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  • timothyhampson 7:14 am on August 5, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    The Teacher Empowering Textbook 

    At the moment I’m writing a statement of belief about ELT. I’m going to be using it for a project I’ve been working on that I can’t talk much about yet. This is a section that I thought was interesting, maybe controversial, and that I felt very ‘in the zone’ about when I was writing it. It’s part of a first draft, so I’d love to get some feedback if you have any ideas or thoughts.

    (More …)

    • Marc 12:27 pm on August 5, 2016 Permalink | Reply

      Two things: check out At Work by Paul Walsh (published by The Round) for highly adaptable activities, as well as his website

      2. TBL planning gets quicker with practice. I am also working on an program to make worksheets quickly according to teacher parameters.

      Lovely post! Cheers.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hera 12:33 am on August 6, 2016 Permalink | Reply

      Capital idea, although I use the text more as a scaffolding, in terms of using it for grammar, framework, while I would change the context to suit the students’ needs, and level of learning, with a lot of input from the student’s like working together on a puzzle.

      Liked by 1 person

    • mariatheologidou 7:43 pm on August 6, 2016 Permalink | Reply

      I totally agree with Marc, TBL planning does get easier after a while. Organize your materials in categories and levels, so that you don’t have to search for them when you need them again. If you’re always on the lookout for new ideas and get inspired by literally everything -I’m like that all the time :)- you should use a site like – it’s been a lifesaver so far for me. Although adapting the textbook to our students’ needs should be the basis of teaching, it’s shocking to see how many teachers still clutch to it and treat it as the Holy Bible of teaching/learning.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Anthony Ash 9:33 pm on August 7, 2016 Permalink | Reply

      Hi Tim,

      Great post! And I agree with you. I think sometimes, though, Directors of Studies opt for coursebooks because they don’t have the time and resources to train the staff up. I remember I was working as a DoS on a short but intensive course and there were points, after seeing the teachers teach, where I thought “a coursebook might be the solution.” We didn’t really have the time or the resources for good training, unfortunately. But I couldn’t help think, if the teachers had been following a coursebook, the structure of the lessons might have been better.

      I think this is one of the hard choices DoS’s have to make. But for sure in training should always be the first option, and material selection i.e. coursebooks the back-up plan 🙂


      • timothyhampson 10:22 pm on August 7, 2016 Permalink | Reply

        Hi Anthony,

        It’s great to have a perspective from someone with DoS experience. I think it must be a hard choice sometimes. I was really glad to have a textbook when I was inexperienced. Lot’s of chain schools in Korea (I can’t speak as much on other areas) haven’t got much intention of moving beyond textbooks being used. I think textbooks might be more reasonably used elsewhere.

        I’d really like to see more textbooks that are built to pick and choose from. There are some out there. Companies like are making really good stuff that doesn’t put teachers on rails in the same way.

        Liked by 1 person

  • timothyhampson 4:51 am on July 1, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Student Feedback 


    Photo on 01-07-2016 at 13.46

    “To be lyrical, to be confident. And it makes me prefer British English rather than American English.” My work here is done.

    This was the last week of the semester for me and as a part of that I gave some of my classes feedback forms. It’s been very insightful for me and I wish I’d done it earlier now. You can see that in the feedback form that I’ve tried to ask questions that force students to not just try and be nice to me and to offer some changes they’d like to see. I wanted to share some of this feedback; some of it was thought provoking for me, and it might be for you too. I’d also like to share some thoughts about the process of getting feedback and perceptions of classes.

    “It’s too hard/easy”

    “Some contents [of the course] are too easy and boring.”

    “Some of the questions are too hard to answer.”

    Some of the comments that came up over and over again were about the difficulty of the class. The problem here is that the comments were kind of split between students who thought the class was too easy, and those who thought the class was too hard. It’s a much bigger problem than everyone thinking things were too easy or everyone thinking they were too hard.


    At the moment I’m teaching classes of around 45-65 students who range in ability from pre to post intermediate. In an ideal world I’d be teaching smaller classes of students of a similar English ability. Next semester I’ll be trying to put some extension tasks in for students who found everything too easy. I think differentiation is something that ESL teachers, myself included, maybe forget about too often.

    “Teach us more”

     “The teacher is too kind and we didn’t do enough homework so we can’t acquire knowledge very well.”

    “What didn’t you like about this course: It includes too much communication practice. I would cut some time practicing communication and increase more knowledge.”

