June 28, 2015

Puppeteering on IATEFL's Young Learners webmagazine

I am very happy to share that my article on puppeteering as a way of creating affective language learning experiences with primary learners was featured together with other very interesting ones in the digital issue of  IATEFL's Young Learners and Teens magazine. This issue was edited by the competent David Valente and also features my dear friend Kylie Malinowska, who was previously interviewed in the blog

Click here to read the whole magazine! Enjoy it!

Do you have interesting experiences to share with the world? 
Get in touch with IATEFL's Young Learners and Teens Special Interest Group and publish your voice!

Hugs from Brazil, 


Did you like it? Share it!
Thank you!

February 15, 2015

Let's all be travelers!

It is with great pleasure that I am part of the February issue on Teachers as Travelers of the iTDi blog! Check my contribution in which I reflect on the similarities and differences of being a tourist or a traveler in education and in life. Make sure you also read the articles written by my dear colleagues Anna Loseva and Chuck Sandy on how they have evolved personally and professionally being on the road. 

Never heard of iTDi? 
iTDi is a global online teacher development institute that is owned and staffed by dedicated teachers. iTDi provides Online courses to improve your classroom teaching or English language skills, written by some of the most respected authors in English language teaching. 
iTDi's mission is to provide quality professional development that is meaningful, accessible and affordable for all teachers. The iTDi community brings together teaching professionals working at every level -- newcomers and veterans, native and non-native teachers from a wide range of contexts, all sharing a common belief that being a teacher means a never-ending commitment to growing and learning.
Check iTDi's site and check out the offered courses and webinars!  

Send you a big traveling hug, 

Did you like it? Share it!
Thank you!

February 05, 2015

Interviewing Affective Educators: Eric Kane

I met Eric Kane in 2013 when I attended my first JALT conference in Kobe, Japan. Eric is that kind of guy that you will remember him after you have met him. He is a kind, creative, and energetic teacher who is always singing, thinking, and sketching how his ideas can become either songs, books, or videos. After the conference in 2013, I had the great pleasure of being at Eric's house for a week in the city of Omihachiman and going many times to ELF Learning, the school for young learners he founded many years ago. In our talks he shared that ELF stands for Everybody Loves Fun, which defines well the mood children experience at his lovely school.

It's my great pleasure to interview Eric, who is both a friend and a professional that I admire and respect immensely.

Juan: When I see you interacting with children, I notice that your interactions come very naturally and full of caring and purpose. It even seems that you were already born a teacher. Please share with us how you have become an English teacher.

Eric: When I was about 16 I had a meeting with my guidance counsellor in high school.  This is someone who helps students identify which career they might find rewarding or interesting.  Her first question to me was, "What do you see yourself doing in the future?"  I told her that I wanted to be a motivational speaker!  I'm still not sure where that came from, but I think I might have known even then that I wanted my life's work to help others in some way.  

Juan: I have been to your talks and you surely have inspired other teachers to publish their materials. I had the great pleasure of being with the children and  your great team in the cozy classrooms you have at your school. How did you start ELF? How has it evolved since its early days? 

Eric: Great question and a very amusing answer.  I started the school after teaching for 6 years at a private language school and a private junior/senior high school.  I told my wife that I would be happy to stay in Japan, but I wanted to quit my job and open my own English school.  She agreed and we put all of our savings into a building, got it ready and opened the doors.  

We furnished it with wooden furniture in an old Japanese house.  I played music and had coffee or tea ready as the students came in.  It was a very pleasant place to be.  Physical environment was and is very important to me and I wanted to create a space that quietly whispered, "You're welcome and you're safe."

The funny part is that when I opened I told my wife that this would be strictly an ADULT English school.  
I had been teaching mostly kids for 6 years and must have needed a break.  After a year or so some of the seniors in the neighborhood asked me to teach their grandchildren, so I went down to the used furniture place and picked up a nice cedar table for the kids.  I found myself really enjoying the classes.  We laughed a lot and I found myself building a strong connection with the students...much closer than I had ever become with my adult students.  

