Time to Shake up the Hokey Pokey

After all the Halloween madness of last month I thought it was time to try an old favorite, the Hokey Pokey Shake from the good people at Super Simple Learning. If you’ve never heard it before you should check out my blog post from two years ago, it really is the best version of the classic children’s song.

But I needed something extra as a game to fill up the last few minutes of the lesson and that’s when I came across Russ Clayton of Russ TV. An inspiring children’s musician with his own YouTube channel, I shamelessly pilfered the mid-song game he plays with his audience.

As you can see from the video, after every verse he stops the song and gets the children to strike a pose, which they copy from the large drawing he shows them. After watching the video for the second time I copied the what I hope weren’t copyrighted images onto a pad of paper like so:


The next morning I played the game with my five and six year old students more or less like Russ did, and I must admit to greater fanfare than I expected. After the song we even practiced the poses just for the fun of it.

It was a real energetic morning.

“Do you Have Any Brothers and Sisters?” Song By Genki English

One view I strongly share with Richard Graham of Genki English is the cringeworthyness of the question, “How many members are there in your family?” This is a question you’ll often hear in East Asian EFL classes. While grammatically correct, it makes families out to be like civic business associations, each with their own newsletter and monthly dues. Do you have any brothers or sisters? is a far more natural question, making the eponymous song on volume of 8 of Genki English a good one for young learners to get down pat.

genki brothers and sister 02

Now free demos of Genki English songs are surprisingly hard to come by, but you can hear the song in the background of this teacher training video:

And as you heard in the video, the lyrics are easy enough.

The storybook that comes with the software is also quite hilarious, and can be downloaded as a pdf file that can be made into a book:

But one of the things I like the most about this theme are the mini cards, which show different combinations of brothers or sisters.

genki brothers and sister 01
One simple game that works well with a small group of young learners is to lay all the cards face up on the floor and then have the children ask you the question, “Do you have any brothers or sisters? I then respond by saying one of the combinations of brothers or sisters on the ground such as, “I have one brother and two sisters.” The children then busy themselves trying to find the right one. After someone does, I turn the card over and we began again, continuing until all the cards have been turned over. (The question might seem a mouthful to get kids to say but if you teach them to sing song first the children they’ll have no problem.)

For all my fellow Genkists I’ve written each combination below:

  • I have 3 brothers and 4 sisters.
  • I have 4 brothers and 3 sisters.
  • I have 2 brothers and 4 sisters.
  • I have 4 brothers and 2 sisters.
  • I have 4 brothers and 4 sisters.
  • I have 1 brother and 4 sisters.
  • I have 4 brothers and 1 sister.
  • I have 3 brothers and 3 sisters.
  • I have 2 brothers and 3 sisters.
  • I have 1 brother and 3 sisters.
  • I have 3 brothers and 2 sisters.
  • I have 2 brothers and 2 sisters.
  • I have 1 brother and 2 sisters.
  • I have 3 brothers and 1 sister.
  • I have 1 brother and 1 sister.
  • I have 2 brothers and 1 sister.
  • I have 1 brother.
  • I have 1 sister.
  • I have no brothers or sisters.

This game is not a speaking activity per se, but it still proved very helpful to the ten five-year-olds I was teaching to both understand and eventually reproduce this sentence pattern while talking about their own families.

I deliberately set this game up to be more cooperative than competitive, with no obvious winner. But for older children who can better handle competitive games, I tape all the mini cards to the white board and divide the children into teams. To play, a member from each team stands facing away from the board and asks me the question from the song. After I answer, they turn around and search for the right one. A point is awarded to the team of the winner. Long time users of Genki English will of course recognize this as the Turn and Circle Game from Mido Farid’s Book of Games (book 2). Give either game a try, they’re a lot of fun.

Teaching Good Manners Has Never Been So Cool

Genki English Volume 13I had never been so excited to teach the classroom niceties of “I’m sorry” or “Excuse me” as I was the other day. The first track of Genki English Volume 13, the I’m Sorry Song is an electronic extravaganza that would be a huge hit in a dance club were it not for the G-rated lyrics, which are as it happens, as simple as pie:

I’m sorry.
Excuse me.
That’s OK.
No problem.

The real magic is in the dance moves, which you really SHOULD watch on the video below (taken from a Genki English seminar by Richard Graham in Nagoya, Japan) – turn up the speakers before you do, though.