    My classes this semester have been very task based. The presentation/practice/production has been at about a 10%/25%/65% split. I’ve tried to lean quite heavily on the production part of PPP because I think my students generally get a lot of presentation and practice but don’t have many chances to just talk.

    Some of my students gave me feedback that lots of the things they did in class weren’t new or useful for them. A student in my conversation class said that they’d spent two weeks ‘saying hello’. I had tried to plan two weeks of classes based around saying hello, understanding the different registers we use to say hello and transitioning from hello to small talk. That comment was one that stayed around in my head for a while and, to be honest, made me feel like a bad teacher. On reflection I can see that there probably isn’t anything in saying hello or asking some questions that is new vocabulary or grammar and that might be frustrating if you felt that you’d already ‘got it’. I’d like to go back in time and spend more time early on in the semester explaining why I concentrate so much on free practice activities.

    “Let us talk more”

    “Actually we talked in English not so much.”

    “Give more opportunities to students so that they can talk with each other.”

    Despite everything I’ve just written about students feeling like they practiced too much and not actually learned anything, some also wrote that they didn’t spend enough time practicing. I don’t really know what to say about this and I’m not exactly sure exactly what they meant by this. Maybe some kind of free practice without any kind of topic at all?

    “I don’t want to talk to people who aren’t my friends/ I don’t want to talk to girls”

    “If I have to say a point that I don’t like about this course, maybe boys and girls can’t really exchange their ideas because they don’t know about each other.”

    “When we change seats to talk to an unfamiliar classmate, I feel a little embarrassed.”

    At the start of the semester I let students talk to whomever they like. It was okay but I found that if I mixed up the class (we did lots of ‘speed dating’ style activities) things were generally better. I had some students who would do a lot of what I can best describe as ‘effing about’: chatting in L1 when they think I can’t hear, playing Hearthstone on their phones and so on. If I said ‘find a new partner’ they’d generally walk around and then go back to their best friend.

    I got lots of comments about it being awkward to talk to other people and how it was awkward to talk to people of different genders. I’m not sure if I’m too worried about this feedback to be honest. From my perspective, the classes went a lot better when people were talking to new people. I will be double checking this perception in the coming semester.

    Some thoughts on everything

    It’s been an interesting process getting this feedback. When I first got the feedback I was actually kind of down about it. My brain picked out all of the bad things and kept them rolling around in there for about a day. After that I started to see both sides of the feedback, but it was a bit more of a confidence knock than I was expecting because I never hear the bad things about my professional practice.

    Something I noticed is that the feedback shows that a teachers’ perception of what happened in a class can be completely off. I wasn’t expecting anyone to say ‘you should have let us talk more’. Students have very different perceptions of what their needs are to teachers. Whilst preparing this blog I have also been reading Task-Based Language Education: From theory to Practice (Van den Branden, 2006: 20-21)  The author cites a study (Nunan, 1988) showing that students and teachers have very different perceptions of what is a relevant activity for second language learning.  Van den Branden contrasts the  “objective” perception of teachers and other outside sources with the “subjective” perceptions of students. I don’t think it’s really that simple, surely teachers also have a subjective view of the class or what’s useful. I’m not 100% sure what the right answer is when the teacher and students have a different perception of class, but it is an interesting topic.

    Finally I think It’s important to talk about your teaching philosophy with the students, especially if it’s a little different to what they’re used to. It’s one thing to have a kick ass teaching philosophy, but if your students don’t understand why you’re doing what you do, they might come away a little confused, demotivated and unsatisfied.


    Van Avermaet, P and Gysen, S ‘From Needs to Tasks: Language learning needs in a task-based approach pp. 17-46 in Van Der Branden, K (2006) Task-Based Language Education: From theory to practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Nunan, D (1988) The Learner-Centered Curriculum. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • timothyhampson 4:31 pm on June 2, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Business English Classes that Don’t Suck 

    Prettay good.jpg

    My feelings about business English.

    Business English was never an area that really attracted me. When I taught it in Korea it was a private class for two businessmen who had to be there, but didn’t really want to be. They frequently missed class, but when they did come they wanted to focus on textbooks. All in all I had a really miserable experience teaching it and it put me off business English. This semester I’ve had to teach 5 business English classes. I’ve actually really come to love teaching these classes. I think the classes themselves have also been prettay prettay prettay good. I wanted to share for things I’ve tried to do to make them work. 