I think it was there purity.  They had no reservations if they trusted you.  Build the trust with a laugh and they would follow.  I found myself having a good amount of success with these students despite the fact that, looking back, I really knew little of what I was doing! 

When my daughter was born I immersed myself in books on childhood and language development.  The words were profound and I found myself self-reflecting as I flipped through the pages.  How can I use this information in my classroom?  How do we really learn or acquire language.  More and more it became clear to me that, at least with the youngest learners, it was much more than just language.  It was about learning how to communicate with one another at all costs.  This realization has guided much of my teaching since then.

After a while my daughter's friends started to join the school and I found myself enjoying the classes more and more.  Ever since I've slowly moved away from teaching adults and 2 years ago we closed our doors to all students over the age of 12!  I laugh every time I think about where we started!

Juan: I would have never imagined it if you hadn't told it, Eric! As you know I strongly believe in affective language learning. How do you see affect being lived in the everyday life at ELF?

Eric: One of my favorite teaching quotes is, "If a child can't learn the way we teach, perhaps we should teach the way they learn."

I believe that children learn naturally if we give them the right environment, opportunity and a little patience.  Unfortunately we find that parents are often the most impatient with the learning process.  The kids are just fine!

That's why we've made an effort to discuss how children learn with moms and dads.  If they understand that (in our case) language learning is largely a natural process at this age, they generally are quite happy to back off and not insist on meaningless tests and assessments.  And more often than not, they are surprised at the results.  

Most of our students only come once a week, so we try and spend as much time as possible in an interactive environment.  We use many picture books to discuss characters and illustrations, to develop predictive and memory skills and spend whatever time necessary helping them to understand the meaning of the story.  We also use a great deal of songs in creative ways, often with students creating their own versions of the songs!  And one of my favorite activities is to put down an assortment of flash cards on the floor and build a story with them.  They LOVE that.

Juan: In my travels around the world, I have visited many successful schools and yours is certainly one of these. In your opinion, what is important for a language school to thrive?  

Eric: Big question!  For me, personally, it's about creating a great space, hiring the right teachers, training them well, communicating goals and teaching methods to parents and students and then following through. Pretty much the same as any other business I think. 

Eric published this amazing book! 
Juan:You have launched books in the area of phonics, which have been very well received. What are the new features you have included in the books? 

Eric: With phonics and other materials I think it's less, "What's new" and more, "What's the Combination." We tried to combine a number of goals in a clear, classic layout that kids will love and teachers will find both effective and easy-to-teach. The main spreads are designed to be very clear while the activity sections are designed to provide opportunities to dig a little deeper into the English language. So far it seems that we have hit a sweet spot with students, parents and teachers giving us a very big thumbs up! 

Juan: Could you share with us how you create and produce your lovely videos? 

Eric: I could, but then I'd have to kill you....

Seriously, there's no rhyme or reason to it.  Many of the videos are based around our curriculum, those are the videos that I have to make for the kids to have exposure to English outside of the classroom.  For the song videos, it's often just a lot of fun!  Sometimes I make the music first.  Sometimes the video section.  It really is all over the place.  I just try my best to use great visuals, great audio and make them fun whenever possible!
Juan: How was the partnership with Mari Nakamura and Patricia Daly Oe in Lily and the Moon? 

Eric: Mari and Patricia and I have a fantastic working relationship.  We each bring different skill sets to the table and each of these sets compliments the other.  For me, the decision to work with and publish Lily and the Moon was made a no-brainer because it meant working with two lovely human beings! 

Juan: Which message would you leave to English teachers of young learners around the world? 

Eric: I suppose I would remind other teachers to focus on being an example of a great communicator. I've found that the more I focus on sincerely trying to connect and identify with students, the more successful they become. 

Juan: Thank you so much for this great interview, Eric!!!

