Why use songs?

Children respond positively to songs–

Young children will only get involved in activities if they like them. They are used to singing similar songs in L1. Lots of songs involve actions which children enjoy doing. Young children love being active – let’s use that positively. This is particularly important for SEN children, as sometimes music is what they respond to most. The Hello song can incorporate lots of actions and is very upbeat, creating a positive learning environment.

Every student can be involved in a song activity –

Young children don’t like sitting quietly and waiting for something to do in class e.g. If a teacher goes round the class asking each student a question, it doesn’t take long before most of the class are finding something else to keep them occupied. Choral/group tasks are great for making sure children are all active and focussed, and most importantly engaged in the lesson. Children who have been diagnosed with ADHA find songs a positive way to use their extra energy. Likewise, dyslexic children feel included in language focused activities that don’t involve reading or writing. Songs eliminate  the fact that classes are generally mixed ability; no matter where a child is in terms of learning a language, they can join in with a song to some degree. If children are not ready to sing they can do the actions or just move to the music. The Shine On song provides lots of involvement with the children, including social integration, and if used at the beginning of the lesson can be very bonding for the group.

They make language memorable  –

Most of us can remember songs learnt as a child, or we get a tune stuck in our heads we can’t forget (an earworm). The tunes, and the fact we repeat them either in our heads or listening to them, makes them memorable and helps the lyrics pass from out short term memory to be stored in our long-term memory banks. Very often children are better at the songs in the next lesson, as their brain has been playing it over and over in between time. This is also a useful way to help dyslexic children remember language.

They make language meaningful –

Children don’t just sing they point to key words, or pictures, or do appropriate actions which helps exemplify meaning. Using muscle memory and key phrases helps the language be retained in the long term memory. Again, this can be very beneficial for SEN children.

They include crucial phonological features –

English naturally uses a lot of linking, word stress, pronunciation, sentence stress, intonation – the lot! Songs help reinforce the phonological features. In the Hello song key phonological features include:

contractions; It‘s English time. Let’s be friendly.

word stress: friendly, English, together

sentence stress; It’s English time. It’s time to shine. Come oneveryone.   etc.

They expose children to common phrases or ‘chunks’ of language

English  isn’t just a list of words to learn, but the words  often occur in useful chunks of language. These chunks are much easier to remember rather than trying to reconstruct sentences or phrases.

Encourage children with different learning needs to use this as a  way of remembering whole phrases and responses.

Examples from the song include: Come on everyone, it’s time to … , Let’s +verb (be/work/sing)

They are repetitive –

Children are happy repeating songs over and over. This helps them remember and builds their confidence as the music helps them recite the words. SEN children, in particular,  take comfort in familiarity and routines which are repetitive.  Parents like concrete evidence that learning is taking place so children should be encouraged to sing the songs at home. Children can show that they know a range of structures and vocabulary by singing songs. the hello song include lots of repetition.

They can help classroom management and establish routines.-

Songs can really benefit a teacher’s classroom management skills. Having a welcome song or a beginning song helps create an English learning environment which is positive and helps signal that English lessons are starting. Songs can help with presenting language, where children repeat and participate. Songs can also  provide useful timeframes for children to complete activities, eg when getting prepared for a lesson, colouring in or tidying up. Having established routines is at the heart of classroom management.

Basic Stages to using an action song

Teach the words: Introduce the song with only 1 verse per group so as not to overwhelm the children. Alternatively give out pictures and elicit the phrases about the pictures. (Ask the children to make up actions for each phrase. Alternatively listen to the song and order pictures etc.)

Make up the actions:  encourages personalisation, engaging and involving the children

Teach the actions; teaching each other is a good method of learning, so they are more likely to remember if they have taught it. It helps consolidation and provides a sense of ownership to the language; encouraging sharing as a group.

Chant the words while doing the actions: start feeling the rhythm of the language and the structures being used. Ensure familiarity with the stress patterns in English, adding on  a different verse each time to help memorise the words.

Do the actions to the music: While the children aregetting familiar with the music, give them a chance to move to the music when they hear it for the first time (never ask children to be still when music is on). Only focus on one area, the actions, so they can feel the music/ beat/rhythm and get familiar with the tune.

Sing the song and do the actions: Putting the whole thing together, keeping the children challenged and consolidating the words and actions. Have fun.

Make up new verse with actions:  Give stronger students an opportunity to be pushed and extend what they know. This will also help weaker students expand their vocabulary.

Show the class: Performing to others helps create ownership of the song and the language involved. praise and admiration are very motivating. You could also get the children to decide which is the best new verse and sing it all together, which is very motivating for the group that has created this.