    Larry David.jpg

    My students’ feelings for the negotiated syllabus.

    1. The Negotiated Syllabus

    In theory, negotiated syllabi are my cup of pedagogical tea. The idea is that you talk to your students and figure out what their needs are. You continue to work together on what is covered in class. I spent my first class with each group getting them to discuss ‘What is business English?’, ‘What do you want to cover?’ and so on. The main thing my students negotiated with me was that I never try and negotiate a syllabus with them again. The whole experience seemed very awkward and confusing for them. I can’t really say why, but I think some kind of combination of large class sizes, it being my first ever week at a university and 15 years exposure to very didactic education was to blame. If anyone has any ideas for making it work, I’d love to hear them.


    2. C.R.E.A.M

    This is probably very cynical, but it’s effective. I teach at a university specialising in finance and economics; lots of my students want to learn English to get a well paying job. I’ve found it really useful to remind them of this as often as possible. We spent time talking about English being an international language. When they do a role play, it’s always a role play between two non-native speakers doing business in English. I try and frame tasks as ‘If you can do x well, you’ll make y amount for your company.’

    Different students have varying degrees of response to this, but no one has responded to potentially making money badly.

    3. Give Them Some Firsts

    When I did my first class on holding a meeting in English, about 25% of my students had held a meeting before. For the rest of the class they got to have their first formal meeting in my class. For all of them it was their first meeting in English. For a lot of them it’s quite exciting to do these things for the first time. Not every class can be a super interesting ‘first’, but they’re very motivating for students. These classes also teach some useful skills so it’s win win.


    Medium Talk

    An actual task we’ve done. 

    4. Tasks Tasks Tasks

    This is a big one.

    The classes I teach are two 45 minute sessions with a 10 minute break in the middle. This kind of class is hard to teach and from what I remember of university, hard to pay attention to. These tasks replicate real world business English as closely as possible. One of my favourites went like this:

    •  15 minutes discussing job interviews and looking at some job descriptions.
    • 20 minutes brainstorming ideas for interview questions, feeding back and discussing them.
    • 20 minutes looking at some ‘tough’ interview questions and their answers. For each one practice asking and answering with a partner.
    • [break]
    • 30 minutes doing mock interviews. We could squeeze in a change of partners three to five depending on various things.
    • 15 minutes discussion and then feedback on what interview questions were easy, hard and useful for finding a good job candidate.


    • Anthony Ash 10:57 am on June 3, 2016 Permalink | Reply

      Hey! Great post – really enjoyed reading it over my morning coffee.

      As for the negotiated syllabus, I think the problem stems from learners not expecting the teacher to give them so much choice or power. Next time what you could do is find out what they’re interested in and establish what they need from the course but the final decisions that piece together the syllabus come from you – you do it yourself outside of class – that way you’ve had their input but they don’t feel awkward or anything.

      I didn’t get the acronym in C.R.E.A.M – what does it stand for?

      For the Tasks part, do you also do language feedback in the feedback stage i.e. delayed error correction or language upgrade? How do they respond to this?

      Looking forward to your response 🙂


      • timothyhampson 12:35 pm on June 3, 2016 Permalink | Reply

        Hi Anthony,

        Thank you for the (very high quality) comment.

        I think I can make the negotiated syllabus more of an ongoing thing than a first class thing. I do try and take their interests into account as much as possible. When it’s framed like that it seems like a much easier thing.

        C.R.E.A.M is a Wu Tang Clan song. It’s an acronym for Cash Rules Everything Around Me. The song is a classic.

        My class sizes are really large. I’m kind of loath to do too much error correction because when they’re doing something that I could correct, it’s already in a scary situation for them. Because the tasks are quite long, I get to listen to lots of conversations, see what people are trying to say but can’t and then put that language on the board.

        What I’ve found in China is that they already have a pretty great vocabulary, but they don’t have many opportunities to put it to use. I think/hope it’s a valuable experience for them. I am going to make a post about large classes soon, but when there are 60 students in your class, if you set an activity where they’re doing things in English, every minute of ‘doing stuff’ ends up being an hour of actual spoken English.


        • Anthony Ash 12:38 pm on June 3, 2016 Permalink

          60 people? When you said large I was expecting 25! Wow, incredible!

