It is common knowledge that any skill is
best learnt through lots of repetition, and language learning is not an
exception to the rule. However, based on my experience, not all coursebooks take this
fact into account. No matter how much effort coursebook designers put into making their products cohesive learning materials , oftentimes the result is just a
collection of random texts, where the only cohesive aspect is the
sequence in which grammar is presented. Luckily, the internet is
an amazing source of materials that can be used by those teachers who wish to put desirable
teaching philosophies into practice.
Not all the content of the coursebook one uses is
interesting enough to be recycled with the same class. Thus the philosophy of
repetition is sometimes diffucult to implement in the classroom. Online materials, on the other hand, are more
engaging and appealing to the learner, and a great amount of them is also authentic, which adds extra value to the quality and meaningfulness of an
The fact that these authentic materials
were designed for native speakers of the target language rather than for L2 learners guarantees that the language is not distorted in any way. However, even though the material is carefully chosen by a teacher to suit the level of a particular class, some bits may still be high above the learners' level of
proficiency. This may appear inappropriate at first sight, yet I believe that it is to the good. The other day in one of my classes (young
learners) we discussed the solar system. The text which the kids were supposed
to read was part of the English across the curriculum section of the book, and apart from the fact that it was included in the coursebook in order to
reinforce the knowledge of comparatives and superlatives, to me it seemed
totally out of place. It was 1) uninteresting 2) I didn't know how to handle the topic, and 3) I had no idea what to do with the text afterwards; I couln't come up with an engaging way to recycle the material.
Nevertheless, it took me only a few seconds to find this song
on YouTube, and suddenly millions of ideas
came to mind. I found this material 1) engaging and more appropriate relative
to the age and interests of the kids 2) amazing in relation to potential
linguistic benefits 3) easy to elaborate on in a meaningful way (see
another link below and the whole lyric is included right under the jump break). Apart from the fact that certain words and structures are repeated throughout the song, which is perfectly convenient for language acquisition, it's dense with various structures and vocabulary items:
It includes examples of contracted as well as
uncontracted forms of verbs (I am, I'm).
It includes useful collocations (the same size
as, the other way, very big indeed).
It includes basic grammatical structures (I am, I
have, I spin, there is ...) as well as an example of the passive form (are made of).
It is full of useful prepositional phrases (on
Earth, depends on, closest to, a ball of, in our solar system, from the
There are examples of the 'only one negative in a
sentence' rule (I have no water, I have no moons) - something Czech
learners struggle with.
There's an example of relative clause (The place
where we all live).
There are examples of countable and uncountable
nouns and their quantifiers (lots of land, many storms).
The text can be useful for practising articles (a
moon/the Earth/Mars) and comparatives/superlatives of adjectives and
adverbs (farthest, more slowly).
There are various linking devices (so, but, and).
Although I'm not in favour of presenting
vocabulary items in lexical sets, I'd say it's useful to know certain
lexical sets by heart, such as days of the week, months, seasons, planets
of the solar system, etc. These are lexical sets even native speakers of the target language are expected to be familiar with. Learning these sets in songs or
rhymes is an ideal way of making the experience less tedious.
The next step I made with my learners was
introducing them tolyricstraining.com, where the song is available forspelling practice. The kids chose the game mode they felt up to (beginner, intermediate, advanced,
or expert) and started completing the gaps while listening to the song.
Finally, I asked them to turn the 1st
person verb forms into the 3rd person verb forms, plus I reminded them of other
minor adjustments they needed to keep in mind, for example changes to pronouns. Then they
recorded the new version into their notebooks.
I am the Sun > This is the Sun.
I'm a burning ball of fire > It's a
burning ball of fire.
Life on Earth depends on me. > Life on
Earth depends on it.
Eventually, the kids were able to recite most
of the lyric without looking at the text, which, I believe, was due to the repetition and recycling of the same material. This was only possible because of the multimedia approach to the topic - something that is often hard for a teacher to
apply when using coursebook material only. Throughout the lesson my students were
motivated, and towards the end of the class it was clear that apart from
practising all the four skills (listening, reading, writing and speaking), they
had learnt and/or revised a lot of useful language.