Promoting Project-Based Learning : Q &A Blog Post

by Jane-Maria Harding da Rosa

During the webinars I presented for OUP in 2018 on Project-Based Learning  I set out a framework which could be used in ELT. (link to webinar recording below)

Project-Based Learning is defined by the Buck Institute for Education as a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge. (Buck Institute for Education. (2018). What is PBL? In project based learning, teachers make learning come alive for students. [online] Available at: https://www.bie.org/about/what_pbl. Accessed 10/5/18.)

In order for this to be more accessible for English Language Teaching (ELT) we need to set out a framework and be selective  to make pedagogic sense.

Generate and stimulate: This has to come from the teacher initially, especially if you are dealing with YLs or Teens. It is about knowing your students and knowing what will motivate them in terms of the topics, and activities you are going to ask of them.  Generate interest and discussions in issues that directly affect them and this will simulate them further. It’s the teacher’s job to build curiosity and passion in to the project, adding and stirring when necessary. As ideas are generated, areas that need further exploring should become exposed. As a group  decide which problem/ area that you want to explore.

Define and refine: From this you need to define a driving question. One that the answer cannot be simply ‘Googled’. Each class or groups within a class should have a different driving question, that is specific to their interests. You may start with defining quite a big question such as ‘What size should the trains be?’  And refine this down to ‘How can we get as many people on the train as possible?’. These questions should not be written in ‘educationese’ like ‘What methods could be used to maximise the capacity of the trains?’, but worded by and for  the learners.

Designate and Collaborate: This stage is where the project is truly designed. Where the goals are set ensuring they are SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely) The tasks and activities are designated to the learners who want them, or feel they would like the opportunity to do them. There should be a strong sense of collaboration, so that not one student feels like they are doing all the work or are isolated in their research. At this point it is a good idea to display the goals which have been set, and who is doing what and when they should be done by. This is an opportunity to value each and every member of the class.

Compare and Share: It is essential that there is a continuum of input and feedback and this should come from peers as well as the teacher. Getting groups to compare what they are doing, and sharing their ideas will only make all of the projects better. Students get a better idea of their own performance by seeing what others have done and comparing themselves  in relation to each others. Giving  and taking critical feedback is also an important part of development, using the THINK mnemonic should set expectations and provide guidelines in providing feedback for each other. Nurturing the value of ‘growth mindset’ is about learning how to receive and use feedback productively, accepting critiques as suggestions for improvement rather than focussing on failure.

Enhance and Advance: Learners start off using the knowledge and skills that they have, but then develop these further through the tasks / research that they are doing . This is what makes perfect pedagogic sense, where they have created a context that interests them, which in turn  has defined the language that they need to complete a task: Integrating language, and content and skills development. Essentially they are providing inherently important reasons for using the language. Patsy Lightbown states that a lot of language is acquired through meaningful language usage. However, many features of language cannot be acquired, so it is our job, as English Language teachers to provide them with the language they need to complete the task. PBL means it’s possible to adapt goals for learners at different proficiency levels and having the content the learners have created as a backdrop, provides meaningful language.  The focus should also be on developing Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) such as reasoning skills, enquiry and discussion skills, creative thinking,  evaluating the work of oneself and others and  hypothesizing about what could happen. Compare these skills to Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS) such as remembering information,  ordering information,  defining objects and checking understanding. Other skills that need to be enhanced are 21st Century skills ( for more information see http://www.p21.org/our-work/p21-framework). These include:   Content Knowledge and 21st Century Themes, Learning and Innovation Skills,  Information, Media and Technology Skills, and Life and Career Skills.

Review and Revise:  Students look back at the whole project and review what they have done, being critical of their own work. Similar to the Compare and Share stage but students need to turn the THINK questioning on to their own work and evaluate and state what they like, and what they would have done differently if they were doing it again. This helps to consolidate learning and assess what learning has take place

Produce and present: This is the final product and it should be presented to more than just class peers. It doesn’t have to be a poster / display or a PPT presentation, and with the advancement of technology there are so many other ways to publish the work  that your students have done and in different formats, from infographics to  using minecraft. Some of the other suggestions that came out through the webinar include: leaflets, videos, photo stories, podcasts, school magazines, comics, ebooks, school websites, blogs, Prezzi presentations, puzzles, links with QR codes, video tutorials, Padlet and using Google Forms and documents.

The PBL Framework is presented in a circle as often more than not more interest and motivation is generated during the presentation stage, stimulating more areas of inquiry and leaving questions that still need exploring. Perhaps the presentation is from another group of learners which generates and stimulates conversation with your group of learners.

The framework is only complete when we add the student to the centre, making sure that they are at the heart of the project. It is their project, rather than the teacher’s, and that needs to reflect the needs and interests of the learners.

As teachers, we need to coordinate and manage the whole process at every stage. It’s not about giving it to the learner and walking away until a final product is handed in. It’s a lot more work for us…a lot. Because we have to manage and micro manage each section and stage and learner, to make sure they are all benefitting from PBL.