          Well, while I was doing my Delta, one of the top things I learnt was when our tutor told us that most of the learners in our group “know English and know the rules and vocabulary, they just need opportunities to put it into practice”, so we started giving them tasks and providing them with the opportunities to practise. It sounds like you’re in a similar situation and doing the best thing for them 🙂


        • timothyhampson 12:51 pm on June 3, 2016 Permalink

          Not all my classes are 60 students. I think the average size is around 55? The school has to pay me extra if I teach more than 50 students so my class sizes go 49, 49, 48, 65.

          Glad to know you think I’m on the right track. I’m going to be doing course evaluations in a few weeks; I can see if my students think the same. I’ll let you know 😉

          Liked by 1 person

    • Marc 8:10 am on June 4, 2016 Permalink | Reply

      Negotiated syllabus does work but I think it works better if you already have rapport. You could do it by needs analysis, asking questions for hopes/intentions to use English and some possible/probable situations if they are high enough.

      I wasn’t sure whether you’d get the comments because your hip hop will rock and shock the nation, so I hadn’t left one before.


      • timothyhampson 4:10 pm on June 15, 2016 Permalink | Reply

        Thanks for the comment Marc, I think next time around I will be trying to spread this kind of stuff out over a longer period of time. I’ve been taking feedback from my students as an end of course thing and I’m really kicking myself that I didn’t do it sooner now. I think it has to be more of a process than a one off.

        Liked by 1 person

    • mikecorea 1:46 pm on June 4, 2016 Permalink | Reply

      Nice post! I think Marc’s point about rapport and the negotiated syllabus is a good one.
      One thing I have done (and have enjoyed and thought worked well) is to set up a meeting to decide the parameters of an assignment or a topic we will discuss in class next (or the order of things to cover.)
      So we might start the term with the language of negotiation and then a big chunk of class time is used to practice this language in very serious business meetings about the rest of the course.

      Finally a very useful (but probably unrelated) quote

      Jeff: Why didn’t you say ‘hello’ to him? You know him.
      Larry: He wanted to do a ‘stop and chat,’ I didn’t want to do a ‘stop and chat.’


      • timothyhampson 4:12 pm on June 15, 2016 Permalink | Reply

        We actually spent a huge amount of time on how to hold a meeting, but teaching it first and then holding meetings would be perfect.

        I’m also very inspired to use ‘Curb’ in my classes now.


  • timothyhampson 6:07 pm on April 23, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Being a Dyslexic English Teacher 

    Let’s start with a sad story:

    The Fountain Pen

    At my primary school, there were regular handwriting tests. If you got a high enough score, you got to graduate from writing with a pencil to writing with a fountain pen. I didn’t know why yet, but my handwriting was barely legible, so I watched as one by one all my classmates moved up to a fountain pen. It took another six months of low test scores before I got my pen. Not because my handwriting was good enough, I think, but because they felt sorry for me. Even today I really love fountain pens too much and spend too much money on them.

    My dyslexia today

    The young me would be pretty shocked to find out that I spend lots of my time writing on a board for 60 people to read, teaching spelling and grammar. The idea that I could ever be good enough at those things to teach people was impossible. I was lucky to go to a really good school that gave me a lot of personalised support that taught me how to cope with a lot of things to do with dyslexia, but of course, it still effects me.


    I make spelling mistakes a lot. This is less of a problem now that it’s so easy to look up words with a phone, or online. I get embarrassed if I forget a spelling I need to write on the board. Something that happens all the time is that I’ll see a word and the spelling will look wrong, even though it’s right.

    Strangely my students don’t often seem to mind me making a spelling mistake, sometimes other teachers can make a big fuss about it. I use an app called Grammarly to spell check everything I put out and it has made a big difference to me. I’ve made some pretty public and embarrassing spelling mistakes, so it’s important to use this app.



    I got a compliment on my board writing recently. I don’t think it’s particularly good but with lots of practice, it’s become legible but not pretty. I don’t write as quickly as I’d like to, but it’s passable.


    Lots of people thing dyslexia means you have to be bad at reading. That’s not always true. My reading is generally pretty good. Words don’t move around or look blurry for me, but I do look at a word and sometimes see a completely different word.

    Can you be dyslexic and be a teacher?

    If you’ve read everything above, I hope you’ll say the answer is ‘yes!’ Being dyslexic definitely makes some things more difficult, but there are always ways to cope. My teaching style is a little bit chaotic and I use a lot of humour when I make a mistake. I make a point of asking pupils to check my spellings on the board when I don’t know something. Dyslexia is said to offer a different way of seeing the world, so I hope that in some ways it helps me as a teacher too.

