Using the picture book “From Head to Toe” in EFL classes

From Head to Toe is one of the most popular books from the famous storybook writer and illustrator Eric Carle. Like most books that are popular with native speaker children, it goes down much better with language learners than books especially written for EFL if it is used properly. It is easy to find in […]

From Head to Toe is one of the most popular books from the famous storybook writer and illustrator Eric Carle. Like most books that are popular with native speaker children, it goes down much better with language learners than books especially written for EFL if it is used properly. It is easy to find in bookshops around the world and is particularly useful for second language learners as it has loads of possible actions for TPR (Total Physical Response), covers a range of possible language points and ties in well with songs. Below are some tips on how to make the most of using this book which I hope will also be useful as a guide for people trying to work out how to use other storybooks with 3 to 10 year olds.

An example of a 15 to 25 minute (plus extension) lesson plan using From Head to Toe

1. Sit the children on the floor or on chairs in a semi circle, making sure that they can all see the book.

2. Introduce yourself to the kids and maybe practice “What’s your name?”, “How are you?” etc.

3. Show the cover of the book and point at the title in case some of the students can read it and say “Today I’m going to read you a book, and it’s called From Head to… Toe, good. What is a head? Can you touch it? And where are your toes?” You could get them counting their toes for numbers practice and to point out the difference between “toes” and “foot”.

4. Get kids touching their head then their toes over and over while chanting the words, maybe doing it slowly and then quickly.

5. Do the same, but adding shoulders and knees

6. Do the same with eyes, ears, mouth and nose, and then all of those and the head, shoulders, knees and toes from before

7. Get them to stand up and sing and do the actions of the song “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes”

8. Sit them down again and tell them “I can turn my head” and see if they can do the action just from oral prompts (“Where’s your head? What does turn mean? Can you turn it?”). Do the action yourself and get them to copy, maybe chanting “Turn my head” with you.

9. Stand up (with the children still seated) and pretend to be a penguin with your feet spread and your arms down at your sides with your hands slightly at an angle from your hips, turning your head while still chanting “Turn my head”. Say “Can I anyone guess what animal I am?” If they can’t guess or need some prompting to speak, try suggesting some animals, e.g. “Am I a monkey?” You can also give clues like “It’s a bird”, “It eats fish” and “It is black and white”

10. When they have guessed or you are sure they won’t be able to, open the book to show them the picture of the penguin and elicit the name

11. Say “What can penguins do?” and elicit “Turn my head” and the action.

12. Elicit the name of the next animal in the same way (you might want to do giraffe next as in the book, or you could do buffalo as it is still the same body parts as they learnt in the song “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes”)

13. When you have revealed the next picture and elicited the animal and action, revise “penguin” and “turn my head” from the previous page

14. Continue with other pages from the book, revising the previous animals and actions every time with “What can a/ an ____________ do?” so that you end up with a longer and longer chain of actions

15. If you are going to do the song If You’re Happy and You Know It (Clap Your Hands), finish with the page with the seal or elephant (“clap your hands” and “stomp your feet”, as in the song). If you’re going to do the song Hokey Cokey (= Hokey Pokey), finish with the monkey or donkey (arms and legs).

16. Do one of those two songs

17. Extension– Given the right equipment and classroom set up, you could do colouring or craft work (see below for ideas). Alternatively, you could do something on the board such as drawing a monster to their specifications (“How many heads shall we give it?” etc) or ask them to give you their nose, eyes etc, which you pretend to put into a bag or box and then give back as they ask for them. You can then finish with the song that you didn’t use above.

Livening the book up and getting their attention

• Do some of the actions while walking round and round the class together, e.g. swinging your arms like a monkey while walking round squatted down, or stomping your feet like an elephant as you swing one arm as its trunk.

• Pretend you are going to attack the kids when you are acting as a crocodile or buffalo (making sure you only do this with the boldest kids first of all to avoid real fear and so tears!)

• Open the pages of the book slowly so that they try to guess the animal as it is gradually revealed. Something similar can be done by covering the page with a piece of card and pulling it down slowly.

• You can also flash the book open and closed very quickly several times until they catch sight of the animal.