Lastly and most importantly, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we are language teachers and we need to provide language input, so at each stage of the  framework, there should be time allocated to language input. We need to provide the learners with the language they need in order to carry out the tasks, do the research, present their findings. That means a lot of different structures will be needed, we  can’t expect them to know it all already. There are a lot of opportunities to develop the different skills (Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing while on the PBL path. These all need to feature somewhere in your lesson plans and making sure that each  learner is not neglecting  development of any of the skills

Qs: Can PBL be used in the language class for adults? Is it difficult for primary students? Does PBL make sense in evening schools as well where you meet 1 1/2 hour each week for 12 times?

A: There were a lot of questions on whether PBL is suitable for different ages and levels and teaching situations. The PBL framework could, and should, be used as that, a ‘framework’, where you adapt the content and language according to your learners, their age, stage of development, interests,  language competency and number of hours you have available. There is no time scale because you can adapt it to suit the time you have available, choosing which sections of the framework to focus on if you need to.

Qs: I’ve often had students who can produce understandable but incorrect language. How much correction is really meaningful for projects? Often we need really disciplined students to complete tasks  in English. How can you make them speak only  English? You mentioned having language input between each stage; would this be topic related or functional language for completing the projects (collaborative phrases etc)?

A: A lot of comments came up about language and how your students didn’t have enough  language to do PBL. This is where you need to identify what language they will need to do a specific task, not just the content language but functional language too, and provide some input on that, like you would in a normal language lesson. At each stage of the framework they will need different functional language, as well as different content language. Remember the ‘Enhance and Advance’ stage/element is to start with what they know and can do already and build on it, both in terms of content and language. Providing language input is a key to a successful PBL environment. When teaching in monolingual situations, you need to create a positive learning environment where the students want to speak in English (as you would in your normal lessons). I usually nominate  one student in each group (a different students each time, and not necessarily the strongest)  to be the ‘English Captain’. Giving them the responsibility to make sure as much English is used as possible.

Q: How do you get ideas for topics?  Not all students are interested in one topic, how can we manage that? What happens if several students want to tackle the same aspect of a question? Should I have to decide with my pupils what content is?

A: Karen suggested that maybe the teacher could give a choice of projects and students vote to choose collaboratively. One of the main objectives of PBL is to encourage collaboration, and it starts with the choice of topic. To get inspiration about some of the topics to use have a look at some of the links listed below. Defining a point of inquiry is just the start, as this soon gets refined to something more specific. If there are several students who wish to explore the same area, that is fine, it will make the ‘Compare and Share’ stage  more generative and it will raise the  overall level of the projects considerably. Like with all language lessons you will want to set the students home learning tasks (I’ve stopped using the term ‘homework’ as I don’t want them to get the right answers just for me to mark, but because they are learning)

At the end of the session I shared that my life philosophy is based on MMM, which is a more learner-centred, child friendly view of how language is acquired  used by University of Nottingham ITE team. (The Primary English Teacher’s Guide; Brewster, Ellis and Girard, Penguin)  

MMM; Meeting new language, Manipulating it and Making the language your own.

This also supports the pedagogic reasoning behind PBL, where the learners are ‘Meeting’ the topic/content/language/ driving question, ‘Manipulating’ it as they research and develop their ideas, and my doing a presentation they are ‘Making’ it their own, they are taking ownership of the topic/content and language so that it belongs to them. 

So now that you have MET PBL, it is up to you to decide if you want to MANIPULATE the ideas suggested to your individual teaching situation. If you do that, then you will certainly have a feeling of OWNING PBL…having MADE it your own. And this is exactly the sensation you want to create in your lessons, so that your learners leave with a sense of owning the project, owning the content, owning the skills and owning the language. Because they would have spent time after meeting the ideas at the start manipulating it and shaping it into the final product.


Buck institute for Education. (2018). What is PBL? In project based learning, teachers make learning come alive for students. [online] Available at: https://www.bie.org/about/what_pbl. Accessed 10/5/18.

Focus on Content-Based Language Teaching Patsy Lightbown, OUP 2014

BIE PBL YouTube Video Project Based Learning: Explained

What is project-based learning? 15 PBL ideas fit for your classroom

by Lucie Renard — Jun 22, 2017


25 Creative Ways to Incorporate More Project Based Learning in the Classroom

By Terri Eichholz  April 18, 2016


Buck institute for Education. (2018). What is PBL? In project based learning, teachers make learning come alive for students. [online] Available at: https://www.bie.org/about/what_pbl.

Accessed 10/5/18

Other interesting YouTube videos and Blogs you may find useful:

MMM : How many TLAs do we really need? Is there room for one more?

 By Jane-Maria Harding da Rosa


There are SO MANY resources and inspiration on Pinterest which gives you links to a blogs and websites.

What is The Silent Period?