    • Glenys Hanson 9:19 pm on April 24, 2016 Permalink | Reply

      Hi Tim,
      I only realised about a week ago that my terrible handwriting and spelling could be labelled “dyslexia” and I thought I must be the only EFL teacher with the problem. Nice to know I’m not!

      Like you, I use a lot of workarounds:

      – I separate each letter when I write on the board.
      – I pretend my spelling mistakes are a “test” for my students (i don’t really try to fool them – it’s just a joke between us).
      – I get students to do as much of the writing on the board as possible.
      – I learnt to type when I was at university – in 1970 it wasn’t common in Britain for students to hand in typed work, but my marks shot up.
      – I bought an electric typewriter and then a computer as soon as I could – long before internet.
      – Devising techniques to help students with their spelling has helped with my own spelling.

      Thanks, Tim.


    • Marianne Jordan 10:47 am on April 25, 2016 Permalink | Reply

      Respect! Good on you!! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  • timothyhampson 11:16 am on April 8, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    My New Job: Teaching English in a Chinese University 



    Our campus: Nice to look at; pretty big when you have to walk across it. 


    You may or may not know I’ve started a new job teaching English at Nanjing University of Finance and Economics (NUFE). People are always curious about other people’s teaching jobs so I thought I’d share some things.


    The biggest thing for me is I have lots of freedom over my classes now. In the past, I’ve had a syllabus that I’ve had to follow with specific things that have to be covered each week. Having freedom means I can try out new things in the classroom which is important. I’ve got a business English class, a conversational English class and a debate class. There are different things I want to do with each one and I’ve had the freedom to experiment. I hope I can share some of these experiments in the coming weeks.

    The Pupils

    I have a good mix of students. Some of them are distracted in class but for the most part they are very committed to class. They’re quite shy sometimes especially if they have to talk to people they don’t know, but they’ve already started to open up a little. I hear lots of stories about them going to English Club at 7am which is way more dedicated than I ever was at university.



     There weren’t enough chairs in this classroom, but everyone coped really well. 


    Class Sizes

    My classes are quite big. My last class of the week on a Friday has 68 students. At first this worried me but it doesn’t so much any more. I can’t give as much one on one feedback as I’d like to, but I’ve tried to make up for it by working on reflective skills. After big activities students have some time to discuss what went well and badly and how they can improve. They spend a lot time doing group work and it’s hard to make sure everyone is working on what they’re supposed to be. I asked on Twitter for advice and got told to use a ‘think, pair, share’ or ‘think, pair, produce’. Having students feed back from their groups is a great way to make them responsible for their time. They all want to have an answer when called on in front of the whole class. It also gives a way for students to learn from each other.


    I used to be either teaching or caring for children from 9-4:30 with an hour off here or there. At my new job I teach nine blocks of two 45 minute classes (thirteen and a half hours a week). I have most of my afternoons off and all day on Tuesday. Pretty nice!

    I’ve been using the time to catch up on some reading I’ve wanted to do and see a bit of China. It was very handy before excitELT to have lots of spare time to prepare things. I have to use some of the time for planning, but it’s quite nice as I like trying out new things.

    One last thing about my schedule is I teach the same classes a lot. I do the same business English class five times a week. It’s quite good for me as a teacher to be able to try the same class in a few different ways and learn from what goes well. I do worry a little that my Friday classes get a better experience than my Monday classes though.



    Spring at NUFE


    All in all I’m really enjoying teaching in China. If there is anything you’re curious about that I didn’t answer, feel free to leave a comment.

    • Kate 12:16 pm on April 8, 2016 Permalink | Reply

      Sounds great, wish teachers in the uk could have the same freedom, fewer working hours, more creativity in lessons, reflective practise and happy outlook. Are you paid subject to results? What a wonderful experience, and the country looks so beautiful!


    • ketaninkorea 1:53 pm on April 8, 2016 Permalink | Reply

      How is the pay and benefits? I sometimes hear horror stories of companies screwing teachers over, or having “visa problems”.


    • Pete 9:26 pm on April 8, 2016 Permalink | Reply

      Tim, I love the fact that you have embraced your future and are helping shape others. You are doing an amazing job mate. Keep it up. Look forward to seeing you again when we are next in Plymouth if it coincides with your trips home.


