Secrets to Teaching Songs in Young Learner English classes

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If you teach young learners, you probably use chants and songs in your class. But how do you teach them to use them most effectively?

Each song we use has different challenges and is magical in its own unique way. Your challenge is to find that unique magic and share it with your students.

Do you know the secrets to teaching songs to young learners? You'll find helpful tips here.

I’m sharing an example from my online Zoom class with English students in Japan to help you see what we did with songs. Today we’ll look at the first song in this video called She Has a Shirt, from Magic Time 2.

Let’s talk about the parts of the lesson that lead up to the first song in this video. Magic Time, Unit 6 lesson takes place in a jungle where everyone has packed their clothing for the trip. In a Magic Time lesson, students first learn the six new vocabulary words (shirt, skirt, cap, dress, jacket, sweater). I like to introduce this vocabulary by making it magical, such as using a suitcase to hide the clothing items or the picture cards. The students are surprised to see them. In the textbook, students search for the vocabulary items in the double-page spread and practice the words in a chant. In the final listening activity, I invite students to predict which number will be said. They say, “I think number one is ________,” and put their eraser on that picture in their book. Then they write the number. This continues until all six numbers have been called. This activity pushes output from an early stage. The kids love it! We play additional games, too.

In the next lesson, students add the grammar paradigm: She/ He has a _________. When I’m in a classroom with the students, I make a rebus sentence using the grammar paradigm and the picture cards.

Now that the students have practiced the vocabulary and grammar, they’re ready to sing the song. Make sure that you listen to the song before you teach it. The first time my students listen to the song, they’re looking at the images in their book. The second time we add movements. You can see the students pointing to their clothing, too. They really love the silly monkey part.

The children really loved this song. It helped them use the vocabulary naturally. What makes this work?

First of all, the language was gently scaffolded. Students had an achievable step. This is called the Zone of Proximal Development.

Next, the language was taught in a variety of ways. On the right, you can see the “Multiple Intelligences Pizza.” This theory was developed by Dr. Howard Gardner and adapted for the classroom by Dr. Thomas Armstrong. Some teachers have used this theory to look at students’ talents. I use it, however, for planning varied ways to teach my lesson. In our lesson, students looked at pictures (individually and in context), followed patterns, explored musical songs and chants, and moved their bodies. They learned alone and played games with their classmates. Learning like this provides repetition that is varied and engaging. When you use MI (Multiple Intelligences) strategies, you create variety in your lessons. 

Remember: Repetition, Repetition, VARIATION.

Last of all, making learning a positive experience is a very important aspect of learning. To nurture students’ imaginations and fun, use hands-on materials, including picture cards, stuffed animals, puppets, instruments, beanbags, scarves, and found items.

Songs build fluency. Games build on the language taught in class. This dice game is so much fun and builds fluency along with reading skills. You can see the children rolling the dice, adding the sight words, then reading the sentence. This activity creates some funny sentences, such as “He has a dress.” (dice pattern in MT 2 Teachers’ book). Alternatively, you can use picture cards. Students turn over one of the character cards, choosing he or she. Then the student adds “has a,” followed by another vocabulary picture card (i.e. shirt).

Just a note that before students go home, I like to play the song again. Create the chance fo students to catch SSIYH, the “song stuck in your head” phenomenon. Good songs are easy for students to repeat. Repetition helps, too. Students will sing independently and happily.

Do you have a secret to teaching songs? Let us know at magictimekids@gmail.com. We’d love to hear from you!

Kathy loves to write music for children. If you’re looking for songs for little ones, check out these two CDs, available on iTunes.

Kathy Kampa is a passionate educator of young learners. She seeks to nurture children’s imaginations and spark creativity through fun and engaging activities. Kathy believes that music and movement should be a part of every young child’s learning.

Kathy and her husband Chuck are co-authors of Magic Time, Everybody Up, Oxford Discover, and Beehive (published by Oxford University Press). They have been teaching young learners in Tokyo, Japan for 30 years. Kathy and Chuck also active as teacher trainers, inspiring teachers around the world. They have currently returned to their home state of Minnesota in the US.

If you’re interested in more of Kathy’s work, check out her YouTube channel at Kathy Kampa. Kathy has collected numerous activities to link with her here on Pinterest.

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A Loose Tooth?

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It has happened countless times in my teaching. A young student loses a tooth right in the middle of my lesson. I think that I was most worried when one student bumped into another student during my class. The student was bleeding, so I ran to get towels. Then I saw her smile. She had been worried about her loose tooth, and it finally popped out. Whew! So I wrote this song for her and for all of the kids who worry about losing a tooth.

Last week one of my students in my online English classes had a loose tooth, so we sang this song. Maybe one of your students does, too?

Here are the lyrics to my song Loose Tooth on Kathy Kampa’s Special Days and Holidays.

Loose Tooth by Kathy Kampa

I’ve got a loose tooth, Wiggle, wiggle. 

I’ve got a loose tooth, Wiggle, wiggle.

I’ve got a loose tooth, Wiggle, wiggle.

A loose tooth in my mouth.

Wiggle front to back, Wiggle, wiggle,  

Wiggle side to side, Wiggle, wiggle,

Wiggle up and down, Wiggle, wiggle,

Wiggle all around . . .  (repeat from the start)

Final: I had a loose tooth . . .

Here’s our YouTube video from our Zoom lesson.

What can your students learn during this song?

*Directional movements (front/back, side/side, up/down, around)

*oo/ sound (loose/tooth)

*Simply, it can help children stop worrying about a loose tooth. It fills the air with happy, fun, and silly vibes.

How does your culture celebrate the loss of a tooth? If you want to learn more about traditions around the globe, check out this informative article. And if you want to read a picture book about this, check out this post by Show and Tell.

Here in the US, a child places the tooth under their pillow at night. During the night, the tooth fairy collects the tooth and leaves some money in its place. Here’s a simple idea from East Coast Mommy for a darling tooth bag. For more ideas, go to my Pinterest page.

The studio version of Loose Tooth can be found on iTunes on Kathy Kampa’s Special Days and Holidays, track #2. Click here to take you there!

This album is filled with songs to celebrate the many events in a child’s life–a birthday, a loose tooth, and many major holidays.
About me

Kathy Kampa is a passionate educator of young learners. She seeks to nurture children’s imaginations and spark creativity through fun and engaging activities. Kathy believes that music and movement should be a part of every young child’s learning.

Kathy is the co-author of Magic Time, Everybody Up, Oxford Discover, and Beehive (published by Oxford University Press). She has been teaching young learners in Tokyo, Japan for over 30 years. Kathy is also active as a teacher trainer, inspiring teachers around the world. She has currently returned to her home state of Minnesota in the US.

If you’re interested in more of Kathy’s work, check out her YouTube channel at Kathy Kampa.

For a special playlist of Kathy Kampa’s Special Days and Holidays, click here.

Happy singing, dancing, and wiggling!!