Flash Video Big Books This is a great site for anyone interested in using story telling as a key component of their courses. Some free stuff but the books you have to buy are pretty cheap and excellent quality. Highly recommended.
Wordle - Create word clouds This is a fantastic little site for anyone wanting to be creative with Language. It creates key word diagrams on any topic in an arty way. It is a great way to introduce a topic or allow kids to create a keyword list to help them prepare for a speaking test
Second in an occasional series on trying to establish what makes a great song for language teaching, this is an oldie but goldie as they say.
It's taken from my all-time favourite collection of French language songs, Chanterelles originally published by Mary Glasgow.
The song is entitled "Pas de Problème" and relates the central character's belief that whatever he/she might not have (Je n'ai pas de ....) as long as they have music and the ability to play their guitar, then 'no worries', 'pas de problème'.
Here it is in mp3
Here is a video of a powerpoint used to teach it
The tune is well-crafted. It is easily memorable, it has a variety of pitch and as the pitch gets higher it emphasises the lyrics. It has a repetitive pattern that is easy to learn without being boring. It changes at the end to emphasise the central message of the lyrics, contrasting not having things v. having music to be happy. The tune shift is necessary to support that contrast.
Next, the musicianship. The guitar playing and singing are both very good and the chord patterns and picking add interest.
Next, another key element of a good song, the lyrics need to tell i) a short story ii) if possible have a central 'character' or characters at the heart of them.
I caught the end of a guilty pleasure of mine last night, the musical film Mama Mia. When I tuned in, Meryl Streep was just starting to sing, Abba's "The Winner Takes it All".
I was instantly struck by how great this song is. Within 4 short lines you are given the story and the characters involved, pulled in by a great tune and left wanting to hear the story as well as the rest of the tune.
I don't wanna talk About the things we've gone through Though it's hurting me Now it's history
Notice too how the change in pitch in the tune is the perfect vehicle to convey the emotional content of the lyrics. A fairly narrow pitch range on these first 4 lines emphasise the 'conversational' style and the fact that the lyrics are stating 'I don't want to talk' , implied: "because if I do I am going to get emotional and lose it". The narrow pitch matches her desire to keep her emotions at bay.
Of course she is unsuccessful and as soon as she lets her emotions rip in the chorus, "The winner takes it all.." the pitch range has shot up.
Now, of course I'm not suggesting that only songs of this stature are suitable for language learning, just that if you want to understand what makes a song 'stick' in someone's head, learn from some of the masters.
Back to 'Pas de Problème'!
The other feature of a great song for language learning with kids is that it usually lends itself to using some actions to illustrate the lyrics.
This song is action rich. I have done it with my own made up actions for every line. This section really needs a video to demo them but I will try and share them
Je n'ai pas de yacht (hand moves horizontally across your body going up and down with the waves)
Je n'ai pas de moto (Squat down on the motorbike holding the handle bars, revving the engine by turning the throttle handle)
Je n'ai pas de voiture (turning the steering wheel)
Je n'ai pas de vélo (peddling)
Je n'ai pas de patins à roulettes (slide feet alternately to right, to left, to right as if skating)
Car je n'ai pas d'argent (mimic pulling trouser pockets out to show they are empty)
Je n'ai même pas de veste (take jacket off shoulders)
Et je n'ai pas de chance (both thumbs down)
Je n'ai pas d'ordinateur (typing on a keyboard)
Je n'ai pas de walkman (hands to ears and swaying from side to side)
Je n'ai pas de montre (point to / tap on wrist)
Je n'ai pas de banane (peel banana and quickly scratch under armpits like a monkey and make a monkey noise!)
Je n'ai pas de cassette (as you say cassette, both forefingers outstretched and making fast circular motion in opposite directions to mimic a cassette tape re-winding)
Je n'ai pas de disque (mimic a DJ, one hand held to ear, the other winding and re-winding the record in the deck)
Je n'ai pas de magnétoscope (on the 'gneto' of magnetoscope, imagine you are holding a remote control steech out in front of you towards a TV and press the button to record/play)
et je n'ai pas de chips (pull out crisps and eat from imaginary crisp packet)
For the last verse the children are primed to have all of those class objects on their desk and have to hold them up as each one is mentioned. Much hilarity ensues ...