Sweet, isn’t it? Your students will love it as much as mine did. I’m mildly ashamed to admit that I listened to this song on repeat all the way to work on Tuesday. Much more upbeat than Mary Had a Little Lamb.

For the knowing Genki English member there are of course flashcards and students cards which can be put to good use during the explanation and review periods. Click here now to visit the song page at the Genki English homepage.

My Long Overdue After Action Report on Teaching Halloween in 2014

I know, I know… Halloween is so last month, but I was far too busy trying out some truly great Halloween teaching materials to write about them. And I just couldn’t wait until next year to mention my two top favorites. I’ll probably write about the runners up next September but for now…Videos Galore

The good people at Super Simple Learning really outdid themselves this year with new music videos to accompany their Halloween album. Throughout September and October they uploaded a new video to their epic YouTube channel every week – each one more impressive than the last. They’re beautifully animated and display a gift for drawing the eye of just about any child (and even teachers in their mid-thirties). So beloved were their latest work that I was  continually inundated with pleas to show a particular favorite again and again.

The trouble is that they’ve raised the bar so high that I now have impossibly high expectation for this coming Christmas.

The Coolest of the Cool in Halloween Songs

e9537-424381_282201598517709_989987321_nTo date I haven’t made very big use of the holiday themes from Genki English, but this year I was determined would be different. So out from the teacher’s toolbox came the song Happy Halloween, which has since gone on to become one of my students’ favoritest (to use a Junie B-ism) Richard Graham songs, joining the lofty ranks of such classics as I am a Robot and The Genki Disco Warm Up.It teaches the very useful sentence pattern, “Look, there’s a vampire!” along with some other basic Halloweeny words like witch, ghost, and mummy. But the real classroom magic came from the super catchy chorus and the surprise… (sorry, no spoilers here)… which had the kids in absolute stitches and caused them to sing the song incessantly in the class, at home, and everywhere in between.

스크린샷 2014-11-15 오후 7.39.12This theme also comes with the usual array of Genki goodies like student cards, board games, imagination worksheets, and dominoes (but alas, only if you’re a member). There’s an online story book you can check out here that can also be made into a hard copy for the offline classroom. To top it off we also played the Harry Potter game, a very apt activity for the time of year, even if the little ones didn’t really know who the great teen wizard was.

On an entirely different note, I’ve recently got to thinking that an Epic Rap Battle of TEFL between Richard Graham of Genki English and the good people at Super Simple Learning is long overdue; something like the Ghostbusters/MythBusters battle that came out last week, perhaps.

A Review of The Superhero Song by Genki English

스크린샷 2014-06-15 오후 3.54.55Last week as I was arriving at one of the preschools I teach at, one four year old lad bolted toward me like a streak of lightning. He then proceeded to beg me in that particular way that children do:

“Teacher, could you please play the Superhero Song? You know, the Superhero Song! Please oh please oh please, please… Could you please play it, Teacher?”

As it turns out, he and his classmates had been waiting all week to sing it. So of course I sang with them. And then they wanted to hear it again. And then…again…

People who have Genki English will already know about the Superhero Song by Richard Graham. If you don’t, this song is the single most important reason for you to open your wallet and buy Genki English. The first time I watched the music video, I ended up playing it ten times straight (much to the curiosityannoyance of my wife). I have taught it to children as old as twelve and as young as three, to universal acclaim.

What Does it Teach, Exactly?

The Superhero Song introduces the grammar pattern I can and the vocabulary words jump, run, hide, cook, stretch, climb, swim, and fly, all things any respectable superhero would need to know how to do. There is also a mighty chorus section where the children get to belt out at the top of their lungs, “I’m a superhero!” It is very simple to teach since the children merely have to repeat after the lyrics as they’re being sung on the CD. They don’t even have to repeat the complete phrase I can, as just saying the vocabulary will often be enough for some of the youngest children.

스크린샷 2014-06-15 오후 4.03.31

The mini-flash cards available for download when you buy Genki English. They’re great to print out and play concentration as well as other games. There are A4 size flashcards as well.

How Does One Go About Teaching it?