 Most new learners of English, particularly in the 1st year of school, will go through ‘a Silent Period’. According to language researcher Stephen Krashen this is normal and even though they can understand much of what is going on around them, they are unwilling or unable to communicate orally.  Children going through this phase should not be forced to speak before they are ready, it doesn’t mean that they are not learning, just that they need time to absorb and digest what language they hear and see around them.

There are a lot of similarities between the Silent Period and when a child acquires their first language. Babies hear a lot of language around them and even when they start to speak their comprehension levels are far greater than their production ability.

It can often be a frustrating time for the teacher, parents and  child as it appears that there is very little ‘progress’ being made. However, responsive behaviour should be accepted as evidence that learning is taking place.

The length of the Silent Period varies according to how much language the child is exposed to and how much pressure is put on the child to produce. It is important that as teachers we acknowledge that not all children are ready to speak but provide plenty of opportunities in chants and songs where a child can ‘experiment’ and try out the different sounds in their voice in the safety of not being heard. It is also important to provide as much language as possible for the children to respond to and absorb in their own time.

So, the Silent Period, doesn’t have to be that silent. Chants, songs and choral work all provide opportunity for the child to prepare to speak, and help with acquiring language and confidence.


How do 6-7 year olds learn English as a second language?

  • They acquire English through hearing and experiencing LOTS of examples. Similar to learning their first language- they need to hear masses and masses of English and be absorbed by it.
  • They learn through doing, by playing and by being ‘occupied’ with the language.
  • They are not consciously trying to learn new words- it’s incidental. Children are not able to organise their learning- they don’t even realise that they are learning- they see it as fun (or should do)
  • They love playing with language sounds, imitating and making funny noises. Have fun playing with words or phrases in different styles and exaggerated expressions.
  • Their grammar will develop on its own- provided they hear lots of English and learn to understand a lot of words and phrases


How can you as a teacher help them? 

  • Make English enjoyable and You are influencing their attitude to language learning. It has to be a positive experience
  • Don’t worry about mistakes. Be encouraging. Make sure children feel comfortable and not afraid to take part
  • Use lots of gestures, actions, visuals. Be expressive to demonstrate what you mean
  • Talk a lot to them in English. Talk about things they can see; the here and now of the classroom and their lives
  • Play games, sing songs, say rhymes. These are bonding activities which help create a positive atmosphere.
  • Tell stories using pictures and different voices. Stories can be simple. Understanding comes from the context, they don’t need to ‘know’ every single word
  • Don’t worry if they speak Portuguese. You can respond in English. If appropriate you can reformulate the question. They will speak in L1 with each other, which is why YOU have to speak in English all of the time.
  • Constantly Incorporate structures as well as vocabulary that appear in the coursebook into the classroom.
  • Plan lessons with varied Standing, sitting, quiet, noisy. Keep the movement going, no more than 6 minutes on any 1 activity (1 minute per year of age)


‘Listen and Do’ Activities

  • Giving instructions

It is often quicker and easier to use L1 when asking children to move or sit or stand while trying to prepare them for the next activity. However, your aim is to teach the English. Using gestures and demonstrating what you want them to do while providing them with English instructions will help them understand and eventually you can reduce their dependence on gestures and increase the structures to include the target instructions.


What instructions do you need in your classes?

How can you use gestures?



  • Listen and identify

When asking children to ‘listen and identify’ they are making sense of English words and phrases as well as developing their vocabulary. They are also associating sounds and meanings. Unless they have heard a word several times and associate it with something meaningful they are unlikely to be able to identify it


What things can children ‘identify’?

How can they show you?


  • Total Physical Response (TPR)

Total Physical Response is when children listen and follow instructions and often referred to as ‘muscle memory’. The teacher should give instructions using clear pronunciation and natural intonation and can assist learners by also doing the gestures or movements. The children listen carefully to the teacher and carry out the instructions. They can usually all do this together so they are all involved in the activity. Often TPR activities are connected to chants, rhymes and rhythms as this also aids memory.


What TPR activities do you use?

At what point of the lesson are they most useful?


  • Listen and respond

Listening activities can be extended when you ask children to respond to a statement you make. It encourages detailed listening, but also involves movement which keeps the learners interested. A typical listen and respond activity would be True/False game where the teacher says a statement like ‘The sky is green’ and the children run to or hold up a ‘false’ card.
What other listen and respond games do you use?

What other responses could you ask the children to do?

‘Listen and Make’ Activities

The objective of a lesson that includes making things is the language that is required to make the object. For this reason it is important that you have thought about the language that you are going to use and have put it into short phrases with gestures that can be understood. You must also anticipate what children may ask you and how you can respond. Particularly important is the language that the children may need and how this could be included in the target language.

