Friday, 11 March 2016

Songs to Unlock the Imagination

Songs are brilliant resources. Singing along to favourite songs only leaves a happy feeling. Melody links to memory, as currently demonstrated  by my 11 year old daughter who is happily memorising the elements of the periodic table through songs found on spotify and Youtube, and my youngest daughter who learned the 7 times table by changing the words to Disney’s “Its a small small world”.

As a teacher I have always used songs in my work. I have never understood why I can recite every lyric ever from hundreds, maybe thousands of songs, but can’t remember where I put my car keys. There are many educational researchers who promote songs as way to enhance vocabulary acquisition and comprehension and evidence recognises listening as a pre-requisite to the development of language.

Songs tell stories. songs share facts, songs explain things. And we love them because there are so many so there will definitely be ones we like. And we can change the words. And we can make up our own. Songs give us language we can use and remember.

My favourite songs to use with primary children are all by American band They Might be Giants. They have albums written for children including No!, Here Come the 123s, Here Come the ABCs and Here Comes Science. Different, challenging, funny, addictive and mesmerising songs extolling the virtues of imagination, wordplay, fantasy and playfulness.

Most often I will link a song to a project or activity which supports spoken and written outcomes, invention and imagination and in a way which captures the enthusiasm and interest of even the most reluctant learner. “The Alphabet of Nations” is a catchy fast-paced recitation of countries beginning with the sequence of letters of the alphabet. “Algeria, Bulgaria, Cambodia etc” It is a brilliant song, which can be found on the album Here Come the ABCs and online. The exciting bit for me is W,X, presented in the song as “West Xylophone” which turns out to be an imaginary country developed to ensure the alphabetical success of the song.

West Xylophone become the starting point for so many writing projects as it is a brand new (imaginary!) country. It needs laws, a national anthem, famous residents, a national sport, a distinctive cuisine, traditions, folk tales, historical events. An infinite number of ideas and activities. My year 4 class invented their own currency, advertised a West Xylophone festival, designed and sold West Xylophone car stickers and invented and provided marketing copy for a national airline. We did make links to knowledge and understanding but two words in one song produced so many opportunities for creativity, imagination, independence and real world relevance.

For teachers using tablets to promote progress spoken and written outcomes activities could include: (all of these activities can be linked to any real country to pursue geography and history objectives, but to see the true power of pure imagination West Xylophone is a good starting point!)

10 Speaking and Writing Activities linked to West Xylophone (or any country)

Each of these activities provides plenty of opportunities for oral rehearsal, reflection and improvement.

  1. Presenting a menu for a restaurant serving national dishes, and present a persuasive advert encouraging diners to attend using the app Tellagami (lists/persuasion).
  2. Create a digital timeline book using the app Book Creator outlining key events in the country’s history (recount).
  3. Use the app Tiny Tap to create a quiz about the country’s traditions (questioning).
  4. Create a narrated re-enactment of an event in the country’s history using the app Puppet Pals (chronological report)
  5. Create a map of the country and prepare a weather forecast to narrate using the iMovie app. (explanation)
  6. Use the app Plotagon to direct an animated drama and playscript displaying a typical day in the life of residents of the country (playscripts/drama)
  7. Compose a verse of the country’s national anthem and present visually using the powerful text-shaping app path on (poetry)
  8. Create a narrated visitor’s guide using the app Shadow Puppet (description)
  9. Record an illustrated news broadcast for the national tv station using the app iMovie (reporting)
  10. Prepare a persuasive “come and visit” advert using the app Sock Puppets (persuasive writing)

Western Xylophone: Part of the 'Power of Imagination' Series

Written By Chris Williams

Mr Andrews Online presents a unique teaching approach on the “SAS Learning” online resources platform which exclusively shares over 500+ writing activity ideas and resources all supported by video training and the teaching approach that underpins our work. The website ( “The Power of Imagination” which is inspired by songs and is among a wealth of resources designed to ensure whole school impact in writing across the curriculum.

Our summer term training course “Unlocking Oral Narrative Competence” which focuses on the development of whole school both spoken and written composition supports this through a consistent approach supported by tablet technology. We have always strived to ensure impact on learning comes first and continue to ensure our approaches reflect the latest research and thinking.

Mr Andrews Online continues to school based training. Whole school impact underpinned by a transformational high impact teaching approach. Find out more at: There is limited summer term availability and we are booking now for Autumn 2016.

For people working in early years settings we have also been proud to be involved in the launch of “chatta” which is our unique and exclusive training resource designed to accelerate progress in early language and communication. Find out more or book a place on one of the free summer term seminars

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