Would you like me to interview anybody you know? 
Do you have any suggestions for this section of the blog? 
Write me and let me know your thoughts! 

Send you all a big hug from Brazil!


Did you like it? 
Share it! Thank you!

January 21, 2015

Affective Language Learning on video!

During my world tour I have had the great pleasure of being and learning with over 2500 children and 460 teachers in many different and very diverse countries. When I close my eyes I can recall the joy of children during my Buddy shows and the engagement of teachers during the affective language learning sessions I have given. Watching yourselves through the eyes of others is a very intense experience as it allows us to see how we stand, talk, and interact with others. More than that, it allows us to really rediscover who we are. 

I would like to thank Jim George from Luna International in Matsumoto, Japan and Ansemf Bae from FIN English in Daegu, South Korea for having gracefully created videos of me during my sessions and shows.  These sounds and images have allowed me to know myself better and are valuable gifts that I will keep forever. 

Thank you so much Jim and Ansemf for taking the time to create these lovely videos. 

It's my great pleasure to share them now with you. 

The first one shows scenes from the Affective Language Learning session given at JALT Shinshu in Matsumoto: 

The second one is about a frog that visited Matsumoto:

And the third one shows highlights of two shows that I did with Buddy in two different schools:

Hope you have enjoyed them as much as I do.
Which was your favourite moment? Leave me a comment!

Hugs and hugs,


Did you like it? Share it!
Thank you!

December 22, 2014

Learning English Affectively with Taboo Cards

"Whenever a taboo is broken, something good happens."
Henry Miller

I simply love playing with cards and flashcards because the number of ways in which they can be used is countless. When we, as teachers, explore and create novel ways of playing with language we allow learners to live language playfully as well. This fascination with play and language led me to write a post you might have read called "Fifty affective ways to use flashcards", in which I explored how students can live language affectively and make it their own. 

Today I explore the very famous taboo cards that probably many of you have already seen around, played with your friends, or maybe even have already used in class. Taboo is a card game in which players have to describe a thing without using the most common words associated with it. These words are considered them taboo and shouldn't be said. 

Taboo was originally designed for native English-speaking adults and one can notice that it requires a good command of language in order to play it properly. I have in this post adapted, created, and organized a list of 30 different ways in which taboo cards can be used. Enjoy it!

1. Avoiding forbidden words: in this traditional version, the player has to describe the word in red but he/she can not say the words that are in green. As you can imagine this requires a lot of language command, which is not something most students can do. In this original version, it is important to model and brainstorm with students some strategies that can be used to convey meaning when one does not know a certain word.

2 Using all the words: in a simpler variation one player has to say all the words that are in green without saying the one in red. The other player has to guess the word on top. Guessing is very easy and the real challenge is in being able to use all the words. This scaffolding builds confidence and promotes fluency.

3. Brainstorming words: in this variation one player says the word on top and the other player has to brainstorm words until he is able to complete all the words that are in the list. If words are hard, the challenging player can give the first letter of the words that are missing. The last word is usually the hardest!

4. Delivering a  speech: in a harder variation from the previous one, the challenging player says "tell me everything you know about watches" and then the other player has to build sentences talking about the topic until he/she uses all the words in the card, which are hidden from him/her. The challenging player signals and counts as the words in the card are said by the other player. A time limit can be added to add some tension.

5. Leading words to be said: here the topic is given and both players form a partnership to say the words. One player gives hints in order for the other to say the word. Let's say one player wants the other to say wrist, he/she can then say "it's where you wear it" or leave a gap for the other person to complete such as "you wear your watch around your ... ". You can have a pile of cards and count the number of cards a pair or group is able to do during a pre-established amount of time.

6. Spelling words: one player reveals the topic and he starts spelling the words that are listed. The other player has to try to discover the words before they are totally spelled.

7. Drawing words: one player reveals the topic and draws the words that described in the card for the other player to guess and write these next to the drawing that was just made. In a harder variation the topic is not revealed in the beginning.

