S is for Songs, Rhymes and Chants

Songs, rhymes and chants are powerful tools for helping learners of all ages and levels but particularly younger learners memorise and practise new language.

Perhaps the most important advantage of using songs in the language classroom is that when learners sing or recite in the foreign language, their accent virtually disappears.

How do we exploit a song or rhyme in the classroom?

Baa baa black sheep

        Baa baa black sheep, have you any wool?

        Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full;

        One for my master, one for my dame,

        And one for the little boy who lives down the lane.


  1. Introduce rhyme using visuals and realia to illustrate the meaning of "wool", "master", "dame" and "lane".
  • Tell learners to listen and chant the rhyme once or twice. Where possible, reinforce what you chant with appropriate body language/gestures and encourage learners to mirror these.
  • Encourage the learners to join in – some will feel confident enough to sing the rhyme with you, others will mouth it and others will only copy your body language – remember that all such responses are evidence of attention and learning so don’t force learners to sing if they don’t want to.
  • Now play the rhyme or song. Not only will learners now have the confidence to sing along but they will be able to cope with and understand what is said even though the tempo and rhythm will be initially unfamiliar.

Through adapting well-known and traditional children’s songs, teachers can devise songs to practise a wide variety of language for example:

One, two, three, four, five

Once I caught a fish alive

Six, seven, eight, nine, ten

Then I let it go again

could be adapted to practise colours:

Red, yellow, orange and blue

Once I met a fish I knew

Green, pink white and grey

Then he went and swam away

Confidence-building and language practice aside, traditional nursery rhymes and songs are a treasure-trove of cultural input, morals and common sense for young learners. With this in mind, there is much to be said for encouraging children to reflect on the true meaning of what they have just sang - is the rhyme “Humpty Dumpty” simply a tool for language learning or does it contain a message concerning safety which by its very nature is of more significance to the learners themselves?

Join in a discussion about this and other areas of interest at www.teachingenglish.org.uk

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British Council

British Council