Music - Say it with song

26th October 2012 at 01:00
Using unconventional methods can bring a dull topic to life

Like many native English speakers I was not explicitly taught punctuation and grammar. I recall the odd brief explanation - which would make me glaze over as I imagined how I would fight crime after school (I was a comic-book nerd).

Much later, as an English teacher, I realised how many topics could be dull. So I took my old guitar into class and would make up songs to control the behaviour of more challenging pupils.

The result was the Podcastrevision Roadshow (, which became a surprise hit. Quite unwittingly I seemed to have hit on something popular. So I turned my thoughts to the subject that had so bored me in my youth and the Punctuation Show emerged. Now I also have the Grammar Show and am working on the Reading Skills Show.

When I visit a new school, pupils do not know what to expect. As they file into assembly they are greeted by a large screen and a professional PA system. I aim to produce the same experience you get at a gig or concert - something teachers could not easily deliver themselves. The show begins with music - dance tunes, rock numbers, funk and soul. Each one is different. Then I run through nine elements of punctuation: from full stops to semicolons to the punctuation provided by a paragraph. Each one has an explanation, a quiz test set to music and, ultimately, a dance number with a move for each piece of punctuation. Like karaoke, the words for each song are written on the screen.

As a reminder there is a comic strip, which I write and draw. For the semicolon, for example, a cartoon news reader is seen giving a report about vicious gangs of semicolons barging their way through simple sentences. It is an unorthodox approach but it seems to work. Primary children end up dancing in the aisles and, when I revisit the schools, teachers say the message has stuck. Some pupils even remember details of the songs.

Most importantly, the pupils seem to love it. They often come up to me after the hour-long show and say, "Awesome, Sir".

My eldest daughter started school this year and has been listening to the songs since birth. Maybe I'm an evil parent but at least she can tell you what a verb is. And it is the closest I'll get to feeling like a rock star.

Listen to Barrie McDermid's podcasts on the TES Resources website (bit.lytesBarriesPodcasts). For more information on booking the show and buying the songs, or for free resources, visit and for the pupil-focused website, visit


Try a song to help pupils remember how to use capital letters shared by pwilloughby3.


Make your own podcasts with a tutorial from paul carney and share them on the TES Resources website.


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