To start off the lesson I ask the children to guess who I am, and then begin mimicking Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Iron Man, and the Incredible Hulk. I then tell the kids that these people are called superheroes and ask them if they’d like to transform into a superhero. With preschoolers, the answer is of course yes. So I tell them that if you say, “I’m a superhero!” REAL loud then they too will become a superhero. To preschoolers this is like telling them Santa is going to visit every day with presents. Even the shy ones can’t help but get caught up in the excitement.

It is best to teach the I can and the vocabulary words as single pieces of speech. In this song, the kids learn it just as fast as by breaking it down and you can always explain it in detail later. We start practicing, I can jump, I can run, I can swim…and then maybe a few that aren’t in the song, like I can fish, I can dance, I can sing, depending on the vocabulary of your students. The children tend to catch on really fast.

Once you’ve got that down it’s just a matter of striking a dramatic superhero pose and turning on the CD, or the music video from the software if you have a giant screen to put it on. Just see for yourself by watching Richard Graham teach the song to some kids in Japan.

The Extras

This song, like all the others comes with a great many extras that you can use to reinforce the vocabulary like dominoes, snakes and ladders, an eight-sided dice, and much, much more on the song page.

superherosong dominoes

superhero snakes and ladders

superhere dice

And for Dessert..

Once you’ve got the song down pat you really should check out this other great superhero song by Pancake Manor. My students love this one too, and I must confess, so do I. By the time the credits start rolling I feel like Pancake Manor is some kind of superhero alliance like the Justice League or the Avengers.

Review of Genki English’s Eat! Drink! Dance!

It wasn’t that long ago that I wrote about the TPR song par excellence, the Genki English Disco Warm-up, written and sung by Richard Graham. One of my all time favorite EFL songs, it’s a universal hit among students and parents alike; the kind of tune that stays with you long after the class has ended, like the aftertaste of a particularly good chili. And once you’ve taught it, you can pull it out of your teacher’s toolbox every once in a while to get the kids revved up for class.

So now it’s time to talk about Eat! Drink! Dance!, which might just be a little bit better. This song recycles bits of the Disco-Warm Up while introducing the vocabulary words eatdrink, read, dance, sleep, sing, cook, and stop.

스크린샷 2014-04-12 오후 2.52.09

Now this is no Mary Had a Little Lamb-type children’s song. It opens with a strong guitar intro that gets your students bobbing their heads up and down like they were at their first rock concert. Meanwhile, reminiscent of Disco Warm-up, the kids repeat after and follow such classroom commands as “stand up” and “sit down”. But then, just as their excitement level is starting to bubble, Richard belts out “And DANCE!”

Make no mistake, even some of the most self-conscious of students will begin to groove in ways that not even the most upbeat Wiggles concert could ever get them to. And so it will be with you.

While this mini-rave is going on, Richard starts yelling out the aforementioned vocabulary words “eat,” “drink,” and “read,” which the students should repeat after and act out (while continuing to dance, of course). Then, Richard unexpectedly says “STOP!” A moment of dead silence is followed by what sounds like the unstoppable voice of doom counting down from five. And just as the voice is about to say zero, Richard screams “Dance!”

This time around, it’s pandemonium.

The energy in the room will suddenly feel like it’s been turned up to eleven. Just check out these kids from Turkey get their groove on:

Now before actually doing any singing or dancing, I usually do spend a good ten minutes pre-teaching the vocabulary with my young learners, although the lyrics really are easy peasy.

Eat, Drink, Dance 
by Richard Graham

Are you ready?

Stand up
Sit down
Stand up
And dance!

Eat (Eat!)
Eat (Eat!)
Drink (Drink!)
Drink (Drink!)
Read (Read!)
Read (Read!)

5 4 3 2 1


Sleep (Sleep!)
Sleep (Sleep!)
Sing (Sing!)
Sing (Sing!)
Cook (Cook!)
Cook (Cook!)

5 4 3 2 1


You don’t need dance club type stereo equipment to play this song, but a decent sound system really helps get things in gear. It shouldn’t be so loud that it ruins their little ears, but perhaps something more than one of those dinky, what-was-that?-type classroom CD players.

Don’t forget that you can watch a demo of the music video on the song page at Genki English, get some great game ideas from Richard, as well as download flashcards and other goodies. And perhaps best of all, once you have this song under your belt, you are all set to teach your kids Richard’s wonderful What are you doing? song, so all the more bang for your buck.

