A simple song about anger management

I usually use my own songs with young learners, since many popular children’s songs that seem simple are too complex for non-native speakers. I see no reason to have them go merrily down a stream or up a water spout during their first exposure to a new language with unfamiliar sounds.

One song I do like to use is If You’re Happy and You Know It. I usually simplify it even more by leaving out the line “and you really want to show it” and repeat the previous line instead. This song can be used to teach more than simple words describing feelings and actions. It’s really about expressing emotions safely.

I pause before the verse “If you’re mad and you know it…” Yes, I use the word “mad” instead of “angry” because it’s much easier to pronounce and spell, and isn’t confused with “hungry”. I ask children what they do when they’re mad. Some of them go to their rooms, play with a favorite toy or go to sleep, which they can’t do at school. Some may admit to throwing things, few will say that they hit someone even if they did 5 minutes earlier. This is when I tell them that we never hurt someone or break anything no matter how mad we are, so we’ll learn something we can do. Then we all stomp our feet. It really is a great way to release frustration, especially when everyone makes mad noises and faces, too.

From then on, any time I see a child get angry I remind them – don’t hit, push or break anything – stomp your feet.

P.S. The following week I teach them to twiddle their thumbs when they’re bored.

Get off the Box!

This time I was teaching prepositions. Showing them with my hands, playing games, drawing on the board, learning with all the senses. But some kids are stubborn and want to learn the way they learn in school – “Just translate everything into Hebrew”

I could start telling them how sensory learning has proven to be more effective and how word-for-word translations, especially with words like prepositions, are the cause of many errors, but in this case I had a much better and quicker argument. Here’s what happens when we translate:

over – מעל
under – מתחת
on – על
off – ?

There really is no correct translation in this case for the word “off”. The only way to explain it is to SHOW THEM. Like any concept that doesn’t exist in one’s native language, it’s still difficult for them to grasp, especially when they’re searching for the Hebrew word in their head. To understand “off the box” students need to think outside the box, and more hours of memorizing lists of words won’t help. Creativity in the English classroom, as well as any classroom, doesn’t just make lessons fun. It opens students’ minds to allow them to absorb and understand new concepts and formulate their own ideas. 

Over the years I’ve created songs, games and other materials for English teachers to use, and of course used them myself with hundreds of students. I’ve had a lot of success, but also some frustration. Sometimes I find myself giving proverbial nuts to people whose creative teeth have been worn down by a standardized system. 

So now I’m going back to my musical and dramatic roots to develop a new program which will take them on a journey “outside the box” and develop the creative thinking necessary for English language expression

If you would like to hear more, please fill out the following short survey, or pass it on to those who might benefit:


How to teach English to young learners

I don’t know if it’s Bennett’s new program, the growing amounts of research* or a generation of Israelis who  grew up learning English but are still afraid to speak, but there seems to be an increased awareness of the importance of learning English at an early age. Many teachers are teaching English to young learners for the first time, and the question “How should I teach them?” is being raised more and more. 

My answer is – Don’t. 


That’s right – Don’t teach them at all. Young children learn on their own without being taught. Expose them to English by speaking to them, singing, playing games and reading stories and they will absorb the language naturally. Explanations will bore and confuse them, and are unnecessary.

Now for some more specific ideas:

Speak – Young children are very tuned in to body language, facial expressions and voice intonation. Unless you are giving complicated instructions, speak English and use gestures to make the meaning clear. They will quickly become accustomed to hearing English and recognize common words and phrases.

Sing – Songs are an excellent way to learn and remember language along with its natural rhythm and flow. Singing should be active – add movements, hand motions and props rather than just watching videos. Make sure the lyrics of the songs are simple, repetitive and suitable for EFL students. They don’t have to understand every word, but don’t burden them with words like “merrily” and “water spout”. This is why I started writing my own songs.

Play- If you play games that they already know, it will be easy for them to understand instructions in English, allowing you to use very little L1 and making them feel more comfortable by creating a familiar atmosphere. Use games in which the children repeat a few words or sentences. Some popular kindergarten games I use are Knock-Knock-What’s My Name, Telephone, What’s Missing, Red Light/Green Light and Hot/Cold.

Show them – Do any activity they like, but do it in English. Whether you dance, draw, cook or throw a ball, if they can see what you’re doing while you speak to them they will understand and pick up new vocabulary.