  • timothyhampson 5:00 pm on April 5, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    A Letter to a Pupil 

    Reach these kids

    Me this week

    When I used to teach in Korea, I was teaching some big children and some little children. I used to feel very responsible for them. They were too young to make decisions for themselves to I had to help them make good decisions.

    You’re in your first year of university; you’re not a kid anymore and you’re supposed to be responsible for your actions. I can’t pretend to be a great life decision maker and I don’t know you. I don’t know if it’s a good life decision or not to watch TV shows on your phone in class. It could be fine for you. You might not care about English as much as other things, and maybe you shouldn’t.

    After I saw you on your phone I called you out in front of the class. I thought it was okay at the time, but I’ve been wondering about it since. I’m not sure what my job is supposed to be now that I teach at a university.

    The reason I did make an example of you is because I know cultures get created in class. When people see each other doing things, they copy them. I don’t want to have five students watching TV in class next week. I also hope if you take part a little you’ll really enjoy the class and not want distractions next time.

    There’s still a part of me wants to just say ‘fine’. If you don’t work in my class, you can do the test at the end. If you do well without concentrating much, maybe my class was kind of a waste of time for you. If you don’t do well, then it’s your responsibility.

    One of the other teachers told me not to give students the chance to mess about in class. He does lots of drilling and doesn’t give students time to work independently. All of the students in his class are always on task and he says it works well. One of the reasons I personally got into teaching was I really like teaching independence and reflective skills. I know lots of students are really benefiting from  independent work.

    I’m sorry if you were embarrassed or mad at me in class. I’m still thinking about how to deal with these situations and I might get it wrong some time.

    Yours sincerely,



  • timothyhampson 7:10 am on October 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Chuck Sandy, , ,   

    An Interview with Chuck Sandy (Part 2) 

    Chuck Sandy at KOTESOL 2015

    Chuck Sandy presenting at KOTESOL 2015

    For the second part of my interview I wanted to talk to Chuck Sandy about ITDI, the teacher development organisation he helped found and is a spokesperson for. I won’t say too much here because I think Chuck says it much better than I could:

    (More …)

  • timothyhampson 12:02 pm on October 14, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   

    An Interview with Chuck Sandy (Part 1) 

    In a talk about finding your  teaching ‘superpower’ Chuck Sandy tells the audience his is ‘Bringing the right people together.’ Interviewing Chuck I can see why people might be drawn to help out: throughout the fifteen minutes we speak he is always modest, gregarious and ready to credit his successes to others. This traits matched with his message of empowering any and every teacher who will let him must be a mix that draws people towards him and together.

    Chuck Sandy

    Chuck mid plenary at KOTESOL International Conference 2015

    In the short time we got to talk at the KOTESOL 2015 International Conference I asked him about his five (!) talks at the conference, teachers getting along, having a can do attitude, and his work at ITDI. He was very easy to interview, often answering my questions before I had a chance to even ask them. You can find the results after the jump.

    (More …)

  • timothyhampson 9:37 am on September 29, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Songs in Class: Getting Ready 

    This blog post is part two of a series of three looking at singing in the classroom. We previously looked at what a good song looks like and today will find out about getting ready to use a song in class.

    The first thing is to find a song. You probably already know some and your school might have access to CDs or mp3 files you can use but a search online can find more. Super Simple Songs is the undisputed king of good ESL songs for kids. A few favourites are Open Shut Them and Do You Like Spaghetti Yoghurt? 

    Spaghetti Yoghurt

    Spaghetti yoghurt is actually a real and delicious looking thing though…

    Another thing to bear in mind is that you can write your own songs, the easiest way to do this is to change the words for a song that exists. We had a unit that focused on animals so I changed the lyrics of The Wheels on the Bus ‘This little duck goes ‘quack quack quack’ all day long” with each verse having a different animal and noise.

    Similarly if you’ve picked a song rather than made up your own lyrics you should be switching things up. Sometimes one verse of the song is much more fun* than the rest, you should put this near the end so the children have something to look forwards to and behave well for. You might also want to have a calm verse for the very end of the song so you can transition well into the next activity.

    *Parts that kids find really fun are either funny or something they can jump, spin or hug to.