8. Acting the words: a pair creates a small sketch and another pair has to discover the words that were represented. The acting group should really emphasize the written words and gets points if the words are correctly guessed. Here again the topic can be revealed in the beginning or not.

9. Writing a poem/ rapping the words: students can write a poem or create a rap containing all the words. The topic can be the title, part of the chorus, or even not be mentioned at all!

10. Brainstorming extra words: another way to play with taboo cards is to have students in small groups collectively saying and writing all the other words that they think go together with the topic word.

11. Checking the dictionary: students use their phones to check an online dictionary and see if the words that are listed are part of the description of the word used in the dictionary.

12. Googling words: students can google the topic word and then check if all the words in the card are found in the first three search results. Another google possibility is to type the five words and see if the topic will appear in the result.

13. Creating a crossword: students can create a crossword for the their card connecting the words in a grid and creating definitions for each one of them. A booklet with all their crosswords can be photocopied and given for all students to solve.

14. Playing the multiple hangman: the objective is for the challenged player/group to guess the topic word. In order to do this they play multiple hangman with all the describing words at the same time. Once they go figuring the words then they can guess the topic. The topic is not part of hangman and can be inside an envelope. If they guess it it wrongly the game is over.

15. Guessing with one hint at a time: one player has to guess the topic being only given one hint at a time. If they risk and it's wrong they lose their card or their turn. The player that guesses the topic keeps the card. This one was inspired by an old Brazilian TV show called "Which is the song?".

16. Making a conversation: a pair creates a conversation in which words appear in the same order in the conversation exchanges. Each exchange should have only the word that is listed without any of the other ones.

17. Unscrambling words: one player gives the topic and scrambles the letters of the listed words. The other player has to unscramble and discover the words. A harder variation is to give the scrambled words without saying what the topic is.

Bar histogram showing interviews.
18. Getting statistics: each student gets one card student talks to three other students one at a time and asks them to talk about the topic. While listening, this student marks down the number of times that the listed words are said. He/she does not interfere or reveal what the words are. Once the three conversations were held, this students reveals the statistics to the rest of the class. Here students can even be taught how to build an histogram like the one you see in the picture on the left.

19. Column Dictation: One player gets three cards and reveals the three topics. Then he/she dictates randomly the words that are in the three cards. The challenged player has to write them under the correct topic. Then players check the answers and discuss about the words that were hard and could fit more than one topic.

20. Interviewing the topic: one player or a group makes one question with every word that is listed. One person responds as being the topic. This is great fun as we have improbable situations where concepts, fruits, and professions speak!

21. Crossing cards: can you build sentences about a topic using the words from another card. This variation gets students to be playful and invent situations in which words can be combined.

The pyramid composition looks like this!
22. Writing a pyramid composition: the top sentence has the first word, the one below the first and second words, until the last one has all the five words. The composition can be done graphically centralized in a page.

23. Choosing the best words: students are asked to rate the words given in the list and put them in a list according to how relevant they think they are to describe the topic. Other words can be suggested to be included in the list.

24. Listening the words: one player makes a short composition or deliver a speech about the topic using all the words. The other player has to read it or listen to it and try to find the words that were listed. Tell students to pay attention to how words are said.

25. Making their own taboo cards: you can have students write their own cards inside a topic you are studying. Model how they can be written to make sure they are good for playing. Once you have them made you can play with them in any of the other ways described here in this post!

Most of these activities can be done both in speaking as well as in writing. I have in all activities preferred to have students in pairs as a way of maximizing student speaking time.

To get started you can:
Making the cards with the students,
Find lots of ready made cards on the internet,
Or buy the following games which have easier language for young learners.

Which is your favourite activity?
Do you have any idea that is not here?
Have you ever played taboo with your students?

Send you all a big hug from Tokyo,


Did you like it? Share it!
Thank you!