A few basic rules to remember:
  • Keep them active. Kids need to move.
  • Be friendly and patient. Everyone learns at their own pace.
  • Children learn by hearing, seeing and doing. 
  • Avoid translating whenever possible. Use props, pictures or gestures instead. The disadvantages of translation can fill another blog post.
  • Make it fun. They more they enjoy English, the more they’ll learn now and in the future.

Using Songs as Text

If they don’t like English something’s wrong
And you don’t have to sing to use a song!
This post is based on the following observations –
·         Songs are an excellent way to reinforce vocabulary and grammar.
·         Songs are more interesting and easier to remember than text.
·         Not all English teachers sing – fewer play musical instruments.
·         As children get older they don’t always want to sing in class.
·         Children and teenagers usually enjoy listening to music even if they don’t like singing.
·         Israeli teenagers listen to a lot of songs in English.
So how can a musically-challenged English teacher use music to enrich English lessons?
Start out by presenting the song the way you would present text –
·         Write the title on the board, review some words and/or discuss the theme of the song.
·         Play the song for the class.
·         Ask the pupils which words they recognize.
·         If you want to concentrate on reading comprehension, hand out the lyrics. Another option is to hand out the lyric sheet with words missing and have them fill in the blanks.
·         Play the song again.
·         Discuss the song – what did they understand, what is the song about, etc.
·         Write some questions on the board.
·         Play the song once more, asking the pupils to listen for answers to the questions.
There is no need to actually teach the song, but after playing it a few times you will find pupils singing along. Once they are familiar with the lyrics, it’s time to divide into pairs or small groups and be creative. Ask each group to present the song in pantomime, stage a “video clip” (actual filming isn’t necessary) or even choreograph a dance. You can play the song in the background while they’re working. This way they will hear it a few more times without getting bored. If the song tells a story, they can put on a short play. Another option is to play a game like charades using words or phrases from the song.
How should you choose songs, and where can you find them? It makes sense to use songs that are connected to what you’re teaching. The connection can be subject matter, or specific sentence structures or vocabulary. Look through your own or your children’s music library, or search the internet. If you’re feeling lucky, go into a lyrics site and search for the vocabulary or chunk that you’re teaching, you may just find a song you know. Asking pupils to suggest songs promises more interest, but obviously you should review the lyrics carefully before using them in class. For younger or weaker students be sure to keep the lyrics simple. There are also songs available written specifically for the EFL classroom, including my own series, English is Fun.
Remember, creativity is the key.

What if I make a mistake?

This week two 4th grade students came to my English group for the first time. The first thing they told me was that their English isn’t very good, and they asked if I would get mad if they made mistakes. I told them of course not, they’re here to learn, I only get mad at children who laugh at other children’s mistakes. I thought to myself how sad it is that children would even ask this question.
They had a wonderful time, responded in English during games and learned some new words. Once assured that it was okay to make mistakes they were eager to participate, and didn’t want to stop when our time was up.
Why did they think I would be mad? Is that how their teachers usually react to mistakes? No wonder their English is weak. How can they be expected to improve if they’re afraid to open their mouths in class?
In every classroom, whenever a teacher asks questions, there are some students who always raise their hands and some who never do. In most cases, the better students are, or think they are, at a particular subject, the more likely they are to raise their hands. But the reverse is also true, especially when teaching a language. The more students participate in class, the more their English will improve.
When I worked with groups in schools, occasionally I sat next to students in the classroom. I found that many of the weaker students, when the teacher asked a question, would ask me quietly if they had the correct answer before raising their hands. They didn’t really need my help, they figured out the answers on their own, they needed my assurance that their answer was correct before saying it out loud in front of the teacher and the class. It wasn’t long before these students not only gained enough confidence to participate without checking with me first, they also started doing much better in class.
We all make mistakes. But the biggest mistake is destroying someone’s confidence.

