Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Book Review: 'Primary Music Box' - (Sab Will - Cambridge University Press)

Primary Music Box
Traditional songs and activities for younger learners

Sab Will
with Susannah Reed
Cambridge University Press 2010
ISBN 9780521728560

Two Sample Units

From the blurb: "Are you looking for an enjoyable, educational way to use songs in your classroom? Do you need materials which are quick and easy to prepare? Then Primary Music Box is for you! Containing over 70 photocopiable worksheets to accompany the collection of traditional songs on the audio CD, it brings music and English language learning to your pupils in a fun, accessible way."



DISCLAIMER: The creator of this site WROTE this book! Obviously we can't 'review' Primary Music Box as we would another title, and have therefore opted for another approach: an exclusive interview!

So, with the help of a close ELT friend, we offer you an exclusive interview with Sab Will, author of  Cambridge University Press' latest title for teachers of kids, Primary Music Box; ladies and genteelmen, we give you... well, you know... that guy.


ELT Resources Review: How does it feel to see your first English Language Teaching book published?

Sab Will: It feels strange... but good. Better than I expected.

ELT-RR: What was the thinking behind Primary Music Box?

SW: Well, it was a long time ago now - the time it takes for these things to see the light of day is... surprising - but I think I actually suggested three possibilities to the publisher.

ELT-RR: Which were?

SW: A music-based title, obviously. Then I think a computer or internet-focused idea, and then... umm, perhaps a story or poem-based book. Honestly, I can't remember any more!

ELT-RR: So tell us a bit more about Primary Music Box. What inspired you to write the book?

SW: What I really wanted to do was 'invent' some gaps in the already excellent Cambridge Copy Collection series for kids. When you see so many great books in an established series, it's difficult, and intimidating, to think that you could have something more to offer, especially as a new ELT author, but luckily one of my ideas caught someone's attention!

ELT-RR: OK, two questions in one now! First of all: why music? And secondly: why kids?!

SW: Ah! Well the question why music is easy! Music has been one of the driving forces of my life, ever since I was very young. I actually used some of my old LPs for inspiration and songs like Waltzing Matilda, Oranges and Lemons and There Was An Old Lady came directly from them.

Having a young daughter also helped and my father can spontaneously recite the words to about a million songs and poems so there was plenty of material out there for me to call on.

And then, in the field of language teaching, I have no doubt that music is a marvellous way to introduce an element of surprise and pure pleasure into the langage classroom whilst still, albeit sneakily, introducing new language structures or consolidating old ones.

ELT-RR: And what about children? As a music lover, why did you decide to devote so much time to a book destined to be appreciated uniquely by English-learning kids and their teachers?

SW: I think music is timeless and ageless, and given the right circumstances anyone can enjoy practically any musical or rhythmic form. And of course seeing the joy of children enjoying music without realising they are actually learning new language is a magical experience. From the moment we are born our mother sings us nursery rhymes and lullabys and even laments our misdeeds in a sing song voice...

For me, music is the first language of life, even if it's just the gentle hum of our parent cradling us to sleep, which for most of us, even though we might not realise it, accompanies us throughout our lives. Otherwise, why would the music industry exist? People saying stuff in silly, unnatural voices would have no meaning if music didn't take us back to our earliest moments and to our most primordial needs. Like comfort and safety and love, for example.

ELT-RR: OK, so tell us more about the book itself: who is it aimed at and how can teachers get the most out of it?

SW: Well, at the time I first started talking to Cambridge I'd been running a couple of special holiday courses I'd created for the British Council here in Paris called something like Learning English With Pop Music and Learning English With The Internet, and I was looking to take these ideas further. I was already very familiar with the structure of the Cambridge Copy Collection books and loved them, so it seemed natural for me to suggest a new title along those lines.

ELT-RR: It's a pretty classic teachers resource book layout, isn't it?

SW: Yes it is, but it's extremely well done, and the team at Cambridge are really second to none. There are 36 units - 36 songs, in other words - divided into three levels which correspond quite closely to the Cambridge Young Learners tests but which are suitable for any child from six to twelve, say, who is learning English.

Each song has a really comprehensive page of teacher's notes, with step by step instructions on how to work through the exercises. Then there are two pages of games and worksheets and I have to say that the illustrators have done an incredible job. The illustrations are the best I've seen in any book in this series, so I'm very proud and grateful for that.

ELT-RR: How long does each song and its exercises take to do?

