The audio experience: young readers, young listeners

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Rhymes, chants and songs

If you started learning a second language as a child, it is most likely that you still remember the rhymes and chants you used to practise the alphabet, the parts of the body, or in my case, the steps of making a wooden table in Italian. Children respond to a melody, a rhyme, a chant long before they can speak a language. Babies move, dance, try to mimic and sing along as they assimilate new language. They never seem to get tired of a catchy tune so what better way could there be to remember new words than a song on loop?

From a social perspective, rhymes and chants help us connect with others, form a community and a sense of belonging. From a cognitive viewpoint, they help the development of memory skills and the learning of new sounds through their catchy beat and repetitions. Thinking on terms of psychological benefits, slow, rhythmic chants can have a calming effect, but with powerful words and strong beats they can also empower and energise the speakers. All these aspects of rhythm and chants contribute to their educational benefits as they stay with us from the earliest months of our life and become great resources for langauge learning not only for teens and adults, but also for young learners. Finding the right resources is key in planning lessons for young learners.

Listening to stories

But there’s more to the audio experience than the inclusion of rhymes and chants in the classroom experience. The audio content of readers is an essential part of the storytelling experience, and it can aid not only the teachers, but also the parents if they decide to read to their children in English at home. As Ellis and Brewster point out in their book on storytelling, listening to stories helps children improve their pronunciation, sense of intonation and rhythm. Listening exercises also help with concentration and various aspects of listening skills such as prediction, guessing, hypothesizing.

As Krashen has also written, the content of learning needs to be comprehensible and easy enough to engage the children. We all know that feeling of not understanding something properly which can lead to us becoming anxious and ultimately our attention will start to wander. Well-designed audio recordings with vocabulary which is just challenging enough for learners, will contribute to the success of storytelling lessons.

When students are listening to instructions and stories told by their teachers, they become familiar with a certain voice and pronunciation. When listening to stories and activities recorded for them, children will become familiar with various types of pronunciation through the voices of the children and adults they hear. As they are listening to longer (4-7 minutes) stories, they will improve concentration and meaning-making capabilities. This will help them become familiar with different types of media in real-life communication, where they will combine and understand information coming in through various channels: audio and visual, spoken and written, etc. Training our students’ ears is just as important as training them in writing, speaking, reading and observing.

Another important aspect of the story experience in class is the exercises children do before and after storytime. Most readers include listening exercises which will practise the meaning of the words and their use in context. While listening to the audio will help with developing listening, thinking and comprehension in our students, well-scaffolded exercises will help them to focus on the meaning of words and their pronunciation. As most students are still learning to write well in young learner classes, it is important to do exercises which connect visual images with sounds as well as the written word. You can see an example for this type of activity below.

Listening activity in the young reader ‘The Kite’ written by Rick Sampedro and illustrated by Stefano Misesti. © Helbling Languages

Let’s see now how the range of audio materials in our Young Readers and Thinking Train series can help you teach and consolidate language and pronunciation with your young learners as they include not only rhymes and chants, but also add a dimension of oral storytelling in your lessons.

1 CHANTS

In each Helbling Young Reader there is a specially written chant to help you introduce, practise and recycle the basic vocabulary and language structures which appear in the story. The chants are recorded using multiple children’s voices, allowing you to teach and practise it chorally in class.

For example, in the reader Little Red Riding Hood, you will find this chant:

A chant from the young reader ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ written by Richard Northcott and illustrated by Catty Flores. © Helbling Languages

Students can practise vocabulary related to the body, the structures ‘You’ve got’ and ‘can + infinitive’. There are two speakers, a young boy and a young girl so the chant sounds more like a dialogue and will invite both boys and girls to join in.

Listen to the chant first, then invite your students to clap and hum along. Point to the parts of the body which you chant about to connect the mind with the movements of the body. You can stop the recording after a verse and repeat the words slowly. If your students find it difficult to follow, you can pre-teach the basic vocabulary with pictures or labelling.

2 STORY RECORDINGS

Each story is recorded in full using professional voice actors, The recordings are paced to the level of the children and engaging to create a nice storytime atmosphere.

Listen to this example from the reader The Kite from the Young Readers series:

You can listen to the full recording of the Thinking Train series stories on our educational platform, e-zone. First you need to scractch the access code in the back of the book and then go to e-zone and insert the code here: www.helbling.com/code. You will find a series of classrooms games, the full recording, worksheets and flashcards.

3 EXERCISES

Use the story recording and the exercises to get the students used to hearing other English-speaking voices than yours. These exercises also help them with concentration and pronunciation. Here is an example from the young reader The Kite.

Listening activity in the young reader ‘The Kite’ written by Rick Sampedro and illustrated by Stefano Misesti. © Helbling Languages

If you’d like to have more exercises to use songs, raps and chants in your lessons, check out our resource books:

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Further reading

  • Goh, C. & Taib, Y. (2006). Metacognitive instruction in listening for young learners. ELT Journal, Volume 60, Issue 3, 1 July 2006, Pages 222–232.
  • Ellis, G & Brewster, J. (2002). Tell it again! The New Storytelling Handbook for Primary Teachers. British Council.
  • Field, J. (2008). Listening in the Language Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Krashen, S.D. (1997). Foreign Language Education. The Easy Way. Language Education Associates.

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