A Review of Super Simple Learning’s “One Little Finger”

One Little Finger, the fourth track of Super Simple Songs 1, by the good people at Super Simple Learning (SSL), is a tune I’d heard plenty of times but had never really given a shot in the classroom. I only knew about it because it came right after Seven Steps (which my young learners beg me to play again and again). It seemed cute but I just never got around to teaching it, or in all honestly really paying any attention to it at all. It just didn’t seem like a big deal.

What a mistake that was. Just for kicks I took it on the road with me this month and taught it to a couple dozen classes of preschoolers, more than 300 kids in all, and without exception it was a huge hit. The kids just went wild it for it, although truth be told I wasn’t really sure why at first.

One Little Finger introduces the words up and down as well as several parts of the body: finger, head, nose, chin, arm, leg, and foot. You can give it a listen here by watching this cool video recently released by SSL:

There’s something really soothing about the music and lyrics that draws the kids in and doesn’t let go until the song is done – exactly the kind of classroom tool any teacher would want. The characters featured in the video are the same as those in SSL’s If You’re Happy, Happy, Happy…. video, which I found charming, and was positively enchanting for the children. Between the video and the song, One Little Finger is a real winner.

But for a look at how the song really should be sung, check out this next video of preschoolers being led through the song at Hands-On English, a private English school in Japan. The teacher changes the lyrics just slightly between verses for additional repetition, which helps with ‘vocabulary inception’ (I just re-watched the movie recently, and I think I have seen the future of language instruction). Anyways… now for that video…

Aren’t the kids just bursting with energy and enthusiasm? – exactly what we should all strive for in our classes. I am still trying to find out the name of the person in the video, if anything because I think she’s super cool and I ended up basing my own lesson largely on how she was singing the song.

There are some cute (and FREE) flash cards available for download (whether you have bought the CD or not) as well as some great ideas and links for teaching the song on the official song page.

스크린샷 2014-02-22 오후 4.02.05 스크린샷 2014-02-22 오후 4.02.15 스크린샷 2014-02-22 오후 4.02.29 스크린샷 2014-02-22 오후 4.02.40

I’m really looking forward to teaching it again to a new group of children, just because I had so much fun the first time around, and so will you. Maybe it’s the finger action I liked the most; after all it did take me two days to stop doing it in my sleep. That’s not creepy, right?

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Review of Genki English’s I am a Robot

The I am a Robot song from Genki English was something I had shunned for a long while, like a child who won’t eat his spinach without even having tried it. Then this past month I actually listened to song for the first time (and quite by accident)  and knew instantly that I was dealing with the Gangnam Style of EFL songs. It was an instant hit that had the children singing the ultra-simple lyrics long into the day.

In the following video you can see Richard Graham, the creator of Genki English, teach the song at a seminar.

On the song page Richard Graham says that he created the I am a Robot song to practice the short o sound but that it also works as a standalone lesson for teaching the words “on” and “off”. The later is where I think the song really shines and that’s how I taught it.

스크린샷 2014-01-21 오후 7.52.48

스크린샷 2014-01-21 오후 7.53.22

Owners of Genki English can just print off the two flash cards, quick and easy. At the start of class, I bring out one of them and talk about what the picture is of, but of course the children usually already know the word robot. Then we spend some time walking, running, jumping, raising and lowering our hands like a robot would, with lots of sound effects. Actually it’s fun just to try the Genki Disco Warm-up in robot mode.

After a few minutes of fun, I bring out the other flashcard (the one that says “off”) and ask the children what the difference is between the pictures. Some say one is taller than the other, some say it’s his little robot brother, but eventually somebody figures out that the robot has been turned off (most of these children are at a pre-reading level). Then I introduce the words “on” and “off”, and we practice turning ourselves on and off like a robot might. They have just loads of fun telling me to go on and off repeatedly until I “break down”.

Now it’s time to do the song. The first time around I invite two of the more brave and active students to come up and do the song with me (they should be volunteers), since all they really have to do is follow along. But since they don’t exactly look like robots I’ve brought along these cheap two dollar sets of sunglasses that they can wear.

Suddenly the kids start to feel like actual robots. The glasses are just a bit too small for me so for next time I plan to make glasses like Doc Brown wears in Back to the Future 2.