Be Part of the Change

Everybody is talking about education, and it’s time to do something. Less drilling, more learning. Fewer, preferably no, standardized tests and more alternative, creative ways of assessing individual progress. Take away the fear and hatred of school and replace them with curiosity and a love of learning. 
This week I began a new advertising campaign emphasing meaningful English learning. The response was overwhelming. Dozens of principals, teachers and parents across the country are no longer interested only in test scores. They want children to learn English as a language, to be able to speak and most important, to enjoy it. They are looking for activities instead of more workbooks. These activities require more dynamic educators who care about children.
In addition to requests for materials and workshops, I have received several requests for instructors to run programs in various parts of the country. If you love children and want to make a difference in their lives, and speak English at a native or near-native level, this might be the job you’re looking for. You will receive a full set of materials, training and guidance. In return, you must be prepared to lead groups according to the basic principles of “English is Fun”:
  • English is for everyone, and everyone learns differently – be prepared to work with a wide variety of methods including songs, games, drama, physical activity and crafts.
  • Children absorb language naturally – speak English as much as possible and translate only when necessary. Point to objects or use hand motions and facial expressions instead.
  • This isn’t a regular English lesson – children are not expected to sit quietly for 45 minutes. Activities involve moving and sometimes a lot of noise. This should not be confused with a lack of discipline.
  • Encourage creativity – whenever possible, and in most activites it is, be flexible and let kids use their imagination. There are many ways to imitate a horse, draw a house or make a happy face.
  • English is fun –  if kids don’t like English they won’t learn much. This begins with you, your attitude and your relationship with them.
I love what I do. If you think you’ll love doing this, please send a message to aharonmk@zahav.net.il . To learn more about “English is Fun” take a look at my websitehttp://www.englishfun.net

Breaking Down the Barriers

I frequently have conversations with English teachers who ask me for advice about teaching children who hate English. The fact is, it’s almost impossible to teach anyone who refuses to learn or who doesn’t believe that they are able to learn. The first step is to show them that English isn’t scary, threatening or impossible to understand. In order for children to learn anything they must be convinced that they are capable of learning and that it will be painless.
With young children (pre-K until about 2nd grade) it’s usually much easier. They are natural mimickers and less self-conscious about how they sound, which makes it easier to get them to speak. Even the stubborn pupils at this age are easier to convince. If we speak to them or sing with them in English accompanied by hand gestures or facial expressions, they understand and absorb the language without even being aware that they’re learning. After they respond to a request or answer a question, that’s the time to point out that you spoke English and they understood.
As children get older it becomes more difficult. By the middle of elementary school they begin developing mental blocks. They recognize English immediately and “tune-out” without even trying to understand. Weak pupils develop real gaps in addition to those they imagined. But all is not lost. Use the English words they already know. On Facebook you can see faces. Photoshop is used to edit photos. Cars must pass a test. Men put on aftershave after they shave. All of these are words associations that students suggested.
I also recommend that sometimes you put aside the books and workbooks and try these ideas instead.
Games: Look for simple games appropriate for their age that involve some English. They need to experience success without feeling like the games are too easy or childish. Card games with words and pictures are easy to learn and also teach sentences like “It’s your turn”, “Do you have…”, etc. There are also a lot of fun group games that use repetitive sentences. Take games they enjoy playing in Hebrew and translate them into English. These will be easy to learn and understand. Don’t forget the classics like hangman, charades, Simon says and “When I go to the moon I will bring…”. Praise each achievement with “Very good!”, “Well done!” or “Excellent!”.
Songs: Most of your students, even if they don’t like English lessons, probably listen to songs in English. Ask them what songs they like, make sure the lyrics are appropriate and learn the songs together. Work on pronunciation, talk about the meaning of the lyrics, ask them questions about the song and the singer. Let them stage a clip or choreograph a dance to the song. If you have students who play instruments they may want to bring instruments to class.
Rap: Rhythm is contagious. Setting your lessons to a catchy rhythm improves pronunciation, makes language chunks easier to remember and most important, kids love it. Write a sentence on the board, then elicit similar sentences from students. Start a rhythm by snapping your fingers, tapping on your desk, hitting a small drum, etc. If you don’t feel like a rapper, let your students take over. Invite them to perform for the class.
Find out what interests them: What are their hobbies? What do they like to do? What do they want to talk about today? Go for a walk, cook, dance, draw pictures, play football, it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you do it in English. If they are absorbed in an activity and enjoying themselves they will forget that they don’t understand.
Like in any aspect of education, the most important thing is to encourage them and let them experience success. Show them that they can learn, speak and understand. They may even have fun.