SW: Well each lesson is divided into three parts and you can either do them one after another in one go, or spread them over three separate sessions. It's up to the teacher to decide what the best approach is for their particular class. Each part generally lasts around 20 minutes on average, so we're talking about an hour's worth of song exploitation in one way or another, without taking into account any of the suggested follow-up activities the teachers might want to do.

ELT-RR: Which are your favourite songs?

SW: The ones with great tunes and those that hark back to my own childhood, like Kookaburra, and Dingle Dangle Scarecrow, and She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain, and The Animals Went In Two By Two, and Waltzing Matilda. Not forgetting the funny ones and those I've used with my own students like I Found A Peanut and There's A Hole In My Bucket and There Was A Princess Long Ago - the list just goes on and on!

ELT-RR: What do you think of the actual recordings, which in the end are the true core of the book!

SW: I'm absolutely delighted! Now that I´ve got a new baby son I find myself constantly putting the CD on and enjoying all the songs just as much as I ever did along with him! It´s really due to the singers, which include lots of wonderful kids' voices as well as adults, and Cambridge's non-dumbing-down approach which has left the songs pretty much as they were meant to be, although we did gently simplify the lyrics sometimes to fit our purposes...

ELT-RR: So are you happy with Primary Music Box, now that it's finally out there

SW: It's superb. Obviously it's a niche market but I really think that in that niche market it's a great book - one of the best.

ELT-RR: Is that the author or the marketeer speaking there?!

SW: No, seriously, I truly believe that this is an excellent product in the market it's intended for, which is anyone or any organisation which has to teach a group of 5-12 year-olds English in an enjoyable and engaging way. After all, I've got a deep love of music, from current stuff right the way back to traditional English folk songs and even nursery rhymes, and I put all my passion into producing these lessons based on classic and traditional songs and chants. Actually, I'd walk around for days with the latest song I'd been working on in my head, and although it was driving me nuts I'd be smiling to myself thinking 'YES! This is going to work!'

ELT-RR: Did you need a historian's knowledge of English heritage or children's folklore and poetry to produce this book?

SW: That would have been useful, now you mention it! But all I can claim is an upbringing in a traditional, if somewhat displaced, Scottish household where I listened to a mixture of British and international children's classics as I grew up, coupled with a bit of the poet's soul which seems to have crept into me...

ELT-RR: Why displaced?

SW: Well, my parents moved down from Scotland when I was two, so although I can never bring myself to say I'm English, I did grow up there, but I can't really say I'm Scottish either, although I was born there. And now, after 17 years in France, I have to factor the Gallic and European influences into the equation! Maybe I'm just a child of the universe, as Barclay James Harvest said.

ELT-RR: And the poet's soul?

SW: I've been writing poems for quite a few years now, like Michael Swan, the grammar guru, with whom I occasionally exchange verse. But poetry is still very much a creative personal outlet for me, as opposed to a commercial enterprise or a vulgar attempt to project my worries or even my sense of humour onto the world. I wouldn't wish that upon anyone!

ELT-RR: Can we see your other creative work anywhere?

SW: It's funny you should ask that! I certainly consider my on-line English endeavours to be reasonably creative, and you can access most of them from the Hotch Potch English site home page, including the four ELT blogs I'm currently running.

If anyone's interested in my secret life away from ELT, they can start somewhere like the Paris and I Photo Chronicles blog and through the links on the right discover all my latest Paris street photography and abstract art as well as the poetry that we just mentioned.

ELT-RR: Obviously a book like Primary Music Box doesn't come out on its own! Who were the main people involved?

SW: You're more right there than you can ever imagine! I'd like to thank Maria Pylas and Liane Grainger from Cambridge University Press in particular, for being an incredible pillar of strength during the production of this book. If you ever try to produce something similar, it would be better if you had a rock solid production team behind you! And Maria and Liane were it!

ELT-RR: And do you have any final message for teachers around the world who will be using your book in the months and years to come?

SW: Absolutely! I very much hope that teachers will enjoy using the songs with their pupils and they should feel free to adapt the materials in any way they see fit. I'm a firm believer in placing most of the responsibility for students' learning in the hands of their teachers. On the Teacher Training Blog I run in conjunction with my work as course director at the TEFL Paris Teacher Training Centre, I regularly publish short, accessible articles on teaching principles at Certificate level, such as The Three Pillars of Being a Great English Teacher, which aim to give teachers a friendly background and more in-depth insights into the profession. These are open to all teachers to read and comment, and I'd love to hear from anyone who is using Primary Music Box in their classes.