Ecoutez (hand to ear) c'est ma guitare (strum guitar) Je n'ai pas de problème (shrug shoulders, hands outstretched, open palms facing upwards)
The last element of a good song for a language teacher is that it should teach the pupils some vocab/structure that they can take away and use instantly. In this respect apart from the obvious "J'ai / je n'ai pas de " pattern, I also like the title as the statement "Pas de problème" is a commonly heard idiom that you could easily relate to similar ones: "De rien : (Il n'y a) pas de quoi : C'est pas grave" etc. etc.
Finally, part of this last element of a good song is that it is a springboard to some creative use of the language practised.
With this one, as some of the items are no longer current, video player, record, walkman, pupils can be encouraged to come up with their own alternative verses using the central idea of "I don't have this, this and this but at least I have ...."
What do you think? Any other examples in any language that you would like to feature here? Why don't you choose the song, send me any weblinks and your comments as to why you think they it is good, and I will post it here.
Her Français Français resource pack Won the CILT European Award for Languages in 2003.
She has since produced the Espanol Espanol, Deutsch Deutsch, Italiano Italiano and English English resource packs.
Carole has spoken at many regional training events, CILT national conferences, and presents to many EFL and ESOL institutions here and abroad.
If you don't know Carole's work, click on the image below and download some free resources from her site registration page.
I am really pleased to announce that recently Carole and I have agreed to co-operate on a number of projects that we believe will bring yet more fun and success to the wonderful work so many of our colleagues are doing.
We both passionately believe that once teachers understand clearly how to exploit the power of music, the power of rhythm, the power of song in their lessons, they will be equipped with a tool that can have a significant impact on both their enjoyment of the work they do and the progress of their students.
There is a skill to using this powerful resource effectively and at the moment it isn't explicitly taught. Pressing play and pause on the CD player is not enough!
We want to deliver a very high quality training package to support this. To help inform our thinking we really need your input.
For this reason I would be extemely grateful if you could complete the survey below and pass it on to your colleagues encouraging them to do the same.
Well in the spirit of yesterday's apology, what I would like is to post an occasional series on this, the best language teaching songs as suggested by you.
I've had quite a lot of feedback from people about the songs that they like to use so hope to mention them in this series. It helps if you can tell me a source so that I can post a link.
First one up is a cracking one. I think this is great! This is from Babelzone but is hosted on the Youtube channel of a good friend of mine who did the animation, Nathalie Bonneau who is brilliant at creating funny cartoon montages for songs. Her website is at
I am thrilled that Nathalie has kindly interpreted one of my own songs which I hope to share with you soon on my other site.
Here is the video - when it finishes playing, you can click on the embedded link from You tube to play the Spanish version of the same song.
If you like this, leave a comment and say why. Lets try and collect a body of opinion that defines exactly what it is that makes a song one you would always have in your top 20 collection of the best language teaching songs!
Think what we could do if we brought together the best of the best in this field! We could have a BIG party!
Yesterday I put up a post about the types of songs published for language learning which I now regret. It was written in the heat of the moment in reaction to hearing one song and I apologise to anyone I might have offended.
Since I started writing this blog I have wanted to post things that encourage and help colleagues. In particular I love to encourage anyone doing anything creative with their pupils as I believe this gives us the most satisfaction in our jobs and gives our pupils some of the best lessons they could have.
Music and songs are such a personal thing. What I might dislike, others will embrace with enthusiasm and exploit brilliantly. So I apologise for implying that I had the monopoly on good taste in this regard, in fact I rather cringe that I could have implied it.
I want to applaud and support anyone using anything to further the use of music and song in language learning. Most importantly I want to work with colleagues to do this to the best of our ability.
The only thing I would gently encourage all interested in this area to consider is that I do believe the quality of the music is very important and it is a factor that hasn't really been addressed before I think.
So, humble pie amply consumed, I hope that you will bear with me and continue to share your own great ideas about how to make this work as best as we can for the benefit of language teachers across the world who kindly stop by this blog.
It was a privilege to work with colleagues at this event. Here are the session notes and some resource packs for
i) Running a French Singing Assembly
The package is presented in French but can be adapted to other languages pretty easily.
I do this in schools to introduce language learning to children and staff.
