The monsoon | A cultural dictionary of Indian English

Late last year, David Crystal spoke about his priority for the next 50 years – the creation of an online cultural dictionary. He clarified that culture here refers to everything that makes a community unique. He went to discuss the role of a second language within this cultural community.

When a country adopts a language as a local alternative means of communication, it immediately starts adapting it to meet the communicative needs of the region. Words for plants and animals, food and drink, customs and practices, politics, sports and games … accumulate a local word stock that’s unknown outside the country and it environs.

David Crystal

I’ve been contemplating writing a series of posts about Indian English for some time now.  In 2016, I did some audits at a BPO to evaluate the quality of their trainers and their training. I was dismayed at how many of them, usually inadvertently and definitely not maliciously, propagated a belief to their employees that Indian English was an erroneous half-breed that they ought to expunge from their speech.  It’s curious to note that this variety of English spoken by around 125 million Indians (although that’s a drop in the ocean of Indian languages) was consistently minimised by these trainers using the dismissive expression ‘Indianism’.

Sadly, they’re not alone. Many Indians have a poor sense of ownership for a language they’ve been subverting and making their own for over three centuries. English has a long and rich history in India. In fact, the first Indian to write in English, Sheikh Din Muhammed, published his book The Travels of Dean Mahomet in 1793.

It also doesn’t help the Internet is brimming with articles that are either whingeing about how terribly incomprehensible Indian English is or full of inaccuracies like this article by an English teacher who allegedly specialises in phonology (check the undercurrent of irritation in my otherwise polite comment and the inane responses I received).

Indian English is whimsical, plurilingual, dynamic, utilitarian, allusive, idiomatic, and wears its motley history like a badge and I hope to capture some of it in my attempt at a cultural dictionary.

Monsoon Indian English

It’s been a week since the monsoon reached the west coast of India, a natural phenomenon that has literally shaped South Asia and its cultures.  But oddly, for a rain-bearing wind that is so pivotal to life in India, the monsoon has an Arabic name. It came to us from the Arabic word for season ‘mawsim’ via Portuguese. In fact, Hindi speakers (influenced by Urdu) prefer to use ‘mausam’ to describe both seasons and more generally the weather than words perceived as native in chaste Hindi. However, mausam, unlike monsoon, doesn’t describe rain.

The word is overwhelmingly  used in the singular and usually (and surprisingly for a community of English speakers known for their uneasy relationship with articles) with the definite article, i.e., the monsoon. Occasionally, it’s used in its plural form like in this ad – Inspired by the monsoons. But I suspect people are actually thinking of the phrase ‘the rains‘ (which is commonly used to refer to the monsoon) when they talk about the monsoons.

Strictly speaking the monsoon isn’t a season although the phrases monsoon season and rainy season are ubiquitous. India has two monsoons: the summer or south-west monsoon and the winter or north-east monsoon. Much of the rain falls during the south-west monsoon which has two arms: the Bay of Bengal arm and the Arabian Sea arm. 

The onset and progress of the monsoon across the subcontinent is associated with some specific lexis. The monsoon is generally described as arriving in an area. This same news report talks about the monsoon entering and setting in the region. The arrival of the monsoon is usually heralded by pre-monsoon showers.  These are often to referred to as mango showers (a direct translation from the Hindi आमृ वर्षा or aam varsh) because they apparently help in the ripening of mangoes.  The other herald is a bird, the koel whose timely and evocative cries just before the rains made it a favourite of ancient Indian poets (it continues to be favored by contemporary Indian English poets; read this selection of five poems about the rains and this insightful piece on the connection between the two). 

The monsoon can also a hit a region but Google tells me that it has a preference for hitting Kerala, where it first makes landfall. The early days of a monsoon season can be predictive about its performance as we are told in this article about a timely onset which leads the monsoon to make rapid progress as well as progress rapidly, all in the same paragraph. Maps that describe the (gradual) onset of the monsoon are very common in newspapers in June and July of each year.  The monsoon might make a steady advance but it could also race up the west coast which might cause it to push past cities as the leading edge of the monsoon surges over regions.


A lot of the language associated with the monsoon is evaluative; experts and commoners alike comment on its strength. It’s very common in India to hear people talk about getting good rains or a good amount of rainfall, a situation that’s sometimes described as a normal or a near-normal monsoon. I’ve always been perplexed though by the phrase above-normal monsoon which describes a successful rather than an excessive monsoon, where ideally the phrase ‘normal monsoon’ ought to suffice.

The monsoon is described as having a schedule and like most things on a schedule, the monsoon can be ahead of schedule and behind schedule.  And before you know it, the monsoon covers half of India and many Indians perhaps visualise this monsoon distribution as an inverted triangle half smothered by clouds; I know I do. In years marked by weak monsoons (interestingly the collocation strong monsoon isn’t very common unless it’s used to describe winds), people bandy about words like deficientbelow-normal, and monsoon deficit. While Indians often find small talk about the weather inane (it’s hot – how long can you really talk about the heat?), monsoon time is an exception. A: How are the rains? B: Rains are good this year yah. A: Good no water problem then nah?. 

When the monsoon first bursts on the west coast and in the hinterland of the east (especially Cherrapunji and Mawsynram in the Khasi-Jaintia hills famed solely for their record rainfalls), people begin to nose around their lofts for their gum boots (handy for keeping good old lepto aka leptospirosis at bay) although some prefer rain shoes or sandals perhaps purchased from Bata who helpfully have a monsoon collection. You can’t, however, do without an umbrella and the very best come from Kerala which is lashed first and hardest by the monsoon. In the south of India, everyone knows of the famous rivalry between two cousins, Davis and Joseph Thayyil, that produced a pair of competing umbrella brands, Popy & Johns. I’m a Johns man myself but I know plenty of folks who swear by Popy.