  • Listen and colour

The first thing to do is to check that all the children have the coloured pens/pencils required. This is a quick listen and identify activity and the opportunity to revise and recycle should be taken. Children can spend a long time colouring, which is not very language generative. Try singing a short colouring song to indicate how long they have to colour and for fast finishers to join in with if they feel confident.

What kind of listen and colour activities do you do?

What language do you use to set up the activity?

  • Listen and draw

Children enjoy drawing without instructions, but the aim in a ‘listen and draw’ activity is to get the children to listen to instructions.  A typical listen and draw activity is a ‘Picasso Dictation’ where the teacher describes a face or an animal and the children draw it. This is made more interesting-as all the drawings are different- if the teacher produces a drawing she did earlier and sees whose picture is most similar to the teacher’s.

What kinds of listen and draw activities do you do?

What other language does it produce?


  • Listen and make

There are many things children can make, and often these are linked to festivals and holidays. Think about the language that is needed to describe the materials that are used, the verbs that are necessary and the vocabulary linked to the topic. This can lead to a complicated lesson and therefore needs to be well thought out before hand.

What kinds of things do you make with the children?

Do you teach the names of the materials?

What about the vocabulary?

How can you make sure that the craft work doesn’t go on too long?


Using Stories

Stories are an important part of children’s life and can be a useful resource in the English classroom. The context of a story is usually enough to hold a child’s interest, but it can be helpful to use visuals, gestures and to be expressive with your voice. These all help children to understand ‘holistically’, rather than focusing on individual words. Stories can be used to present new structures, revise vocabulary or for general enjoyment. They don’t have to be ‘authentic’ or in the course book; with a little creativity you (and the students) can make up your own, or adapt existing ones, to focus on the language area that you want.


  • Structure based eg. Where’s Bob?

Bob! Bob! Where’s Bob?

Is he here? No!

Is he here? No!

Is he here? No!

Oh Bob! There you are!

Adapted from: Wright.A Creating Stories with Children OUP


The structure is repeated on each page and the context is provided by the visuals or gestures. This can easily be extend to Where’s Bob? Is he under the table? No! etc.


How could you adapt this story to fit your teaching situation?

What extension activities could you do after telling this story?

Quickly see if you can write another story like this.


  • Vocabulary based eg The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Vocabulary based stories rely on the words to tell the story. Here is an example of a simple list of single words which tell a story


Wright.A Creating Stories with Children OUP


Practice saying this story to create an atmosphere where you can introduce the characters, then a problem and a solution.

What other vocabulary based stories do you know?


  • Context based eg Cinderella.

By choosing a story the children already know you have less to worry about in terms of understanding, which means you can focus on the telling of the story.

Five Green Monsters- CUP

This story is comprehensible because the pictures supply the context. There is enough known language Five green monsters are playing for the children to guess what ‘swing’ is by looking at the picture.

How would you prepare students for a context based story?

Can you think of any other stories you would use?



Lots of people ask me about where to start when creating a chant. It’s usually just in the language around you; the first line of a story or article, a phrase that would be useful for the learners, groups of words that collocate well. It’s how you put them together  that counts.

One of my favourite chants started when I was reading a story from one of my son’s books  (when he was 10). The first  couple of sentences were  ‘I shouldn’t have done it . I really shouldn’t.  And I found myself  just enjoying the rhythm of the of the phrases in my  mind’s voice…so much so that I started repeating them 3 times, getting more intense each time…then after saying them 3 times I looked at the next line…But it’s too late to be sorry now.  Try it now and say it out loud, and see.

I shouldn’t have done it. I really shouldn’t.

I shouldn’t have done it. I really shouldn’t

I shouldn’t have done it. I really shouldn’t

But it’s too late to be sorry now.

So, the next lesson I had with a group of 11-12 yr old boys I started with this chant. It didn’t matter that the structure was quite complex for their stage of learning, but they had enough vocabulary  and linguistic knowledge to work out the meaning, just from the intonation and stress pattern. How do I know?  Just as we were using this chant to predict what the story was about and what they thought the person in the story had done, one of the boy’s mobiles went off and he knew he wasn’t allowed to have it on unless I had given permission. I asked him to give it to me…and the rest of the class all turned to him and said…’You shouldn’t have done it, you really shouldn’t!’

So look at the pattern of the sentences.  Sentence A and B are repeated 3 times, and then concluded with sentence C.






It’s exactly the same pattern as one of my favourite chants

I like it. I like it a lot.

I like it. I like it a lot.

I like it. I like it a lot.

