Ideas for Term One, ELS

Tomorrow is my first day back at the Language School (ELS). I will have three classes again – Lower, Middle and Upper Primary. The age ranges roughly correspond to years P-2, 3-4, 5-6 respectively.

My plan this term is work again with books and text, and to develop music composition activities that support some of the oral language and literacy goals for the classes. We will try chants drawn from the text, song-writing, composed music that expresses the emotion or dramatic journey of the story, and other ideas.

But it is hard to find the ideal books for this kind of work. It is good if there is an element of repetition in the text; fairly simple vocabulary, as lots of new words will make it too challenging for the newest arrivals; but it is also important to find age-appropriate books if possible, that fit with these vocabulary restrictions. It is good too, if the books introduce useful new vocabulary – such as clothes, colours, foods, transport, and so on.

The books I have chosen for this term, in consultation with one of the teachers, are:

  • Shoes from Grandpa by Mem Fox (Lower Primary)
  • What’s that noise? What’s that sound? by Morris Lurie (Middle Primary)
  • ARANEA – A story about a spider by Jenny Wagner (Upper Primary)

Shoes from Grandpa is very light-hearted, and lists lots of different kinds of clothes, it has a rhyming scheme that is fairly regular, and is repetitive, adding a line to the repetition at a time. I first came across this book reading it to my 2-year-old nephew in Brisbane.

What’s that Noise? What’s that sound? has an excellent ‘chorus’ that rhymes and is repeated throughout the book. It starts with a feeling of scary noises in the night, and ends in fantasy world, so musically there are lots of jumping-off points for composing.

Aranea is in fact quite a wordy book, but the story, very simply, poignantly told, and the illustrations, are beautiful. This is a book I had as a child and I loved it, and loved my parents reading it to me. It has simple refrain that is repeated 3 or 4 times through the story, but more significantly for this age group, it has a level of emotional content that I think they will connect with. The story has parallels with a refugee or immigrant’s experience, of arriving in a new place and feeling unsafe and conspicuous.

However, despite liking things about each of these books, I also have some doubts. I will continue to search for books for ESL kids, that do not require the vocab of a native English speaker, that have ‘pathways’ into them via repetition, refrains and ‘choruses’ in the text, that have engaging, age-appropriate story lines, and musical properties! A tall order, I know, but probably someone out there has already written such books.

If you have any recommendations, please leave them as comments – thanks!

And now, because I am in a reflective mood, here are some photos of reflections on the River Arno, in Pisa, from my recent trip.

clouds on Arno, enhanced

cloudy water

Gothic sunset


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