All the resources are in 3 formats: powerpoint : Smartboard Notebook : Promethean Flipchart
Download the pack in 2 parts by visiting these links. If you have any problems downloading these contact me using the email address I gave you at the conference and put 'Newquay Primary Languages' in your email header.
ii) Workshop - "Putting the "Mmmm-Factor" into your lessons : Music Makes Meaning Memorable"
Due to copyright restrictions I cannot post either the slideshow or many of the materials I used in this. The notes however give you all the links you need to get started.
Some of the materials are going to be available on my other site hopefully in early May. If you want to be put on the email list to find out when they go live please fill in the contact form on www.souffler.co.uk
Please download the notes from the workshop here. Click on the picture below to see a sample of the first page.
Finally, if you have benefited from this training and think you know anyone who might be interested in booking me to come and further work with them, I'm always open to offers! Please send them the link to this blog post
If you read this blog regularly you will know that I have been talking about how using professionally composed and recorded backing tracks as a basis for practising any language on any topic has become a feature of the lessons I teach.
The attraction of this is that the music is an 'empty vessel' to which you can add any content defined by you rather than being bound by someone else's lyrics. In fact the same pieces of music can be used for many different songs.
I think all language teachers have some kind of musical affinity. The 'ear' you need to pick up an accent, to hear and feel the rhythm and pace of a language, is something very similar to having a musical ear.
Probably many of you have dabbled at writing songs for your own classes. In my own experience of doing this, writing the lyrics was not so much the problem as getting a good tune. You can adapt well known tunes of course. They are already popular and likely to be known by the pupils which leaves you free to focus on the lyrics rather than teaching the tune.
However you can also start with tunes that perhaps your pupils don't know. If it's good enough, has a strong enough rhythm, backing tracks like this can be really successful as well.
Use the power of someone else's musical talent, add it to your own linguistic skills and create a classroom hit!
In the post linked above, I related how I had run a Sing Up funded 4-week project in a primary school to examine the power of singing to aid language learning. For the yr 5 and yr 6 classes, the topics we were to cover following their scheme of work were:
yr 5 - Describing your House
yr 6 - Describing your Town
I don't know about you but these two topics generally leave me uninspired and I am always scratching around for new ideas to make them more interesting. So it was an interesting challenge to see if my enthusiasm for using singing to inspire language learning could animate these two topics.
I took 4 different tunes downloaded from the Audionetwork music production library. I was able to write the above lyrics to the backing tracks because they all had the same time signature (4/4) ie: 4 beats per bar, and they all had a verse and chorus format. The QUALITY of the tracks makes the LANGUAGE much easier to write. Begin with the music and the rest follows.
Click on the pictures below to see the lyrics generated for both topics
Voici ma maison
Dans ma ville
(For tips on writing lyrics, click on the image)
Here are the 4 backing tracks i) played without lyrics ii) with the lyrics for verse 1 and chorus of the song 'Voici ma Maison' as a sample ('scuse the singing!)
1. An Eminem style rap clip I use a lot
track with vocals
2. A Greek style clip
track with vocals
3. A Folk Pop style clip
track with vocals
4. A Rock clip
track with vocals
With ONE set of lyrics, we could sing them to 4 different tunes in 4 different styles.
Here are the same set of backing tracks behind the lyrics for 1st verse and chorus on the topic of Town
If you are interested in obtaining the whole songs with all of the lyrics on IWB files (Smartboard / Promethean), pdf, powerpoint, and Task Magic exercise files, I hope to be launching all of this on my other site www.souffler.co.uk soon. I will also provide links to the sources of the tunes on the Audionetwork site.
Was it successful? Here are the comments from the teacher's observing the work with these classes. Click on the image to enlarge
... and from the pupils themselves. These recordings were taken from interviews conducted with them 2 weeks after the 4 week project. The girls are very articulate but had no prior warning that they were going to be interviewed. I was amazed at their insight into what they had been doing.
Go forth and make your own amazing songs! Have fun!
I wanted to highlight a useful Wiki, 'Sing to Learn' that a colleague Barbara Harper has created to help colleagues share songs and related resources for language learning.
This is screenshot of the French page but there is a Spanish page plus some links pages that take you to many other sites with material you might find useful. Click on the image to enlarge it. You can find the wiki here.
As with all Wiki's, the point of them is to encourage collaboration so if you have a song, some materials or a website that you know of, please support Barbara in her efforts to create a really useful resource. Please tweet this on to other MFL colleagues that you know or send them the page links.