18 December 2011

Teaching Christmas Songs

When I'm in a navel-gazing sort of mode, sometimes I like to fool myself into thinking I'm really independent and especially independent-minded, but It's interesting how sometimes I can be kind of made to do things I don't particularly want to do.  The good thing is that usually it turns out well and is a character-building, growth experience (with the exception of that Laurel Caverns trip, right mom?) and in the end, this followed the trend and that Laurel Caverns trip remains the exception that proves the rule -- and parents, consider not sending your children underground in dark caves on a tour alone.  Or going to wax museums before age 16.

In one of the schools where I teach, I occasionally am asked to prepare a lesson for a group of first year secondary students (around 11-12 years old) who are taught music in English.  The first time I did this, they were studying musicals, so we built vocabulary based on "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music -- but the lesson ended with this version by Pomplamoose.  For those of my dear readers who may think they are getting old, 11 year olds now have little to no idea who Julie Andrews is.

When the teacher asked me to do some Christmas carols, I of course agreed, but on the inside, I wasn't too enthused (among other things, I wanted to be sensitive to diversity of holiday traditions and religious backgrounds, even though it would seem that things are not so wildly PC here and the group is quite homogenous -- also, who wants to listen to Christmas music when so far away from home like this?  Not really me).

After unsuccessfully googling existing ESL/EFL solutions, and coming to the realization that large parts of Asia may have strange ideas about American cultural practices, I started poking around YouTube (maybe or maybe not on the morning I was supposed to be teaching the lesson) and thinking about what Christmas music I liked that was also cool, and thought about the Muppets with John Denver.  But a lot of those songs are a bit too advanced for my students, so to scale back, I settled on vocabulary building with "Jingle Bell Rock" -- first, a version with lyrics and then this one:

 The discussion before was something like this:
Maria: Do you guys know "Jingle Bells"?
The Kids: Yes!!!
Maria: Good!! So, we're not going to sing that, because you already know it!
[we learn "Jingle Bell Rock", occasionally dancing in our seats a bit]
For those of my dear readers who may think they are getting old, this was one of those times when the 11 year old kids were kind of shocked to learn that such a cool song was first popular in 1954.

Then, I had told them at the beginning we were going to learn two songs, one would be easy and one would be difficult, and if I was going to sing, we were all going to sing.  As often happens, the kids blew me over with their quickness and coolness.  They did sing (I don't know, when I was their age, I wasn't into singing in music class at. all.), and what I thought might be difficult wasn't at all for them.  I split the class up into three groups, and put these words up on the projector:

Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat
Please put a penny in the old man's hat
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do
If you haven't got a ha'penny, then God bless you!

It was at this point that I was going to have to bring it, and I sang it once for the class.  They immediately picked it up, amazing considering my not very good singing skills, and then we tried it as a round, in the three groups.  Excellent, I was in front of a group of enthusiastic musical geniuses!  Just to show them that I wasn't making this up, we ended the class with this:

It ended up being a really fun class, and I might be able to be convinced more easily to sing in a classroom setting in the future.  Maybe.

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