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  • 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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