I l   o   v  e     it


Look at the post  about creating vocabulary chants:

Creating a Vocabulary Chant (based on an idea from Caroline Graham)

  1. Write a list of the vocabulary you want to use and categorise according to the number of syllables.Students as young as 6 or 7 can do this and it’s  a fantastic way to get adults to notice spelling and pronunciation.  It is also an additional way to get students to drill  lexis without  them realising.
  2. Name   2 syllable words (A),  3 syllable words (B) and  1 syllable words (C)
  3. Choose one word from each group, preferably that link in some way, and repeat using the following formula

(4/4 time)



apples, oranges, pears

apples, oranges, pears

apples, oranges, apples, oranges,

apples, oranges, pears

More suggestions

  • Try using  3, 4, 2  syllable words but remember to keep the same 4/4 beat
  • Choose words with similar sounds to make tongue twisters Eg carrots, cauliflower, corn
  • Get your students to make up their own chants and then teach the rest of the class

(give them the language to play with and enjoy)




When I tell people I do a lot of chanting in my English lessons, they automatically assume I mean Jazz Chants (as of Caroline Graham, Jazz Chants). However, I would like to remove the word ‘Jazz’ as it implies that there is some kind of singing involved.  I am not against singing, I enjoy singing and include a lot of singing in the classroom, so there is a definite place for singing in the classroom, and especially in the YL classroom. The objectives of a song are quite different to that of a chant. As soon as the voice is required for it to become a song, a significant portion of the class may be excluded. Not everybody enjoys singing, or indeed can sing. It requires more effort in terms of pitch and tone and being able to carry a melody as well as requiring more confidence to sing in public, which is what a classroom is.  It is also more difficult for teachers to lead a song if they too are not confident singers. Finding a song which suits the pitch and voice range of both teacher and children can also be a problem, as can relying on recordings of one sort or another.  When creating songs there is a tendency to make the words fit the tune, rather than the other way round, which means that often the stress patterns, intonation and indeed pronunciation in general,  become distorted. Although not everyone can boast a good sense of rhythm, they are more likely to have a go at a chant if a tune is not involved.

Chants are different as they focus on the rhythmic expression and sounds of natural language.  A chant should just be the exaggerated stress pattern and intonation of a simple phrase.


Can chanting help students feel the rhythm of English?

English is a stress-timed language rather than a syllable-timed language. This means the stressed syllables are said at approximately regular intervals and the unstressed syllables shorten to fit into the rhythm. This is why English has contractions and the most common vowel sound is the schwa. It also means that it is possible to fit in many unstressed syllables between each stressed syllable. A good example of this is the traditional poem, Three Blind Mice. The first line contains only 3 syllables and builds up to the penultimate line with 11 syllables.


Three Blind Mice (4/4)

Three blind mice (_).

Three blind mice (_).

See how they run (_).

See how they run (_).

They all ran after the farmer’s wife.

Who cut off their tails with a carving knife.

Have you ever seen such a thing in your life.

As three blind mice (_).


The ‘content’ words are usually given the main stress (shown in bold). This helps children identify and remember such words. Whilst the unstressed words are more ‘function’ words grammatically, and  these  maintain the rhythm. This is one of the reasons why English lends itself to Rapping.

Using these exaggerated patterns in class, not only leads to more natural speech, but helps learners remember target vocabulary.

The foundations of literacy are formed as familiarity of rhymes and chants increase an awareness of sounds, word patterns, rhythm and stress. ‘Poetry is easier to remember than prose because of the underlying ‘pulse’ which keeps going like a ticking clock’ (Lenneberg in Aitchison)


Can we define a chant?

  • A chant is a series of short, easy to remember phrases which are repeated in a memorable fashion.
  • The  chant should have exaggerated stress, rhythm and intonation.
  • The rhythm, stress and intonation patterns should resemble closely a native speaker in natural conversation.



Isn’t a chant a monotonous drawl?

Chants can easily become a nasal, monotonous drawl if the teacher lets it (think of school assemblies or church services). When it gets slow and predictable there is very little value to chanting. In order to stop this happening we first have to acknowledge why this happens (you cannot change what you don’t acknowledge).

  • It is natural to drawl when there are large groups of people saying something together
  • If the children are unsure about what they are supposed to be saying they start to mumble to hide the fact, which results in a drawl.
  • Just like an orchestra there needs to be a ‘conductor’- often teachers forget to ‘count in’ the students. Train your students to react to your gestures.
  • The energy in a chant can drain away (…but it can also accelerate and create more energy.)
  • The focus becomes on ‘getting it grammatically correct’ rather than sounding natural in English. So the model sentence may tend to have even stress on each syllable such as ‘They-are-play-ing-foot-ball’ rather than They’re playing football.
  • Teachers often lack confidence and comment, ‘I feel like I’m making a fool of myself’. This may be true, but the students need to see you doing it if they are going to be prepared to make a ‘fool’ of themselves too.