December 09, 2014

Interviewing Affective Educators: Kylie Malinowska

This is a picture Kylie and I took together when
we were saying goodbye to our trainees in Konya. 
I had the privilege of meeting Kylie Malinowska last August when we both taught novice English teachers at the CTS course with SeltAcademy for two weeks in Konya, Turkey. 

During this time we talked a lot about teaching young learners and became good friends. Today I have the pleasure to interview Kylie here in this blog!

But first, who is Kylie? 

Kylie Malinowska is the Young Learner Advisor and Coordinator of the Certificate in Teaching Young Learners and Teenagers for IHWO (International House World Organisation). She is based in Prague where she also teaches and trains for IH Prague and Akcent College. She was one of the course writers for both of IHWO's YL training courses (the IH CYLT and the IH VYL) and has a regular YL column in the IH Journal

Juan: Let's start with the classic question to warm up. How have you become an English teacher of young learners? What keeps you  connecting with them and their learning?  

Kylie: Prior to getting into teaching I worked in the Health Care Industry. I loved my job but I was quite sick of sick people to put it bluntly. While I was living in Newcastle upon Tyne (UK) in a house with flatmates from all around the world (All TESOL students at either Newcaslte College or IH Newcastle), I used to give (memorable ahem) English lessons over coffee on a Saturday morning. One day, after mentioning it numerous Saturdays in a row, they all decided that I absolutely had to do the CELTA at IH Newcastle and become and English teacher and went and got the application form for me. 

Those flatmates changed my life. For the better. It would never have crossed my mind to become an English Teacher and certainly not for YL given I considered myself a dementia care specialist and my first degree was a double degree in Health Science and Gerontology (study of the aged). But….I loved it. I still do! My flatmates knew me better than I knew myself. I’ve done my time teaching ESP and BE etc etc and have taught all ages and levels, but I always come back to YL. I just love the energy they give me.

A psychic once told me it was time to work with younger people as they would give my soul energy instead of sucking it out of me. At the time I thought it was all a bit of a joke, but I really do feel like they feed me. Don’t get me wrong, teaching kids is exhausting, but they really give me a lot too. That little shining light in their eyes when they realize they have learnt something new and they are proud of themselves…that…that little sparkle. That gets me every time.

Juan: I love that spark Kylie. Who sparked your love for music ? 

Kylie: I’ve loved music and singing for as long as I can remember. My dad played guitar to us as children and we had sing-a-longs around his knee. My father’s father (whom I never met) was reportedly a wonderful singer. My Father’s Brother is in a band, as is his daughter, my cousin and I have an Aunt in a choir. As a child I was obsessed with Patsy Biscoe and actually had dreams of growing up to be a children’s entertainer. The ultimate goal was to be on ‘Play School’

While I was at High School my grades allowed me to also study at College one afternoon a wee so I gained a certificate in Early Childhood Development and planned to study Drama after I graduated, but that year the Centre for Dramatic Arts in Adelaide (my hometown) wasn’t accepting any applications so I enrolled in a Fine and Visual Arts course instead and joined a Youth Theatre group. A year later though I was a year older and my sensible parents had infiltrated my crazy brain and I found myself studying healthcare and working towards a steady income.

Juan: Kylie, you have grown up to be an entertainer. Do you play any musical instrument? Were you part of a choir? 

Kylie forgot to mention she
likes the drums too!
I used to play piano, flute and the recorder. But I’m really not very good. Mostly because I don’t practice. I feel music in my bones though and absolutely love listening to my musician husband jamming with his musician mates and singing and dancing with my own kids (2 yr old twins).

I’ve never been part of a choir (except for at school). I prefer to do my singing in the shower if not in class. I auditioned for and got into an a capella group here in Prague a number of years ago, but when crunch came to crunch I was too shy to perform in public and they were a professional group so I didn’t really last more than 5 minutes. I thoroughly enjoyed the rehearsals though.

Juan: I think you were the one who asked me some time ago if I thought that language learning and music were similar. In which ways would you say that learning a language and playing an instrument have similarities? 