So thanks and 'Good Luck' to anyone who's using the book, don't hesitate to get in contact with any questions or suggestions you may have, and don't forget that just by leaving a little comment on this interview you could win one of the ten copies of Primary Music Box being given away (see below), so what are you waiting for?!


Sab Will is a freelance teacher, teacher trainer and writer, currently running a TEFL Certificate course near Paris. He is also a well-known Paris street photographer, abstract artist and poet. The 'well-known' bit only applies to those who know him well, however.



Hotch Potch English: 'The ELT Resources Review Blog' ~ Book Review: 'Primary Music Box'
© 2010 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Book Review: 'Seeds of Confidence' - Competition Winners

Seeds of Confidence
Self-esteem activities for the EFL classroom


And now, it is with great pleasure that we can reveal the five lucky winners of the wonderful Seeds of Confidence competition (see box below), with fab prizes kindly provided by Helbling Languages.

You will be contacted shortly with details on how to claim your prize. And do let us know what you think in the comments section.


Linsey Dargan
(from Scotland)
Caroline  Stevenson
(from France)
Edwin Darlow
(from New Zealand)
Egbert Roelofs
(from The Netherlands)
Jessica Pian
(from The USA)

Congratulations, and keep entering our comps!


Hotch Potch English: 'The English Language Teaching (ELT) Review Blog" ~ Book Review: 'Seeds of Confidence' - Competition Winners
Created & written by Sab Will
© Copyright 2010 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English
Visit Hotch Potch English ~ The Unique English Teaching Website

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Book Review: 'I Used To Know That: English' - (Michael O'Mara Books)

I Used To Know That: English
(stuff you forgot from school)

Patrick Scrivenor
Series editor Caroline Taggart
Michael O´Mara Books 2010
ISBN 9781843174776

From the blurb: "While it's true to say that the English language is full of traps and pitfalls for the unwary, an understanding of certain essential rules can make all the difference to spoken and written English. Succinct and accessible, I Used to Know That: English will teach you everything you should have learned at school..."



Hot on the heels (or should that be 'suffixes') of the wonderful My Grammar and I (or should that be 'Me'?), already reviewed here, comes another marvellous little English language opus from quirky publisher Michael O'Mara Books. And this time they are offering three lucky readers (3) of the ELT Resources Review Blog (that's you lot) a copy absolutely free - just comment on this review to take part!

So how, you may be wondering, does I Used to Know That: English - stuff you forgot from school (or should that be 'stuff you've forgotten...'?) differ from the similarly-named My Grammar and I (or should that be 'Me'?) - old-school ways to sharpen your english?

Well... the first obvious difference is that the former was co-written by Caroline Taggart, while the new volume is by a certain Patrick Scrivenor, with Ms Taggart named as the Series Editor.
" is at hand in the genial form of Patrick Scrivenor, whose mantra is, wherever possible, 'keep it simple'. He admires accuracy, but despises pedantry."
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. The publicity material claims that I Used to Know That: English 'does for grammar what Eats, Shoots and Leaves did for punctuation, clearing up confusion with a light touch. The problem is that My Grammar and I also pretty much did the same thing!

In a desperate quest to distinguish usefully between these two worthy titles, I'm clutching at two reviewer's straws.
"Since you should avoid them but cannot, you might as well know what adjectives do."
The first is that I Used To... is slightly less jovial and a bit more instructive in its approach. I feel it takes the stance that prosepctive purchasers would genuinely like to hear what it has to say with a view to improving their daily utterances. My Grammar and I more firmly fell into the category of entertaining stocking-filler, as much to amuse (in an erudite way) as to educate. Evidence of this is that there is no learned pun or joke in the title of the present title.
This is not to say that I Used To... is dry or musty in its approach - far from it, and we'll be getting to that later.

The second difference I can find is quite simply as any writer would want it to be: English is such a deep, rich source of rules and their exceptions, weird word groups and viciously arcane spelling conventions, that a new author will necessarily bring a whole new bunch of fonohlojicul fun to the elucidation table... Hell, I reckon I could write my own book in this darn series too!

One of the delightful aspects of this book is (or should that be 'are' ;-) the constant examples and humorous quotation which illustrate the points being made. I've likewise punctuated, or 'pricked' this review with a few choice snippets from the book, not necessarily representative, to liven it up a bit!
 "Not all dogs are fierce, not all men are fat and not all women are beautiful - not, at least, until you reach the age of seventy, when this situation magically remedies itself."
The book is divided into six broad categories, and bookended by a very pleasant foreword by the aforementioned Ms. Taggart, a short scene-setting introduction by the author, and a telling afterword by the same. I say telling, because in it he justifies what I recognised as I perused the book as sometimes surprising pedantry and stubborness in terms of just what 'correct' English is. Surprising because we are these days used to people telling us that English 'just is' and that the rules are made to be broken because they're all fundamentally flawed anyway, and certainly not adhered to, what with regional differences and neologisms from the States and rap music and goodness knows what else.