When I first starting teaching English to children, back in 1995, I soon became aware of the importance of stress and intonation as well as the children’s ability to pick up or acquire language from the teacher. Working in Portugal the children had lessons twice a week after school. Very often they would be in the classroom before me (I still had so much to learn!) and one day when I walked in to teach a group of 7-8 year olds I saw Rui sitting under a chair. ‘Rui!’ I shouted, and the rest of the class all continued ‘What /are you doing\?’ with a raising intonation on the stressed word ‘are’ and a falling intonation on ‘doing’. As they all sounded like ‘mini-me’s, I realised I had perhaps said this phrase a little too quite often but was really pleased at how natural they had sounded. Poor Rui was a bit shocked that the whole class had ganged up against him, but it wasn’t their fault, it was a conditioned reflex and I had supplied the stimulus by the way I had said ‘Rui!’. Since then I have been taking advantage of the fact that children love to imitate their teacher and have positively encouraged all my students to exaggerate the stress and intonation of phrases ever since.

As the Head of Teacher Training at International House Porto I had the opportunity to work with a lot of trainee teachers and observe many different types of classes. One of the courses we offered included teaching practice and so I organised free lessons for children at a local children’s home. As we provided all the materials for the lesson each week I observed the children asking in Portuguese to borrow pencils and pens. Each week the teachers got the kids to repeat the phrase in English (very often one word at a time) and, unsurprisingly, they were still unable to remember it 6 months later. I realised that as this phrase was needed every lesson, it really should be taught (or learned). There was a genuine need for communication and an ideal opportunity for the children to speak in English. With a few weeks between courses I decided to teach the children myself.  Using only the exaggerated intonation, rhythm and stress pattern of the question Can I borrow a pencil, please? the chant ‘da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da’ was created and repeated in a fun and lively manner, varying the volume, pitch and speed. Gradually the words were substituted into the rhythmic work (starting at the end/back-chaining) until the children could say and use the phrase confidently. By the end of the lesson the children were able to produce variations of the target language independently.  However, the following lesson it seemed as though we were back to square one. With a small reminder of the da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da chant to encourage them, they all soon started saying it and communicating in English using the structure Can I borrow a pencil, please?. The phrase was still produced using heavily exaggerated intonation and stress patterns. I questioned how long it would take for the children to take this language, presented to them in a chant, and use it naturally (if at all).  Approximately two months later, whist observing a trainee teacher, I heard one child saying in the most natural, fluent voice, with a continuous intonation flow, and unprompted, ‘Can I borrow a rubber, please?’.  Job done!

Walking on our way to school each morning my son and I would make up chants, or repeat ones we had already mastered. We had chants about being on time, chants about being late, chants about snails, chants about the date.  We had number chants, marching chants, fast chants, and challenging chants.  We even had a chant that taught him the square numbers. This was not only a valuable bonding experience but an opportunity to discover the sounds, rhythms and patterns of English which he might not have noticed as Portuguese was his ‘educational language’.

A Chant about Chanting (4/4 time)

There were chants about being on time,

There were chants about being late,

There were chants about racing snails,

And chants about the date.


There were number chants and counting chants,

Fast chants and  challenging chants.

Action chants and marching chants,

Animal chants and spelling chants.

There were chants  we repeated each morning,

There were chants we made up on the spot,

There were chants that helped us remember,

And chants that we quickly forgot. Continue Reading »


Whether you consider yourself to be in EFL, ESL or ELT our industry is littered with TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) Before I introduce you to another, have a look at this list and see if you know what they all mean. (NB not all are *TLAs, some are TLAs and some FLAs- see below for definitions. )

  1. PPP
  2. TPR
  3. CLIL
  4. ESA
  5. TEYL
  6. SLA
  7. CEF
  8. TBL
  9. DH
  10. CLT
  11. CLL
  12. CALL
  13. CBLT


This list is only a fraction, and probably represents how language is mutating. (tbh, I could have listed hundreds more)

Having identified their meaning, are there some that mean more to you than others? Ones that you can really relate to?  You don’t have to choose one that is here, or even  a TLA, but think of an idea or approach that means something to you.  Perhaps Dogme was an eye-opener for you, or The Lexical Approach?

When did you first come across these? How have they influenced your teaching? Did you have any ‘Aha!’ moments with them? (‘Aha’ is not a TLA, but a term Oprah Winfrey uses when you (or your students) have a ‘light bulb’ moment, i.e.where the penny drops and everything seems to make sense.) Take some time to think about how  you responded to these new ideas. Did you use them and adapted them to suit your own teaching situation? How did you do this?

At what point did you feel you had ownership of the concept and a sense that it belonged to you? Did you ever feel that you wanted to share it with your colleagues?

At this point I would like to introduce you to MMM. The term was originally coined by University of Nottingham ITE team and I discovered it hidden away in The Primary English Teacher’s Guide; Brewster, Ellis and Girard (Penguin 2002: 47,48). It describes a more learner-centred, child-friendly view of PPP, but in fact is a more humanistic idea of how learners acquire language. For me, though, it has become  more of a life philosophy.

MMM; Meeting new language, Manipulating it and Making the language your own.