Kylie: Jeremy Harmer has talked a lot about this over the years. How we practice certain movements until they are natural so that when we play our fingers automatically know where to go. My husband is a Jazz man. He particularly loves free jazz. He says to play free jazz you need to be able to play the basics perfectly first and then you need to be able to really feel the music and play from your heart. Practicing and producing language is similar. We help our students practice the basics so their lips know where to go and give them lots of exposure to get a ‘feel’ for English. Only I encourage my students to go freestyle whenever they feel ready.

Juan: I simply love these analogies related to language learning. Could you please tell us why you think young learners should learn languages through songs? 

Kylie really feels the multidimensionality of
songs is just perfect for learning languages. 
Kylie: Ha! Do you have space for 25,000 words or more? A better questions would be why not. I could list a multitude of reasons for using songs to teach English to YL and quote all sorts of supporting research and theories about memory and prosody and links between language and song and pre-literacy etc, but for me, I really feel the multidimensionality of songs is just perfect learning languages. Combined with the fact that (most) YL love songs. The only thing that really surprises me is why YL teachers don’t use songs more. Songs are so natural. All over the world mothers naturally sing lullabies to their children. 

And songs have been used since the dawn of time (as cliché as that sounds), amoung other things, to express complicated ideas, remember important events and pass down genealogies. I guarantee you every child starting English knows at least one English song. Even if it’s ‘ Happy Birthday’.

Juan: When do you use songs? How long do you have the same song? 

Kylie: It depends on the age group and the class. For a VYL class I might start the lesson with a Hello song. Sing a song revising something during circle time. Sing a song which includes the target vocab for the lesson (numerous times). Sing a song while playing a game e.g. sing a food song while they are running to find food flashcards to keep those who aren’t having a turn engaged. Sing a song while coloring. Sing a song while tidying up. Sing a good bye song. Some songs are used for a particular theme and only occasionally revisited, whilst others, ‘favourites’ get used all year long.

Juan: Staging can make a big difference when presenting and practicing a song, especially with young learners. What are the important steps in your opinion when staging a song with young learners?

Kylie: I suspect that one of the reasons teachers don’t utilise songs more in the YL classroom is that they aren’t quite sure how. Choosing the song and when to use the song is equally as important as the staging and set up. The song should be relevant with meaningful language which doesn’t stretch the YL too much. I like to use visuals and movement, so using flashcards and actions when setting up a song and to set it up slowly and intentionally. 

This song is such a classic!
For example if you wanted to teach ’5 little monkeys jumping on the bed’ I would introduce this song after the learners are already familiar with numbers 1-5, monkey, head, bed, doctor, mummy’ and if they weren’t I might use some flashcards and mime the story sequence first in a kind of listen and do type activity. Once I’m sure they understand the key vocab and they have some actions then we can see. Actions are important for VYL in particular as it not only helps them to meet the language, it also provides opportunities for involvement for all (which I feel is even more important than the language at this early stage).

Some teachers give up teaching a song because the learners ‘aren’t into it’ or ‘aren’t doing it properly’. I personally don’t mind if kids are singing ‘5 leeedle mmmmm jumping na na bed. Na na off na na na bed.’ As my goal is to get them to move their tongues around and experiment with the sounds of English rather than join the national choir.

Teachers also need to remember that if they stand at the front of the class with the CD blaring and lip syncing, they can’t expect the kids to be excited by the song. The teacher should know it well and be enthusiastic. They certainly shouldn’t worry about being out of tune (the kids won’t care) but they should now the words and loo happy about singing.

Juan: I find that many songs in coursebooks have been adapted so much to fit a curriculum that in the end they lose their grace. Would you agree with this view? When do you ever create songs with your students? 