And yet Mr. Scrivenor reminds us that without knowing the rules in the first place, it is very difficult to break them with any degree of sophistication or cleverness which would, after all, be much less satisfying from a clever-dick intellectual smart-arse (or should that be 'ass'?) point of view. That last point was in my words, not the author's, by the way.

"GRAMMAR. The science of speaking correctly'
- Dr Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language

'Let school masters puzzle their brain
With grammar and nonsense and learning,
Good liquor, I stoutly maintain,
Gives genius a better discerning'

- Oliver Goldsmith, 'She Stoops to Conquer'

Good liquor does not seem to have helped Goldsmith with his first line. Presumably the singular 'brain' is there solely to rhyme with 'maintain'.

The six chapters are as follows:

Parts of Speech: I shall probably be modifying my TEFL Certificate session on this topic to incorporate a few of the apposite examples given here about nouns, adjectives, conjunctions, the decidedly weird adverbs and all the other members of this boisterous bunch.

Grammar: A short section which nevertheless covers the chosen topics (phrases, clauses, sentences, subjects and objects...) in a certain depth.

Spelling and Pronunciation: Covering gems like the nine ways of pronouncing 'ough', the 'ize' or 'ise' dilemma, and where to stress multi-syllable words (good luck!).

Punctuation: A lengthier section, true to this book's mission to sort out our written English above all, covering traditionally scary stuff such as the comma, the apostrophe and the unexpected three lengths of dash (or should that be 'hyphen'?).

Clear Usage: Which at first reminded me of Fowler's Plain English, or even Gowers' Plain Words, but which ultimately distinguises itself, within the constraints of this volume, with a more modern treatment of wordiness, clichés, double negatives and using foreignisms, to name but a few.

Pitfalls and Confusions: This final section is an alphabetical list of short entries on easily misused words or commonly confused word pairs. Affect and effect, childish and childlike, egoism and egotism, factitious and fictitious, principal and principle, and sensual and sensuous would be examples. The school boys' favourite, organism and orgasm, alas, would not.

"They spell it Vinci and pronounce it Vinchy; foreigners always spell better than they pronounce."
   ~ Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad
The blurb's way of summarising the above is:

I Used To Know That: English includes:

Parts of speech, from nouns to conjunctions
Spelling and the traps you can fall into
Sentence construction
Punctuation, including those pesky apostrophes
Clear usage - and how to avoid common pitfalls
How to pick your way through jargon and gibberish

So, having now finished this review, I must admit I'm a bit nervous about publishing it, and thereby opening it up to the scholarly scrutiny of the Very Revered Mr. P. Scrivenor himself (not to mention the equally enthralling Ms. C. Taggart). Even that last sentence makes me cringe in anticipation of imminent eminent writers' wrath, and the number of anomalies I'll get slapped down for..!

Whatever the result, I offer up this humble commentary on this jolly little book, and hope it will be bought copiously and won thricely by you here good readers. Good Luck and, above all... Good Grammar (exceptions notwithstanding).


Hotch Potch English: 'The ELT Resources Review Blog' ~ Book Review: 'I Used To Know That: English'
Created & written by Sab Will
Copyright 2010 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English
Visit Hotch Potch English ~ The Unique English Teaching Website

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Book Review: 'My Grammar and I' - (Michael O'Mara Books)

My Grammar and I
(or should that be 'Me'?)

Caroline Taggart and J. A. Wines
Michael O´Mara Books 2008
ISBN 9781843173106

From the blurb: "Can you tell when a sentence contains more clichés than you've had hot dinners, or if it's tautological and pointlessly repetitive? Is a preposition necessarily a bad thing to end a sentence with? Are you able to immediately spot a split infinitive? Or understand how, being accidentally misplaced, you can wreak nonsensical havoc with your modifiers?"
If I only had a penny... sorry, I mean if I had only a penny... no, no, that's not it... ah! if only I had a penny for every book on the English language that has a schoolboyish giggle at the phrase ´dangling modifier´ I´d probably be a quid or two the richer by now.
'[It is] impossible at the present juncture to teach English grammar in the schools for the simple reason that no one knows exactly what it is.'
   ~ Government Report, 1921
My Grammar and I, a delightful recent discovery of mine, from the marvellous Michael O´Mara Books, is no exception (they refer to them in their chapter heading as 'Dangly bits') but in this case they are justified. The whole book takes a very pleasant tongue- (or should that be dangly bit?) in-cheek look at one of our most precious and least understood national institutions: the English grammar system (if, indeed, there actually is one - personally, I'm sceptical).