Now if you’re really lucky you’ll get kids who get really into it. Some of my 6-year-olds put me to shame with their robot moves. We go through the dance routing like in the video above, and by the the time it’s done the rest of the class is begging to join in. So I distribute a few more sunglasses to some lucky ones and we go again.

A side note on props: As I work freelance, I wasn’t prepared to keep twenty or thirty sets of kids’ sunglasses in storage at my home waiting for the one or two times a year that I use them. But if you work for an English preschool, you just might convince the powers that be to pay for them and then keep them in the closet until you need them.

Genki English has continuously provided me with some of the most exciting songs I’ve ever had the pleasure of teaching, and I now count the I am a Robot song among my top five. If you could see the laughs it brought to my young learners, you be dying to teach it too.

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Review of If You’re Happy (and you know it) by Super Simple Songs

“If you’re happy and you know it” is one of those quintessential classic children songs that really should be taught to English learners, if nothing else, for cultural reasons. The trouble is, in the words of the good people at Super Simple Learning, “The traditional version of this song can be a little tough for younger learners. If you visit an EFL or ESL class, or even a class of younger native-speakers, you’ll often hear the children singing something like:

If you’re happy (mumble, mumble, mumble) clap your hands!

If you’re happy (mumble, mumble, mumble) clap your hands!

If you’re happy (mumble, mumble, mumble), (mumble, mumble, mumble)

If you’re happy (mumble, mumble, mumble) clap your hands!

“The tempo is often too quick and phrases like “and you know it” and “then your face will surely show it” aren’t easy for young children to sing or understand through gestures and expressions.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

So they went and fixed one of the most well-known children songs of all time, and by that, I really mean fixed it. The new version retains the traditional melody while the simple (and IMHO, improved) lyrics focus on the core vocabulary: emotions like happy, angry, scared, and sleepy; as well as TPR actions such as clap your hands, stomp your feet, say “oh no!”, and take a nap. All my preschoolers loved singing this new version, especially the ones who were already familiar with it. In the (L1) words of one of my students, “Wow, it’s a lot easier to sing than the one my mom plays for me at home.”

Super Simple Learning has also released a new ultra-cute music video on YouTube,
which I recently used during a music festival at one of the preschools I freelance at. We put the video up on the large screen for the children and parents to sing along to, and boy did they; even the younger siblings were having a ball trying to dance like the characters on the screen. (Broccoli head, as he was called, proved a huge hit!)

Finally, like all songs from Super Simple Learning, there are great teaching tips on the song page as well as free flashcards you check out.

Free Flash Cards for "If You're Happy" by Super Simple Learning

I happen to love these flashcards but some of my younger children confused “scared” for “sad”.

The Hokey Pokey Shake by Super Simple Learning

The hokey pokey is the kind of song that every teacher remembers learning as a kid. Truth be told, though, it used to give me the shudders at the very thought of teaching it. Sure, teaching the difference between left and right seems like a good idea at first, but just remember how hard it is not to get them mixed up if you’re a preschooler. Then there are the difficult lyrics, I mean just look at them… was it even worth the effort? Weren’t there songs that got you more bang for your buck?

But Super Simple Learning, the award winning creator of children songs, naturally forced me to rethink this. In their awesome The Hokey Pokey Shake (found on Super Simple Songs 2), they’ve cleaned out the left and rights, the turn yourself arounds, and those dreaded that’s what it’s all abouts. What you’re left with is a cleaner song that teaches kids (in a simple way) about the parts of the body, the difference between singular and plural, and some simple actions that make for a great TPR song with no confusing lyrics.

Like their The Wheels on the Bus, there are two versions of the song subtitled Let’s Learn and Let’s Sing. The first version goes at a pretty slow pace but is ideal to introduce the song and vocabulary to really young kids for the first time. The latter one is a little more energetic, with more sound effects, and is great for use as review in the following class since it has a little extra punch.

[Oops, an earlier version of this post had the wrong videos uploaded, although they are pretty awesome too!]

My kids really liked both songs. Truth be told, they thought the words “hokey pokey” were so funny they ended up in stitches just saying them. As always there are free flashcards you can download from the song pages (Let’s Learn version & Let’s Sing version) as well as some great tips for teaching the song. The flash cards come in handy for pre-teaching the vocabulary, and I also recycled them later in the camera game for review.

Check out these videos to get some great tips from Super Simple Learning on how to teach the songs:

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