Kylie: I don’t want to knock the coursebook writers, as they do a great job, but yeah. All too often kids just don’t dig the coursebook songs. Either it’s too obvious, too boring, or too dry or too easy or too difficult to remember the tune. For VYL I like to create my own songs to very familiar tunes e.g. to Frere Jacques. That way the cognitive demands are lower and they can concentrate on other things. For my 8-12 year olds I encourage them to be silly and play with the song. Make it ‘better’. 

E.g. One of my favourite songs is Boom Chicka Boom.  It’s got very simple meaningless lyrics which are sung over and over in different ‘styles’ e.g. happy style, crying style, zombie style, Gaga style, robot style. Sometimes I get my learners to make the songs in the coursebook  ‘better’ by creating their own ‘style’ for the song. 

One memorable lesson, I witnessed a 9 year-old turn the world’s most boring song into something spectacular when she performed it to the class ‘Michael Jackson style’ while the class joined in with the chorus ‘zombie style’. For me a song helps consolidate language and is a great opportunity to play around with the sounds and prosody and intonation and just have fun with it.

For teenagers, the cover versions of songs in coursebooks can be laughable. I rarely ask teens to sing in class unless it is at summer camp and they’ve chosen to sing. Instead I like to get them to do a discourse analysis and discuss the language in the song or even rhyming patterns etc. Songs don’t have to be about singing. They are great for language work, listening activities, routines. I could go on….

Juan: I have noticed that some children and teens do not like to sing and to expose themselves in front of their peers. How do you involve these learners? 

Hey guys, we have just found one more puppeteacher!
Kylie: I think you’ll love my answer to this, Juan. I use puppets! And if I have no puppets we draw them on our finger tips. I also encourage them to imitate English speakers they know e.g. the teacher, a celebrity or maybe their mum. It can be just as embarrassing to ‘sound’ English as it is to make mistakes. Distancing with the aid of a puppet can be really helpful.

Juan: I have watched classes in which children sang and danced, but had no clue about what they were saying. What are some other traps that teachers of young language learners should be careful with? 

Kylie: It depends on the age and the aims of the activity. Sometimes I will spend time working on enunciating sounds and words and other times I just want the kids to have fun or play around with the intonation. Sometimes you just want to build their confidence via a ‘performance’. However, I am a realist, so I would choose a song that parents will be able to understand if it’s for an end of year performance in front of parents who are paying their fees. 

I think a trap a teacher can fall into is to do a song just for the sake of it. Sometimes teachers think of a song as an added extra for something ‘fun’ without really considering the potential learning outcomes. I try to keep learning or developmental goals in my mind when doing songs as well as fun so I don’t lose sight of the ‘learning’. I don’t mean to say I expect perfect production, I just mean I have a clear aim. Even if that aim is simple or non-linguistic in nature.

Kylie with her students at the end of a Summer Camp. 
Juan: You work hard with your students and you notice they have mastered a specific song. What happens then? 

Kylie: Any number of things. My VYL seem to master the colours songs from OUP’s Cookie and Friends quite quickly so I use this song for routines e.g. if we are lining up to go outside and waiting for a child who is taking a long time we might sing this song to avoid losing the line. I also use this song as a timer when they are colouring in a colour dictation. When the song stops. Pens down! 

Often the kids will let me know what song they want to know and when. I love singing the Cookie and Friends ‘Weather Song’ when putting on coats etc getting ready to go out or home, but sometimes the kids want to sing another English song and I’m fine with that. They normally choose the ones they master and it’s confidence building for them to sing it over and over and I like to encourage that.

Juan: What are your plans for the future? Thinking of recording something? 

Kylie: Well I’m quite busy now with my MA research, but I am actually working on a little book project, but that’s a bit hush for now. You’ll have to wait until it comes out. I’d love to create some youtube videos to add to the vast amount already out there but don’t own a video camera or sound equipment. One day. Maybe.

When I first met my husband I used to call him my Wiggle, because he looked like one of the Wiggles, and we have a little fantasy idea about creating a kids band (with his musician mates) and touring preschools. It would certainly be lots of fun!

