15 stages of using pre-school English songs

By Alex Case

These stages can be used to introduce the use of songs in your pre-school classes for the first time (especially useful if you are not used to using them) or as the stages to use with a particular song that is new to you and/ or your class so that you can introduce a song easily and use it as long as you need to. Please note that with slower or younger classes it might take several weeks to progress from one stage to the next, and that you should move onto using new songs instead of working your way through each stage if you think that would be more useful.

1. Have it on in the background
Although it is usually okay just to go straight to step three “Listen and do” below, especially if you are not scared of looking like an idiot while doing the song by yourself for a while, it is possible to lead up to that point if you want to. This is particularly useful in school systems where children are expected to be somewhat regimented and with children who need some persuading to move around, e.g. a first class where the parents are sitting in. The most basic way of introducing the music is to have it on in the background without commenting on it or using at all. If possible, put it on at the stage of the class when you are planning on using it in future classes, e.g. have a Hello Song on as they come in for the first time but only do the actions from the second week after you have taught the language at some point during lesson one.

2. Introduce the meaning and actions
Although kids can learn from listening and copying without too much conscious effort, there are some situations in which a bit more explanation first could be appreciated. For example, the students could listen to the song and watch the teacher or puppet do the actions. Alternatively, you could start with a storybook with the same words as the song (often available for songs for native English speaking kids).

3. Listen and do
The next, or usually the first, stage is to play and/ or sing the song with the teacher doing the accompanying actions and trying to persuade the kids to join in. Doing it this way means even students who are too shy to sing can take part, the actions make the meanings clear, and kids look forward to songs as something fun. Ways of making sure they take part include making (most of) them stand up before the song starts, taking a few by the hand to join you jumping around the classroom, and calling out to kids to take part by name. Please note, however, that with a class of very young kids 50% percent participation is good at this stage and you don’t have to worry too much that the others aren’t learning or won’t join in in their own time. If it is the very first action song you’ve used in that class, you’ll have to make sure it is one you don’t need everyone to join in with, e.g. not one where you need everyone standing in a big circle like “Hokey Cokey” or “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”.

4. Use the words of the song in other classroom activities
This can be to elicit and practice that language (e.g. using the songs to help students remember letters or body parts you want to bring up for another purpose), or to make the meanings of the songs clearer and so help with the stages below. Any normal pre-school English class activities can be used for this purpose, e.g. mimes, flashcards, realia, storybooks or conversations with puppets.

5. Hum and vaguely sing along
As the weeks go by, the students will start to sing along, although without many of the words being identifiable as English. They will usually progress to the next stages naturally, but you can get to this phase and so be ready to move onto the next one more quickly by using songs they already know in their own language, anc can speed up reaching the next stage by using the tips below.

6. Sing a few words and mumble the rest
The next natural stage is that the most important words that the kids sing become closer to your pronunciation or the pronunciation on the tape. It isn’t worth trying to drill whole lines of the song at this stage, but by getting kids to shout out the important vocabulary in the song with a little gentle correction as you use it in other stages of the lesson such as TPR and guessing the flashcard can help reach this stage more quickly and improve their pronunciation.

7. Copying well enough, but no idea of the division between words
In a stage that is slightly confusing for both the teacher and the children, at the same time as students are picking out individual words from their meaning or the fact they are pronounced most clearly in the song, other kids (or sometimes the same ones) can take to repeating whole lines of the song as more or less natural linked speech without making any division into individual words, either in comprehension or in pronunciation. This is both a good thing (and one reason why parents want their children to study English from very young) and a bad thing. The good thing is that if young children do have the ability to pick up a natural English accent that their parents expect, it is in precisely this kind of thing rather than the vowel and consonant sounds that their young mouths often still have problems with in even their own languages. The bad news is that if you want them to be able to use the words in the song in other kinds of communication, sooner or later they are going to have to realise that “andtoes” is not one word like “head”, “shoulders” and “knees” are but “and” plus “toes”. For most kids, it is okay to clear up this confusion really slowly and even wait for it to dawn on them when they study more systematically at school. Ways of trying to make some of that progress at this stage include stopping the song at various points that correspond to word boundaries (“Head, shoulders, knees and STOP! GO! Toes”), and teaching as many of the individual words of the song as you can in other parts of the class (“Colour the eyes AND the hair brown”). With more disciplined and cerebral classes, you could even have them sing the song word by word stopping and starting as you point at your fingers. This can also be done with words on the board- even if they can’t read yet, as they are basically just counting as they sing.

8. Do the action that the teacher says rather than the one on the tape
After a while they will stop listening to the song because they already know what order the verses, actions etc. are coming in. You can shake them out of that by replacing the actions, animals, body parts etc that they should mime as they sing with others. For this it helps if you can turn down the volume on the CD player at the point when you shout out your variation, or if you just sing the song without the CD and get everyone to pause before you say the unexpected word or phrase.

9. Drill the words of the song
This stage has the distinction of being the only one in this list that is naturally neither fun nor something kids would choose to do, and many teachers skip it for songs with kids of pre-school age. There can be pressure to do it, however. If so, it is best to do it before you use the song in class in that lesson, so the kids gradually realise the connection between what you are saying and doing and the upcoming excitement of the actual song. Do the usual actions that you do with the song as you drill, or at least a stand still or sit down version of them. Also use your arms to show things like long vowels sounds and the rhythm of the sentence. Keep their interest and emphasize these points by exaggerating them before going back to normal. Silly voices can also help. You can also change the words as you drill and get them to correct you, e.g. “If you are happy and you know it, clap your bananas” “No! Not bananas! Hands!”

10. Correcting your version
Correcting your mistakes can also be used during singing of the song and be an excuse to take a little break to kind of do some drill. For example, I always use this idea between verses of the song “If you are happy and you know it (clap your hands)” with suggestions like “… shout ‘pancakes'” and “…punch your head”. This also gives them some silly and creative ideas for when you let them make their own variations (see below).

11. Sing faster with natural rhythm
To help further with distinguishing individual words but making sure they don’t lose their natural rhythm and intonation, get them to sing it really slowly and then quicker and quicker, changing what kind of pronunciation you are concentrating on as the speed increases.

12. The kids choose the song
This is the first stage of giving them control, leading on to the stages below. This is best done when they have got used to having various songs at various stages of the lesson, e.g. they know three hello songs, two warm up songs near the beginning of the lesson and three goodbye songs. They can then choose which one they like at one or more of these points.

13. The kids choose how to sing it
Once the kids have got used to doing the songs more slowly and more quickly as suggested above, you can move onto singing quietly, sadly etc. You can then let individual students choose how they want the next verse to be sung.

14. The kids remember/ choose the next verse
This works with songs where only a few words change in each verse and the order can be mixed up. While singing, stop and ask the students to tell you what usually comes next or to choose from the available remaining verses. This leads onto the more creative stage below.

15. The kids change the words
As the final stage, the children can change words or phrases in the song to make their own versions of it. This is more fun, means you can practice more vocabulary with the same song, and helps show where the word divisions are.

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net June 2008
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.

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