(Or, if you prefer it as a mantra to chant, like I do: meet it, manipulate it, make it your own.)


Meeting new language

The way new language is presented depends on the resources available, but it often involves a visual image along with the teacher providing a spoken example.

At this point the teacher is trying to provide comprehensible input in an interesting way so that learners use their hearing, sight and knowledge of the world to put the language into context.

This means the teacher is responsible for introducing the meaning, form and pronunciation of the new language correctly and also for checking the students’ comprehension. It is at this stage where learners could be corrected gently and given the opportunity to practise saying the new language as a group, getting used to hearing what their voice sounds like saying the new language.


Manipulating the new language

The teacher should try and support the learners in manipulating the new language in a variety of activities. First in a controlled way and then moving into more guided manipulation where the learners select the language they want to use from the range of new language they have just encountered. In this way the learners become more and more responsible for remembering the language, but always with some support, such as actions, CDS, charts, chants, pictures, etc. As the learners manipulate the language they are more likely to be divided into teams, groups or pairs.


Making the language your own

In this stage the students are likely to be in groups or pairs for activities with a clear purpose so they need to communicate. This should be much freer, less controlled practice where the emphasis is on getting their meaning across and understanding others’ meaning. Too much correction at this stage could be de-motivating and inappropriate as the focus is on ‘ownership’ of the language. Corrections could be highlighted at the recycling stage in the following lesson, or at the end of the session. It is unrealistic to expect children to use new language perfectly at this stage. This stage is important for developing students’ interactional skills, listening and speaking, as well as literacy skills, reading and writing. Finally, children should be encouraged to review what they have done and learned, and be given plenty of opportunities to recycle language through a variety of activities.


I was introduced to the MMM concept when I was studying for my MA in TEYL at York University. I soon started using it and adapting it as I was writing teacher training courses for teaching YLs. It forms a central backbone in the planning session I wrote for the IHCYLT. More recently I introduced the concept to a group of trainees on CELTA as it is equally applicable for teaching adults.  I certainly feel I have ownership of the concept. Recently I was invited to present a training session in Shanghai, China as part of an ICELT course at General Plan. I introduced MMM as an idea for how to approach lesson planning, and before the end of the session the course director, Simon Cox, had managed to manipulate the concept and incorporated it into  the assignment he was setting on that day.  Basically, I had demonstrated some pairwork card games where the participants had to make their own cards and then use them to play a series of activities which followed the basic MMM principles (see below).  The participants were then encouraged to take these ideas (which they had just met) manipulate and adapt them and make them their own for their individual teaching situation. Loop input doesn’t get better than that!

How do you feel about MMM? Did you help your students meet, manipulate and make language their own this week? Have you been MMMing with tasks and activities? (yes, we can use it as a verb) And yes, I think there definitely is room for one more TLA in ELT!

TLA Definition
CALL Computer Assisted language Learning
CBLT Content Based Language Teaching
CEF Common European Framework
CLIL Content and Language Integrated Learning
CLL Community Language Learning
CLT Communicative Language Teaching
DH Demand High
ESA Engage, Study, Activate
PPP Presentation, Practice, Production
SIG Special Interest Group
SLA Second Language Acquisition
TBL Task–Based Learning
TEYL Teaching English to Young Learners
TPR Total Physical Response
TTT Test-Teach-Test (or Teacher Talking Time)


This is a knife!

da da da

Yesterday I ate an apple 

Instructions for mini books

Engaging YLs with content,language and learning skills

What a fantastic session with some great teachers in Lausanne, Switzerland on Saturday 8th Nov 2014.

Here is the presentation. I hope it impacts on your teaching and you found the ideas and activities useful.

My 3 takeaways (from a presenter’s point of view)

Some teachers really picked up on the little things I said, which weren’t planned or one of the aims. Remember that this happens in class too. Learners will acquire the language they are ready to learn, which might not be the same thing that you have intended to teach.

A teacher with an MA in TEYL said that she learned loads of new things. It doesn’t matter how much experience we have, or what qualifications we have there is always room for more learning.

Feeding ideas to teachers breeds more ideas. There was so much creativity going on. I love the thought that they will go on and share the ideas with their colleagues, which in turn will influence their learners. There is something to be said for cascading knowledge.

I look forward to returning to  ETAS one day 🙂

Promoting learner Autonomy


Here is a power-point presentation summarising some sessions I presented recently

fostering learner autonomy

We all think to ourselves, and have an ‘innervoice’. To help or students improve their English encourage them to think about what  they could say to themselves. Set a home-learning task for them to  think in English for 5-10 minutes every day. They could do this while they are walking or travelling to work/college, while they are cooking, having a shower, or just before they go to bed! (Then hopefully they will dream in English…the ultimate goal!) 

Here is a handout you could use.

 Thinking in English jmhdr