IH Journal of Education and Development

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English Through Music or Music Through English?

English Through Music

Anice Paterson and Jane Willis, Oxford University Press, 2008

Reviewed by Mark Lowe, IH Kielce

All of us at International House, Kielce, Poland welcomed this book. We had recently won a major European Union contract to teach English to local children, and we were looking for materials that would help to make our lessons more fun, more in touch with the tastes of children – and more successful. This review is based on our experience with the activities in the book.

This book aims to give guidance to teachers with little or no musical training on how to use music with young learners aged 4 to 12. It consists of 35 activities divided into 8 sections, each section devoted to a different aspect of classroom music. The 8 sections are:

  1. Warm-ups. These are short activities that prepare children for later music making, such as stretching the arms and clapping hands. The activities are similar to standard warm-up procedures used by choral conductors at the start of choral rehearsals, before moving on to singing.
  2. Listening and Experimenting with Sounds. This section contains activities lasting 20 to 30 minutes each, designed to teach children basic musical concepts such as high and low pitch, loud and soft volume, gentle and lively rhythm, and different types of sound (scream, rattle, clap etc). An example is a game played with low-tech ‘instruments’; such as rubber bands round a plastic carton (twang sounds), keys in a metal or wooden box (loud rattle), beans in a bottle (soft sound) etc. The children not only shake the ‘instruments’, but can also help to make them.
  3. Songs, Rhymes and Actionswith minimal language. Examples are a marching song to which the children ‘march’, and imitating the action of rowing a boat to the song ‘Row, Row, Row your Boat’ These activities can be introduced with minimal language, so are suitable for beginners.
  4. Rhythm, Games and Patterns. An example: the teacher taps the rhythm of his/her name: the children copy – and then tap the rhythm of their own names. (eg Anice Paterson – Kasia  Walesa). The children then chant and clap to the rhythms made by the names of the children in their class.
  5. Listening and Responding to Music. The children are encouraged to dance to the music they hear, and to say whether they like it or not. The teacher chooses recordings that he/she thinks will appeal. (The book does not offer suggestions)
  6. Songs, Rhymes and Actions that reinforce particular language points. Examples are counting, travel, the sounds made by animals – and everyday activities.
  7. Stories with Sound and Action. The children are invited to add their musical accompaniments to stories like Little Red Riding Hood. They might invent different sounds to stand for the heroine, the grandmother and the wolf.
  8. Composing Musical Pictures. The children are invited to make sounds to illustrate a rain forest or a space journey.


The text is accompanied by a CD demonstrating teachers using the book’s musical activities with native-speaker children. The recordings were made in the north-west of England, and we hear authentic Kendal (Lake District) accents.

In addition, there are appendices on:

–          useful language for the music classroom

–          resources (for instance, there is a reference to the British Kodaly Academy, which offers a British version of the Hungarian composer’s brilliant and influential method for teaching children to sing using folk songs from their native countries).

–          a grammar and phonology index

         There is also an introduction explaining the approach used in the book, and outlining procedures to be followed when using the activities. The approach is based on various principles, including

–          The music and activities are selected in order to teach defined aspects of language, For instance: times of day and days of the week, action verbs, parts of the body, rooms and furniture, numbers, food and drink, and simple functional language such as making suggestions. (A different approach start from the music and the words of songs)

–          Music is used to reinforce the stress and intonation patterns of English

–          The music is integrated into a broad curriculum, following the principles of CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning).

–          Different aspects of music, such as simple and more complex intervals and rhythms, are taught separately and progressively, rather as though they were linguistic tenses or increasingly complex noun phrases. (This contrasts with methods such as the Kodaly system in which children learn to sing simple songs straight away)

–          On the grounds that a substantial proportion of YL English teachers are not trained in music and cannot read music, the book contains no written music. Tunes and rhythms are picked up from the CD.

Conclusion: this book provides thorough guidance for using music to help teach English to children.  

Mark will describe other ways of using music with Young and Very Young Learners in the next edition of the Journal.

Author’s Bio:
Mark has been with IH since the mid-1990s as a teacher and Director of Studies. He has worked in Poland, Estonia, China, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Bosnia. He is now with IH Kielce in Poland. In his youth, he studied music at Clifton College and at King’s College Cambridge, where he also conducted choirs. After leaving University he played the oboe with the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra for a time, and then worked as a repetiteur with opera singers in Italy before joining the British Council. Today he enjoys playing the piano in chamber music and as an accompanist for singers in his spare time. He has two children and enjoys teaching children.

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