    Another way to switch things up is to simplify the song. A lot of children’s songs are designed for native speakers. Their lyrics can be more complicated than they need to be. Something like “If you’re happy and you know it and you really want to show it.” can be replaced with “If you’re happy and you know it, if you’re happy and you know it” without confusing everyone.

    Finally actions are really important for teaching. They make songs more fun to sing, help show the meaning of the words and make the songs more memorable. The first time I do a song I’ll take a sheet of lyrics, think of some actions and scribble notes all over the lyrics. There’s nothing wrong with taking these into class until you’ve got the hang of things.

    Something to think about the song is going to be done sitting down. You can do more actions stood up and they can be more fun, but young learners can get over excited doing a song stood up. Spinning round, jumping, crawling on the floor or hugging each other can be really fun, but can give your class too much energy.

    In the final part of this series we’ll look at what to do once you’re actually in the classroom and singing.

    • supersimplelearning 11:51 pm on July 6, 2016 Permalink | Reply

      Hi Teacher Timothy!
      Great article. We started out as ESL teachers in Tokyo and learned through trail and error how to use songs in the classroom. We agree that writing your own songs, or adjusting classic songs, using actions, and thinking through how you will use the song (sitting or standing is a great example) are all important factors. We’re very happy to hear that you enjoy our songs (undisputed kings of good ESL songs is quite a compliment. Thanks!!). Your spaghetti yogurt looks delicious! We might have to rethink those lyrics! 🙂


  • timothyhampson 2:10 pm on September 13, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    What does a good TESOL song look like? 

    The ancient Greeks used to hand down their history and culture using songs and poetry. I think the reason for this is that songs are very ‘sticky’, by which I mean that they’re very easy to remember. Everybody knows the lyrics to Kanye West’s ‘Golddigger’  their favourite song, but would they be able to recite verbatim a paragraph of their favourite novel ? Singing is also a lot of fun. I’m sure that adults enjoy singing too, but they’re often too sober shy to do it in front of their peers. If you work with very young learners then they probably also love to sing in front of their peers.  Shy students who are too scared to speak in English on their own often open up when they’re singing and their voice is one of ten. For me working in kindergarten, songs are a HUGE part of what I do because it’s both fun and a good way of remembering English.   I want to do a short series on singing because there’s lots to talk about. We’ll start by thinking about what makes a song good for English class.

    A song you know the lyrics to because song lyrics are easy to remember.

    Song lyrics are ‘sticky’, so you probably singing the rest of this in your head right now.

    What does a good TESOL song look like?

    1. There is probably lots of repetition: If you’re singing ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ for the first time you can join in easily because only the name of the thing on the bus and it’s noise change each verse. If you’re teaching a song to very young learners then you should expect them to pick up the repetitive bits easily but to take a lot longer with the rest.
    2. It teaches useful vocabulary: If it doesn’t, it’s really easy to change the lyrics to an existing song to fit what you need to teach (more on this in the future). Useful also means that it teaches language at the right level for the learners. For beginners it might mean that it teaches some classroom english.
    3. It’s fun: You weren’t going to pick a boring song were you?
    4. You can do actions to it easily: If you are pointing up and down as you’re singing ‘The wheels on the bus go up and down’ it’s easy to understand what ‘up’ and ‘down’ mean, even if you’ve never heard those words before. Doing actions is also fun (see point #3).
    5. It’s of a good length: Too short is a bit of a waste as there’s not enough chance for repetition. Too long is boring (see point #3).
    6. It might have an extra purpose: ‘Bingo’ is a good song for teaching concentration. Lots of teachers use a song to signal the beginning and end of a class. This creates a routine. The students end up knowing these songs really well; and it’s nice to start and end on something they’re confident with.

    In the next few blog posts we’ll be learning about how to prepare for singing in class, what to actually do in class and looking at some examples of songs I love.

    • Marc 9:02 pm on September 13, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      In the past, people at a language school chain in Tokyo may or may not have used Rage Against The Machine, NWA and Public Enemy tunes with different, pedagogically appropriate lyrics. I wouldn’t advise it: they’re a bit fast.

      Liked by 1 person

    • careymicaela 6:21 am on September 14, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Great points here about using music in class. I use a lot of music with my young learners as well (ages 4-10). It’s a big part of our routine and it’s useful for introducing and practicing vocabulary/phrases. It also gets them moving around and helps lower my ‘teacher talking time’.
      Looking forward to your next posts about preparing and carrying out songs in class. 🙂


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