• Let kids take turns turning the pages of the book

• Do the song “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes” fast, slow, and then fast again

• Between verses of “If You’re Happy and You Know It”, practice the actions (clap your hands, stomp your feet, nod your head), maybe trying to catch them out by changing the order

• Tell the students some wrong information, e.g. “It’s a cute little cat”, so that they correct you (“No!” “No? What is it then?… A crocodile? Oh yes, you’re right. It’s a crocodile”)

Colouring, craft and project ideas

  • It is possible to make animals that do the actions from the book, e.g. a monkey that swings its arms (because they are made of thread or curled up paper), a penguin that turns its head (because it is made from a plastic bottle with a cap on it), a giraffe that bends its neck (because its neck is made from pipe cleaners), or a cat that can arch its back (made from pipe cleaners). All these are good because the students can revise the language of the book after the craftwork is finished.
  • You can also make things that the students can use on their bodies while they do the actions again, e.g. elephant feet to go over their shoes or seal flippers (made from black card or black plastic bags) that they can put over their arms.
  • Make a collaborative book with pictures of other animals or the children in the class doing the same or different actions (perhaps ones they can do that other students can’t). Instead of drawing the pictures, you could take digital photos of the kids doing the actions or soft toys or puppets being made to do the actions and print them out
  • Students design an animal (or monster) that can do lots and lots of things, and label it with arrows pointing at the body part that makes that possible, e.g. “I can fly” pointing at its wings

Other ideas

  • Before opening the book, brainstorm all the things that you can do with your body
  • After introducing each action and animal, brainstorm other things that animal can do (or ask if that animal can do certain things), other animals that can do that thing, other body parts you can do that thing with, or other things you can do with that body part.
  • Brainstorm things that two different animals can both do or that only one of them can do, maybe writing them into a Venn diagram
  • Get students to compete to stomp most quietly, turn their heads the furthest etc.
  • Ask students if they can do any things that the animals in the book or the other students in the class can’t do
  • Use the “I can do it!” phrase from the book at the beginning of classroom activities in future classes by asking “Can you work together nicely/ move the tables without making any noise/ colour neatly/ speak just in English for 5 minutes?”
  • With cuddly toys or puppets, students take turns getting their animals doing as many different things as they can, then the classes discusses whether the real animal can really do that (e.g. jump very high or swim) or not
  • Students take a flashcard with an animal on it (written and/ or a picture) and give hints with “It can…” until the other students guess which animal it is
  • The same as above, but with the other students asking Yes/ No questions with “Can it…?” until they guess what the animal is
  • Ask one student to mime being an animal (maybe from a flashcard prompt) and when the other students have guessed what animal it is ask them why they could identify it, e.g. “She waved her long nose” for an elephant.

Possible problems and solutions when using this book

  • In Japan, Korea and other countries there is a confusion between “hips” and buttocks, so if you want to avoid sniggering or misunderstandings you might want to skip “crocodile”.
  • The children might already know the book, either in English or their own language, making guessing which animal you are talking about too easy and stopping them listening to your clues. You can mix up the order in which you do them, or do a few from the book and then switch to doing the same thing with flashcards of animals (making up your own actions for each one).
  • If this is the first class or a demonstration class, children might be too shy to join hands to do the Hokey Cokey song, in which case it is possible to skip the chorus and just do the verses.

Useful classroom language for teacher

“Sit on the floor in a semi-circle. No, not a straight line. Come round here. Okay, good. Can you all see this? What is it?… Good, a book. Today I’m going to read a book for you in English”

“Do you know this book?”/ “Have you read this book before?… Really? In English or German?”

“Who wants to turn the page next?”

“What does ‘neck’ mean? (Can you touch it)?”

“Is this my neck?”

“My neck is… here.” (pointing at nose) “No? Here then?”

“What other body parts do you know (the name of in English)?”

“Do you know that this is called (in English)?”/ “What’s this called in English?”

“Now we’re going to stand up. Ready? One two three, stand up!” (gesture by squatting then putting your arms out in front of you palms up and raising them, using a quick and energetic voice to show that they are getting ready to do something)

“Okay, sit down, sit down, sit down” (put your arms out in front of you with palms down and bring your hands down towards the floor, using a slow and gentle voice to illustrate a calming down and returning to position)

“Can you guess what it is?”

“Do you need another hint?”

“(Put your) hands up (if you want to guess)”

“Can you repeat ‘turn my head’ (after me)?”

“Nearly, but /pengwin/ with a /w/. Can you say that? gw… Good! Penguin!… Excellent”

“That’s right (, that’s the name in Spanish). Do you know the name in English?”

“(Nearly). It’s like a cow, but it has longer hair. They live in America”

“I can’t hear you!”

“Don’t you know? (Do you) give up?”

“I’m sure you know this one, (it’s the same in French/ we did it last week)”

“No? Don’t worry, this one is a little difficult/ we haven’t done this one before”

“Did you like that? Was it fun? What was the best bit?”/ “Did you like the drawings? Would you like to make a drawing like that?”

“That’s possible, yes. Does anyone else want to guess?/ Shall we open the book and find out?”

“(Do you want me to open the book) slowly or quickly?”

Useful classroom language for the students

“Me please”

“Can I turn the page (next) please?”

“I can do it (too)!”

“I know (what it is)”

Written by Alex Case for July 2009
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.

One Comment

  • Nancy Hotaling says:

    great ideas for “All About Me” theme. kudos
    you can also use Tony Chestnut & Fun Time Action Songs
    The Learning Station Audio CD

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