Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

May 29, 2016
by leesensei
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The “Music Mania/音楽マニア” Song Contest Activity!

After all of the great sharing from other teachers about their Music March Madness – thanks especially to Carrie Toth and Wendy Farabaugh – I decided to weigh in with my own version. Although March Madness is still very popular here north of the border, I’m using it for the last loooooong month of classes (we have our last class June 21)! So on to how I run 音楽マニア (music mania)!

The Physical Setup – Taking the advice of those who have already done this I went searching for a ‘bracket’ online. I found a 14 match bracket, and because I wanted 3 qualifying rounds too, added those on to the image. I was lucky to have one of tech-ed teachers volunteer a computer drafting student who made up the bracket and printed it on large paper.

Song selection – We use songs for a lot of activities in class and I wanted to put in a ‘mix’ of those familiar tunes. I also constrained the list to ones I had, because I only use legitimately purchased music from iTunes (see previous post on this). For 5 days before the contest I also invited student submissions via a Google Doc Form. That allowed me to ‘purchase’ those tunes in time for the activity. The student selections were all part of the ‘qualifying rounds’ – which allowed us to introduce them in a showcase way. Finally I added tunes that I had purchased but not used in class.

Filling Out the Brackets –  Songs on the bracket were initially paired via style – in the initial stages I wanted them to have to choose between two that were not radically different from each other. We also included a #1 seed – the song “Zutto” by Spicy Chocolate – a huge favourite especially with my Yr4’s. I  didn’t put all the songs on at once but rather in the days before we started I added 5-6 songs per day. This happened at the end of class so I had their attention and helped to build interest/excitement. I will note that after the brackets were set I made one change due to a mass outcry from my classes that no tunes from the group “Baby Metal” had made it into the contest! (I bend to their will!).

Playing songs – The song battle of the day is listed on my white board each morning. For playing, I use iTunes and have created a special playlist. Each day I drop the two songs into it and then play them once each while we all listen. After that, during class and in the background we ‘play on loop’. I learned that iTunes learns what you want and after having to edit the playing order in day one to alternate the songs, iTunes alternates the selections for me now automatically. I chose not to use ‘videos’ of the songs – the audio only. This allowed me to avoid the potentially inappropriate video problem or the ‘can’ t find the video’ issue that sometimes arises.

Voting – We are not a very tech-friendly school (don’t ask!) and I wanted to capture the voting right away. So I prepared voting slips for each day – a basic one where they would enter the two song names and then say why they chose the song that they did. But I wanted some accountability – some ‘participation by them’. So I asked my students and one of my great Yr4’s Abbey McLane, thought of a great idea. “Why not have us pick out two words we recognized as we listen?”. Great idea and one that all levels of my classes could do. I have the voting slips in the baskets on their tables of 4 and now they enter and automatically fill them out. I read all the voting slips and it is amazing the variety of words that they select. Voting occurs at the end of class after we have listened to the songs fully one more time. I note that one day my Yr3’s were called to an assembly so I loaded the songs online & included a Google Form link so that they could still participate.

The Final Four and Two – We are almost set with our Final Four and, to create some more interest I will be providing lyrics for all of the four remaning songs. Note that many of these songs the kids have heard before and/or used in class while learning a concept. But I thought it might generate an extra spark … And for the ‘Final 2’ we are going to show the videos instead of just listening, adding a twist to voting (I’m doing this because I have a copy of each and they have no inappropriate content!)

The Verdict – We have really enjoyed this foray into listening. And, with classes ending in late June it’s a great diversion at the start of class. Some kids are really into it…others just listen then move on. But today, as the 2 songs continued to play in the background, I looked across to see one of Yr4’s singing along with the tune. Loved it.  I may/will modify in the future but I will do Mania again. I’m hoping it will be one of those ongoing class traditions!


PS The Final Four? “Zutto” from Spicy Chocolate, “Nijiiro” from Ayaka, “Taiyou no Megami” from Ieiri Leo and “Kimigainakya damemitai” from Ooishi Masayoshi!


