January 5

What are you singing?

I started using lots of British nursery rhymes with my early primary learners last term.  It was a great way to get them up and using a bit of energy before settling down to do a quieter activity.  I found I could remember a lot of the actions from when I was a child and, if there were any I wasn’t sure about, I just invented something which seemed to fit.

Here’s are some of the songs I’ve been teaching them…

Incy Wincy Spider

If you’re happy and you know it

I’m a little teapot

The wheels on the bus

The Hokey Cokey

Anyway, as I was singing and doing the actions, I started thinking whether it actually meant anything to the students and whether by singing and miming they were actuallyy learning any new vocabulary.  It made me question whether I was doing the nursery rhymes for a good reason.  But then I thought back to when I was a child and some of the songs which we used to sing which, thinking about them now, didn’t make much sense to me at the time.

Take for example, “Ring a ring of roses” (if that’s even the correct title).  The lyrics to that make more sense to me now having studied a bit of history, but twenty-five years ago, it was just a song we’d sing and dance to.


A seven-year-old has much more fun in class standing in a circle and singing the Hokey Cokey than filling in a worksheet of body parts.  So perhaps teaching English should be more about enjoying using language in as natural a state as possible.

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Posted January 5, 2012 by Teresa Bestwick in category My thoughts

4 thoughts on “What are you singing?

  1. Bekah

    I remember learning so many words through silly kids songs, both in English and in my second language. If nothing else, I think that the repeated exposure can help make certain words more active in the mind, and like you said, the songs will make the use more enjoyable!

  2. ShadowFalcon

    When I was a kid the hokey cokey was brilliant fun.

    I think the actions are an essential part. With my nephew I’ve noticed if we mime the animals for Old McDonald had a farm he remembers them, even for animals he’s never seen or heard of before.

  3. Leahn


    I used to use all of these songs with my VYLs; now, I use the tunes of the songs and try and make up new versions with vocabulary more directly linked to their coursebooks. I still use some songs – at the moment we are reading and singing Old McDonald and There was an old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. I’m combining the books with the songs on the British Council website. They love them!

    I may sing Ring a Ring a Roses this week!



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