Working with English Language Learners has taught me to look for different things in even the most basic of songs and has given me some important tools for teaching that maybe I wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. “Head Shoulders” turns out to be a great beginning song for ELL students and is something that I teach to my Kindergarten friends every year in the first quarter. There are quite a few ELL/ESL strategies and lots of critical thinking questions embedded in this lesson. Here are just a few things that have become a part of my “Head Shoulders” lesson.
Working Through the Parts of the Body
Once they’re ready you can start in on “Eyes and ears and mouth and nose” but that gets pretty hard since it’s a new melodic pattern, new vocabulary words, and because the range of the melody goes a lot higher than usual. ELL students are generally more comfortable with mid-range melodies. They’ll go high but they won’t feel confident. Work it in in a way that eases them in. Don’t force it if they’re not ready.
A Song with a Sequence
Once we’ve learned the song with melody, movement pattern, sequences, and everything else we usually stop. We go over the song a couple times, work through it, and then let it sit. Kids think we’re done and they feel confident knowing the song. No worries!
Take Two - with piano... without me!
After we go through it all together slowly one time (or more if they need it) I change part of it up. I put them in charge of the actions and tell them that I’ll be singing along but that I’m going to play piano. That takes away the visual of me doing it, but I still support by singing. This plays a trick on their brain because they’re in charge of the actions AND they hear a different reinforcement of the melody in the piano. I play with a loud right hand melody and minimal chordal outline in the left hand. They can’t have much more stimulus than a very easy accompaniment pattern. I go slow. We take our time.
Time to Take Things Out – “What’s Missing?”
Then take out Head and Shoulders. Let them see and feel what that’s like. Then keep going. Once you’ve done a version of that, ask a question like this, “Can you figure out what body part we would take out next?” Instead of giving them the answer outright this forces them to use critical thinking to work through the sequence and figure out which word will be replaced by humming next. Keep using sequencing words like “Next, after that, then, first, second, last, finally.” Keep them thinking with “What comes next?” “What’s left?”
Once you’ve gone all the way through the song try the WHOLE THING just humming instead of singing. They’ll love that. To finish I usually go back and sing the whole song the normal way with all the words back in. It gives finality to the lesson and also let’s them go back and review and feel confident on the original song. I do the song at least one or two more times in the coming weeks so that they remember the pattern, remember the song, and understand the new concepts.
English Language Learners get a lot out of this song and this painfully slow process. They learn body parts, get the chance to identify them with you, and then are given the responsibility to do the actions by themselves and identify them on their own. They learn a sequence of events as they go through Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes. They get to modify the sequence as they replace one word and then another with humming. Even when the sequence modifies they are reinforcing the sequence because the actions stay the same (actions help them remember the actual words and help the sequence). They’re learning a new melody and are singing along with others. If you play the piano, then they’re also matching pitch with a pitched instrument and are singing along with an accompaniment. OH! And if you sit at the piano you can assess their learning by watching and listening as they sing and move without you at the front modeling.
Think about all the connections and extensions you can make with songs. Being a teacher of ELL students has really forced me to slow down and think through the process. The more you do the same, the more you’ll learn that you have endless avenues for review, improv, variation, and more!