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
Related Posts with Thumbnails