Juan: Please leave us with a final musical message. 

Kylie: Other teachers might be reading this and think “she must have the voice of Mariah Carey to be doing so much singing”. Ha! I most certainly don’t. I’m just a regular girl who likes to have fun with English and Learning. For anyone wanting to introduce more songs and singing into their classroom, the most important thing is to be enthusiastic and have fun with it. Then you can consider other things like getting the language right, having an aim, staging etc. Use actions and simple, repetitive and meaningful language. Don’t give up. Have fun!

Thanks for interviewing me, Juan. Love and cuddles to Buddy.

Juan: My great pleasure, Kylie! Buddy says he misses you too! 

I invite everybody to know more about Kylie's work by paying her blog a visit. 

What is your take away after this interview? 
What ideas resonate with what you do with your students? 

Send you all a big hug from Tokyo!

Did you like it? Share it!
Thank you!

November 18, 2014

Puppeteering again at Hanazono Kindergarten!

Hanazono Kindergarten in Gifu, Japan

Some moments in life have really touched me with sheer joy.  One of these precious memories certainly was telling stories and puppeteering at the two Hanazono Kindergartens in Gifu last year. These performances were truly a challenge for me as my audience was composed of more than three hundred Japanese young language learners aged from three to five. All at the same time! 

Butterflies in my stomach. 
Guess what? I loved it! 

Buddy and I felt super loved before, during, and after both of our presentations. We were welcomed with lots of warmth and excitement by every single person we met at school. Children shouted hellos, teachers served us tea, and our pictures were in the hall. Buddy and I were kindly introduced to the kids, children enjoyed the kamishibai stories, and everybody laughed a lot with our puppeteering. After the show children sang and danced a marvellous thank you song, I got the most amazing medal, and had some delicious cake. We truly felt as kindergarten pop stars!  

As I planned to come back to Japan, I hoped to be able to return to Hanazono to have a similar experience again. As you have probably guessed, fame is highly addictive. 

But would I have the same feelings? 
Could I run the risk of losing that great memory that I had experienced there? 

It was even better! 

Taking the classic photo before my second show at Hanazono Kindergarten in Gifu, Japan in 2014.

I felt much more confident as I knew the children, the school, and had been successful in the past. Many children  remembered Buddy and I guess me too. The difference was that this year I had the whole fifty minutes with Buddy instead of alternating telling kamishibai stories with some puppeteering sketches as I did last year. This represented a real challenge as I could run out of time or maybe lose the momentum with the kids. 

This year children were to teach Buddy how to sing the songs they know in English. I also chose three sketches that I knew children would love. These were Buddy farting and pooping in his potty, teasing him with a huge inflatable hammer, and having Buddy flying over the kids with a balloon. With these three powerful acts I was ready! 

Children greeted us joyfully, laughed loudly at our jokes, and participated giving lots of commands. Everything went well and Buddy and I have now double Hanazono memories!                                                                                                                                                                                                    I gained lots of practice and confidence in my puppeteering skills with large groups and I feel now very empowered to get even better at it. ( Puppeteering can also be highly addictive, beware!)                                                                                                                           
I plan to invest in my professional development as a puppeteer to be able to come up with a much more elaborate experience for children all over the world. Buddy is also very excited about all this! 

Last year we got a medal from the children and this year it was the same. 
Can you notice any difference? 

Here you can watch a clip that I have prepared for you with some of the best moments of these two performances. Enjoy it!

I would like to thank Mark Kulek who has made these magic moments possible not once, but twice. Mark is the founder and director of Gifu Kids which is a lovely school for kids in Gifu as the name says it all. Mark has also had the privilege of teaching these lovely children at both Hanazono Kindergartens for the last eight years. 

Mark is now a friend who I admire both personally and professionally. 

What are your best memories with young language learners? 
Have you ever had similar challenges to mine that you simply loved? 

Send you a big puppet hug,

Uribe Sensei

Did you like it? Share it! 
Thank you!