English Comes Alive!

Jim Witherspoon, Ph.D.

Lively Songs, Chants, and Pronunciation

Singing provides a great opening for individual classes in                                ESL/EFL or, better yet, for a group of combined classes.  It stimulates the students, impressing upon them a substantial, easily remembered vocabulary.  And it prepares them for the classwork that follows.

Here's a favorite song of thousands of students in America and Europe.  The English words and the rhythmic clapping, stomping, and shouting reverberate in their minds the next day and years after.  If you don't know the tune, search on google.com or youtube.com for "If You're Happy and You Know It."

   If you're happy and you know it, clap our hands (clap, clap).
   If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands (clap, clap).
   If you're happy and you know it, then you really ought to show it,
   If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands (clap, clap).

   If you're happy and you know it, stomp your feet (stomp, stomp). . . .

   If you're happy and you know it, shout hurrah! (HURRAH!). . . .

   If you're happy and you know it, do all three (clap, clap, stomp, stomp, HURRAH!)

Students like to mix physical with mental activity, so here's another favorite.  For this song, we touch body parts as we sing: head, shoulders, knees, toes, eyes, ears, mouth, and nose.  Once the students learn these parts, we sometimes try other parts, for example, neck, elbows, thighs, and feet.

   Head, shoulders, knees, and toes, knees and toes.
   Head, shoulders, knees, and toes, knees and toes,
   And eyes and ears and mouth and nose,
   Head, shoulders, knees, and toes, knees and toes.

Singing also provides a different way to practice pronunciation.  Teachers typically say hard-to-pronounce words and then have their students repeat them.  But as a singing alternative, I sometimes revise the lyrics of familiar tunes to match what our students need to learn.  Many of our groups in America and Europe, for example, cannot readily pronounce words starting with th, as in "three" and "thirty-three."  Some say instead, "free" and "firty-free."  So I wrote the following lyrics for the tune, "The More We Get Together":

   They think that they heard thunder, heard thunder, heard thunder.
   They think that they heard thunder, heard thunder do this: CLAP! (clap hands).
   The three of them heard thunder.  The three of them heard thunder.
   They think that they heard thunder, heard thunder do this: CLAP! (clap hands)

Chanting is another rhythmic approach to learning pronunciation.  Have you and your students ever chanted, "Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?"  Some teachers use the cookie jar to introduce new words and new students to each other.  But you may also vary it to practice pronunciation.  When attempting to say the r's of "fried rice," for example, some Asian students say, "flied lice."  So here's a chant to help them:

   Teacher and Class: Who stole the rice from the fried rice bowl?
   Teacher: (Name a sudent) stole the rice fom the fried rice bowl.
   Student: Who, me?
   Teacher and Class: Yes, you.
   Student: Couldn't be!
   Teacher and Class:  Then who?
   Student: (Name another student) stole the rice from the fried rice bowl.

Continue this chant as you switch from student to student throughout the class.


This article, "Lively Songs, Chants, and Pronunciation," is derived from Chapters 3 and 4 of the book, English Comes Alive!  To see more of the book, click PAPERBACK or KINDLE, or click its companion book, ENGLISH COMES ALIVE FOR STUDENTS!

What's So Funny?

Students and staff sometimes get really amused at the songs we sing.  Here's an example from 2010 in Trakai, Lithuania.  As we sang "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes," a song we had practiced many times, I sped up the part about the "eyes and ears and mouth and nose."  Thus the students got behind in placing their hands on these parts, causing laughter.  (Photo courtesy of Neringa Pasiliene, Director of Intelligent Mind)
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