March 21, 2016
by leesensei

The Song Lyric “English First” Reading Activity

We use songs a lot in our world language classes – they are an amazingly authentic resource – and often just downright fun to listen to. file000564987721#Langchat has done more than one chat on this subject and I have written about my ‘song of the week‘  and the variety of ways I use it (among other ideas) in the past.

This past month I stumbled on a new aspect of the song activity. Keep in mind that this initially came as part of a bigger activity but it emerged as a fun interpretive add-on. In a nutshell it involves using the English version of the TL (target language) song lyrics as well as the TL ones.

What you need – a copy of the English lyrics and the TL lyrics (you can almost always find them online). Please note that I get my songs from iTunes (I believe its important to pay the artist).

What you doTo start, I put the lyrics side by side on a piece of paper (trying to match up the lines) and have the students fold them to only initially see the English version. You could put them on two separate pieces and only hand out the English first. Then play the song 2-3 times with the students looking at the English lyrics as they listen. I don’t worry too much about “understanding” – I want them to be listening and ‘reading’ the meaning. Next ask them to choose 5 words (or phrases or lines depending on their level) in the English that they want to see ‘what they are’ in the TL. Finally, once they have them I then ask them to look and search for the key phrases. Nope – no dictionaries at this point – they have to use the original English lyrics, position in the song etc. I then allow them to look up the words in the dictionary to see what they ‘mean’ in the original language. Finally we share out 1 key word each (on the whiteboard) that they found and think they will use again!

Why I like this – There’s so many ways that we use songs and I must admit that this type of approach was an afterthought during a more traditional ‘use the song’ activity. But I found that I liked it because:

  • It reinforces that we don’t directly translate from one language to another – it’s so much more than that – we have to consider not what they are saying but what they are ‘communicating’.
  • It’s personal – students are finding words/phrases that appeal to them
  • It’s interpretive – they are using guessing, inference, and more to try to find the match
  • It’s different – we almost always go to the TL lyrics first – so it’s a twist

Students enjoyed this ‘song’ option and I heard more than one “hey I was right!” comment during the time. I’ll try it again with other songs in the future!








April 7, 2014
by leesensei

Background Music and Avoiding the Awkward “Silence” in MFL Activities

Teenagers - Whispering a SecretLike most MFL teachers I like to use music in class. I source and find a “song of week” from the iTunes Japan chart every 10 days or so. As I’ve written about before – I use the music (legally purchased!) in many ways – and have discovered even more via the summary of the #langchat discussion on music last year.One of the most unlikely uses is something that I stumbled upon. Or rather – noticed while I was busy trying to get other things done.

Have you ever set up an activity, a great chance to practice or use a concept orally and then had the dull ‘thud’ of silence. “Let’s get on with it” you think. “Why is everyone sort of muttering? Don’t they get it? Why aren’t they using it?” After careful observing, and some asking, I realized that, yes, my students were getting it – they were just a bit hesitant using a new concept. Maybe they wanted a second chance to clarify with their partner? For whatever reason it takes them a little bit to settle in and get comfortable with what they are doing.

And they needed a chance to do that. Enter the role of the ‘song of the week’. I have it on a loop in the iTunes of my computer. It plays at the start of class but suddenly I started to play it as they students were beginning their activity. And something interesting happened. Under the cover of the music (not loudly played but audible) my students had a chance to take a breath, check in with their partner, collect their thoughts and begin. The music – the lack of ‘silence’ in the room – actually seemed to help them get underway. Several of my students have commented on the use of the music this way – and they say it’s easier to get into talking when it isn’t so quiet. They stop being worried or embarrassed that others can hear them and get into the activity more easily.

You know that sound that tells you that “it” – whatever it is – is working? I love that sound. It’s hard to force. But for me the ‘bridge’ that the background music creates is useful in getting my students to dig in and connect orally. It’s a use for the song of the week I never would have thought of – but am grateful for what it brings!


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