you get to the 3rd colour they get it.
  • Give them time at the end to ‘finish’. They next time they ‘play’ this they won’t be anxious if they know there will be time at the end for ‘finishing’.


We’ve already discussed the virtues of stories, but what to do with them? Don’t be afraid to repeat them over and over. Studies have shown that children, although they get bored at some point, enjoy the stories more after they pass this. It’s the reminsicence and the known. We already mentioned having a story corner. How about a storytime chant? The first time you read a story is a chance for them to listen. On consequent readings encourage the children to join in with actions, words phrases. Get them to act out the story. AND don’t forget to choose books which are really visual in nature (or even tactile) i.e. limited text and with lots of big colourful pictures. Story cards are also great (like those used in many VYL coursebooks). If the text is too complicated or abstract, grade it and included some repetition and or noises. e.g. no becomes ‘no, no, no, no’ complete with head shaking and clicking noises with the tongue when someone is walking etc.


There’s more than one was to skin a cat, so to speak, but here is one example of  a very basic lesson structure for VYL (although of course there would be many mini stages)

Don't forget! Let the children SEE. HEAR. SPEAK. and DO!

A welcome routine

  1. Sing a song they know.
  2. Revision of language they know
  3. Present new language
  4. Recognition game (s)
  5. Physical movement/ TPR
  6. Song
  7. Drill/ chant
  8. Production game (s)
  9. Story
  10. Table time (craft, colour dictation, fine motor skill activities, colouring)

Goodbye routine

I think I could go on forever listing games and ideas, but my blog was initially intended to be for the people by the people (before I started my procrastination project), so I’m handing it over to you and putting a call out for people to submit their favourite VYL activity. In the meantime, I think it’s about time I prepared that workshop!

Until next time…

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