Global creativity for control freaks

3rd February 2006 at 00:00
Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week: Let's sing it

My first real taste of international life beyond the family holiday was working at a summer camp in New England in the US. It was a YMCA camp that recruited staff from around the world so inner-city New York kids could meet people from countries they were unlikely to visit. It was unforgettable for them, but also amazing for us.

One thing that became clear was how true it is that we are divided by a common language. I'm ashamed to say that I was one of the British counsellors who collapsed in a heap when an American introduced himself as John Thomas. We persuaded him to call himself Jan for the duration of the season to avoid any repeats.

There was also the time when Thor the Norwegian told our morning meeting that he would be making torches with his eight-year-olds, so they could find their way around at night. We thought this was great and really looked forward to seeing the results of this technology session. As Thor's kids came from their cabin to the playing field that night, we waited for beams of light in the sky, only to watch as the children ran towards us, through prime Appalachian forest, holding flaming Indiana Jones-style torches.

Just as memorable were the times when languages were shared rather than merged in a blur of bad English. Part of my brief was dining-room entertainment. I sang every round, response and action song I knew, often calling on "My hat, it has three corners" - an international hit if ever there was one. And so it turned out to be when Marc from Germany later sang the German version to me. That night, we performed "Mein Hut er hat drei Ecken" together and soon the whole camp knew it. More international songs followed and I discovered there was more to language songs than a bridge in Avignon.

All this came to mind as I asked Meghan, a colleague who's well into languages, what she would suggest for getting pupils going in the classroom. "Songs," she said. She was happy to use made-up ones, bought-in ones or real ones, as long as they allowed pupils to hear and remember the sound and rhythms of words. The BBC website www.bbc.co.ukschoolsprimaryfrench follows suit, giving a song as a summary for each unit. It seems to work. Kids love it.

So, a free gift for you this week. If nothing else, take a few minutes to sing the French version of "Head, shoulders knees and toes" with your class, more accurately translated as "Head, shoulders, knees and feet".

Tete, epaules, genoux, pieds, genoux, pieds,

Tete, epaules, genoux, pieds, genoux, pieds,

Yeux, oreilles, bouche et nez

Tete, epaules, genoux, pieds, genoux, pieds.

Actions compulsory, of course!

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School in Leicester Email: primary@tes.co.uk

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