So the school year is winding down. I’ve managed to teach my students a new song *almost* every month this school year. I’m teaching the last *new* song to my students this month, so next month we’ll sing our favorites as a nice end-of-the-year review.
I decided to put this list together because I always think that there must be SOME English teachers out there going nuts trying to think of something to teach their kids that is fun/cool and are going batty singing “Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes” every freaking day. I sure know I would. This is by no means the Gospel according to Bridget, so take it for what it’s worth: a list of songs that I enjoy and (hopefully) passed that joy along to my students.
This list is mostly made of songs I managed to get my 5th and 6th graders to sing. Believe me, it was challenging at times to get the kids to sing, but I’d say for the most part, my students were really cooperative, if not WILLING to sing. Even the kids who didn’t want to sing at all would at least make it LOOK like they were trying… even if the only song they sang all year was “Hello, Goodbye".
10. Sing – The Carpenters This song was originally created just for Sesame Street, but became massively popular when The Carpenters recorded it, making the Billboard Hot 100 in 1973. Plus, it’s got a Japan connection: “In 1974 while touring Japan The Carpenters recorded their first live album in Osaka. The album contained a new version of "Sing" with the children's chorus sung by the Kyoto Children's Choir. The song is featured on the album Live in Japan, which was recorded in June 1974 and released in Japan only on March 7, 1975.” (source: Wikipedia, for what it’s worth.) Come on, it’s from SESAME STREET! How can it NOT be good at school?!
9. ABC – The Jackson 5 My students were on a bit of a Michael Jackson kick, since he died and everything this past fall. I thought about teaching them “Bad” or “Beat it” or some of his later stuff… but then it occurred to me that I should teach them this song, since the chorus is SO EASY and their beloved Michael Jackson is the lead singer. A lot of them didn’t believe me when I said that it was a 12-year-old Michael Jackson singing it! This was easy enough for the 3rd and 4th grade, too. They totally dug the 70’s vibe.
8. My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean – The Beatles Ok. So… initially I thought… this song was going to be kind of boring, but it has a lot of repetition in it, so its relatively easy for the kids to remember it. The fact that the Beatles recorded their own version of it with a good beat and a kickass guitar solo makes it all the more fun to dance around to.
7. The Purple People Eater – Sheb Wooley Has ANYONE out there EVER heard of this song besides me? I actually taught this to my 3rd and 4th grade, rather than 5th and 6th, since I figured the older kids wouldn’t go for the silly dance I made up to go along with it. I was kind of strapped for a Halloween song to teach, and this was the best I could come up with. The kids freaking LOVED it. We actually kept singing it well into November, even after Halloween was over. The verses were hard, but they LOVE the chorus… “one eyed, one horn, flying purple people eater…” and the silly voice and the background singers saying “woo!” and stuff.
6. Feliz Navidad – Jose Feliciano I really wanted to teach the kids an awesome Christmas song. Then we got two new students from Peru who don’t speak ANY Japanese at all, so I decided, why not sing an awesome Christmas song in Spanish AND English?! My homeroom teachers were thrilled, as were the two new students, AND the other kids were excited to learn how to say “Merry Christmas” in Spanish. This is a GREAT song for class because it is so full of energy, repeats itself many times over, and is fun to dance to. I made up some motions and a little dance for the 3rd and 4th graders. The 5th and 6th graders enjoyed this song, too, although I didn’t bother teaching them the dance & hand motions.
5. Hey Jude – The Beatles This was a real challenge for the 5th & 6th grade, but they REALLY liked it when I brought a guitar to school and played it for them. After that, they really tried their best to learn all the words, and I have to hand it to them, they did a really good job learning if not 80% or more of them! even the kids who HATE singing would at least sing “HEY JUDE” and the “na na na na” parts. They even did the claps. I was really proud, since this is such a classic. Kind of makes me tear up a little…
4. Country Roads – John Denver / Country Road – Toots & the Maytals I honestly don’t know a soul who doesn’t like John Denver. This is a classic song. I taught them the original John Denver version first, then introduced them to the Toots & the Maytals cover. The kids liked the reggae version, too, mostly because it was west Jamaica (which they have heard of) instead of west Virginia (which they have NEVER heard of). I played this song for them on the guitar, too. They really seem to enjoy it whenever I play for them :D
3. 1234 – Feist Ok. this song was definitely not easy, and I was met with lots of protests from homeroom teachers that it was FAR too difficult, but the kids recognized it from ipod commercials, and it seemed like they enjoyed the rhythm and could understand bits and pieces of it. The only kids that ended up singing it were my 6th graders. They did a hell of a job learning the words. We took it very slowly, learning a couple of new stanzas every lesson, but these kids can do anything they put their minds to, and they had it down in no time. For some odd reason they liked the parts where Feist sang “those teenage hopes” and “1,2,3,4,5,6,9 or 10”. We even sang it when Benesse came for our 研究授業. They were impressed, to say the least.
2. All is Love – Karen O. and the Kids I went to see “Where the Wild Things Are” not too long ago, and this song was playing during the end credits. I stayed just to listen to the whole thing. It was so freaking cute! I knew that Karen O. had done the soundtrack, but I was unsure as to what it would be like. Its not unlike the “exclusive itunes” acoustic session the Yeah Yeah Yeahs did for the ‘Show Your Bones’ album. It repeats stanzas a lot, has clapping parts, and even some parts where we get to shout “YEAH!” “HEY!” and whistle and all sorts of good stuff. It’s a fun song. You even learn how to spell L-O-V-E :) The 6th graders really like it, as do the 3rd graders.
1. Hello, Goodbye – The Beatles This is the QUINTISENNTIAL song for English class. If you don’t teach this to your students at any point in your short-lived career as an ALT, you may as well not even be an ALT. Seriously. This is GOLD, people. Yes, No, Goodbye, Hello, High, Low, Why, I don’t know?! COME ON!! Its perfect. Absolutely perfect. Which is why I make it #1.
I guess as far as TEACHING these songs… the kids can’t read lyrics, but sometimes they will know some simple words, like “love” or “hello.” I print out lyrics for them, even though I’m quite aware that they can’t read. It’s mostly just to give them an idea of how long the song is, what parts repeat and so on and so forth. I decorate the lyric sheets, too. Pictures of the Beatles, a young Michael Jackson, a cartoon of a Purple People Eater that I drew… etc.
I always choose songs that have lots of repetition in them. Feliz Navidad is an especially good example of the kind of repetition you want in a song for English Class… even if it’s not necessarily entirely in English. As for other songs, I try to get the kids to at LEAST learn the chorus. The kids may not be able sing the verses to Purple People Eater or ABC, but they sure as heck know the chorus, which is good enough for me!! Some of my kids only sang the words “OCEAN” and “SEA” when we sang My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean. It was actually really funny and it would just put everyone in a good mood for the rest of class.
The most important thing is being able to have fun with it. If YOU don’t enjoy singing, then it’s going to be hard to convince a group of 30 or so 12-year-olds that they should sing with you. This is just something I do at the beginning of my classes to set the tone and get everyone warmed up!
Plus, I like singing. I’ve been known to dance, too.