So, what a pleasure it is to hold this little volume in my hands. From the textured cover to the soft grain of the pages; from the well-chosen typeface to the inner front cover's 'A gift for... from...' nameplate; from the lovely musty aroma as you hold it to your nose (you do sniff your books, don't you?) to the gentle humour of the entries... everything is designed to offer you some enjoyably intellectual fodder from yesteryear with a modern twist: nostalgia.

Rules of yore rub avec-seriffed shoulders with decidedly up-to-date irreverence and cheeky asides. Right up our street, this is. (Try saying 'rules of yore rub shoulders' fast a few times, by the way, and I'll send my personal copy of the current title straight off to anyone who can prove they didn't get their tongues in a twist! See below, by the way, for an exclusive photo of My Gramar and I and Me, - totally grammatically correct, I assure you...)

What the authors have succeeded in doing is interweaving amusing quotes and examples with the actual guts of the book, which is English grammar and how to do it. I imagine My Grammar and I is the grammar book most grammarians of the not too dusty variety would secretly like to have written all along. I know it's certainly the sort I enjoy reading most.

The above quote from a government report of 1921 opens the introduction and sets the tone of the book. The snappy four page history of English grammar is quickly followed by a classic list of Grammar Rules (to avoid), including the following:
  1. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
  2. Remember to never split an infinitive.
  3. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary.
And seven others. I especially likes number 3 because to constantly include comments in brackets (as I do, however irrelevant) is one of my recognisable (if possibly irritating) trademarks.
Various devices keep the pages turning at a flurrying pace. Funny, punny or simply intriguing section headings guarantee a zappy intro to each new language point:
  • Say what? (or, Parts of Speech)
  • What a to-do (or, Verbs)
  • Thou and thee (or, Pronouns)
  • Kind of funny-looking (or, Adjectives)
  • Do I get time off for good behaviour? (or, Sentences)
  • A big no-no (or, Double negatives)
And, of course, the aforementioned Dangly bits (or, Misplaced modifiers).

Little boxes or highlighted sections scattered throughout the book variously contain apposite quotes,
"The English speaking world may be divided into (1) those who neither know nor care what a split infinitive is; (2) those who do not know, but care very much; (3) those who know and condemn; (4) those who know and approve; (5) those who know and distinguish... Those who neither know nor care are the vast majority, and are a happy folk, to be envied by most of the minority classes."
   ~ H. W. Fowler, Modern English Usage, 1926
funny one-liners,
"We spent most of our time sitting on the back porch watching the cows playing scrabble and reading."
   ~ From 'So where does a comma go?'
and assorted oddities and words of wisdom:
Smart Alec: Since pronoun is a noun, why isn't proverb a verb?
Swot's Corner: Capital letters are sometimes referred to as 'upper case'. This is because manual typesetters kept these letters in the upper drawers of a desk - the upper type case. More frequently used letters were stored on a lower shelf, thus 'lower case' letters.
See Me After Class: Each comparison needs only one comparative: more better is bad, more betterer is even worser.
As you can see from these choice tidbits, the funny, often absurd side of English is never far from the fore, as well as the deliciously overriding temptation to play with our words. But let's make no mistake about it: the topic is grammar, and more than almost any other book I've seen recently, My Grammar and I really does help us understand the basics and more in a thoroughly accessible way.

It's true that most of the points are introduced briefly in a paragraph or so, followed immediately by plenty of examples in the place of wordy explanations, but hey! I know some people who think that's the best way to learn! And how many lay readers do you know who are ready to sit through a boring grammar lecture anyway? So I reckon Ms Taggart and the interestingly named J. A. Wines (does she really?) have got it about right. For this lay 'Me'-er (or should that be 'I') anyway.

And lest Ms Wines be offended, that name quip comes from someone who has suffered their fair share of 'hilarious' name-related jokes from an early age. Imagine having 'Will' as your last name growing up at a typical English school and all the jollity that can provoke...

Hotch Potch English: 'The ELT Resources Review Blog' ~ Book Review: 'My Grammar and I'
Created & written by Sab Will
Copyright 2010 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English
Visit Hotch Potch English ~ The Unique English Teaching Website
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