The rains are described as lashing cities and coasts, a phenomenon that might cause waterlogging and chronic flooding, annual urban inundations which are caused more by nepotism and negligence than nature. When corruption is accompanied by cloudbursts, it often results in a deluge that etches itself into collective memory such as the Mumbai floods of 2005 and Mumbaikars continue to ask each other Where were you on 26th July?” (I was at home due to an accident of timetabling and escaped the worst of it). I’m sure the citizens of Chennai and Uttarakhand have a similar way of referring to the floods that visited them in 2015 and 2013 respectively.

The slum dwellers of the big cities cover their tin roofs in blue tarpaulin, almost Jodhpurlike when viewed from a plane, praying for breaks in the monsoon. There’s a popular North Indian proverb which I’m probably going to mangle in translation but it goes something like this: When the Lord gives, he splits open roofs to provide. With rain, it’s usually a case of too much or too little. Delayed monsoons are addressed through quirky rituals including frog weddings and mud baths.

And when it rains relentlessly for weeks on end for up to four months (often caused by cyclonic circulations or depressions in the Bay of Bengal), it’s understandable that some are prone to the monsoon blues. You could soothe those mood swings with a monsoon raga. But if you’re more adventurous and live along a mountain range such as the Western Ghats, you might go trekking to an old hill fort. Or you could stay  high and dry at home with a cup of garam (hot) chai, pakoras (incidentally, this week’s Mint Lounge weekend supplement has an article titled ‘Cloudy with a chance of pakodas and this article from The Hindu explores the correlation between pakoras and rain) and bhajias (fritters), ducking out to get a blistering hot bhuta (chargrilled corn on the cob with chilli and lime) from the bhutawala on a the corner with his wheeled cart and parasol nicked from an insurance salesman. I don’t recommend eating out during the monsoon and I’m cautious about rambling in the hills. The monsoon is also the season of diseases; dengue, malaria, cholera, typhoid, chikungunya and everyone’s favourite leptospirosis prowl the streets and pepper conversations.

But just as quickly as it enveloped the subcontinent, the monsoon begins its retreat back towards the coast. The retreating monsoon dumps the last of its moisture on a fast drying land whose people store away their rich monsoon lexis until they need it again next year.

What words and phrases do you associate with the monsoon? If you were to write a cultural dictionary about the ‘rainy season’ in your own language, what would be the most interesting or unusual entry?

Image attribution: Onset dates and prevailing wind currents of the southwest summer monsoons in India | Saravask | Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 3.0


Life after CELTA | An interview with Khadija Tambawala

Khadija Tambawala.jpg

Last year, I blogged about the types of qualifications Indian ELT professionals could explore after completing the CELTA (Post-CELTA Development (PCD) | A primer for Indian ELT professionals). I wrote that post in response to the questions I got from teachers who’d just completed the CELTA. There’s also understandably a lot of anxiety about career prospects after the CELTA. Many of the conventional routes that CELTA qualified teachers take in other countries are either not available in India or are closed to teachers from India.

So here’s the first in a series of interviews I hope to do with Indian ELT professionals documenting their post-CELTA journey, with the aim of addressing some of these apprehensions and showcasing the rich range of meaningful career opportunities that are possible for someone who wants to work in this field.

I met Khadija Tambawala a couple of years when I was doing a demo lesson at a CELTA course. We met again, recently, albeit virtually, on a MOOC. I was curious about Khadija’s post-CELTA journey. Here’s what she told me.

1. What sort of work were you doing before the CELTA? 

I did the CELTA two years after I graduated, during which I experimented with different kinds of work to see which one I liked best and considered worth pursuing. I worked as a content writer for a social media marketing company, as a PR professional, as a voice artist (something I still do in my free time), and also as a production executive and content creator for English e-learning services.

2. What motivated you to do the CELTA? 

In 2014, I got an opportunity to volunteer as an EFL teacher for a month in Yemen, and even though I had no direct experience teaching English, all the work I had done until then was based on my love for the language and proficiency at it. So, I went for it, and what an experience it was! It was absolutely exhilarating, and once I came back I decided that this was something worth exploring because I found it so challenging and enjoyable at the same time.

3. When and where did you do the CELTA? Have you completed any other formal qualifications since then? 

I did the CELTA in May 2015 in Mumbai with the British Council. Since then, I haven’t completed any other formal qualifications.

4. What kind of impact did the CELTA have on your teaching style? On your professional life? 

The CELTA shaped my teaching style because I didn’t have substantial teaching experience before it or any other teaching qualification like a B.Ed, which other CELTA participants often do. It exposed me to very effective ways of teaching English as a second language, great methodology and techniques, and things I would never have known otherwise. I felt better equipped and more confident about teaching and training in the field, post the CELTA.

5. In what contexts have you been teaching post-CELTA? 

Post CELTA, I worked with an MNC to train their employees in spoken and written communication skills in a full-time capacity, and after that, I started freelancing as a corporate trainer for different clients. I’ve mostly worked with young adults and junior level employees in organisations, focusing on grammar, conversational skills, soft skills and employability skills.

6. In your experience, how do Indian employers perceive the CELTA? 

Either they’ve never heard of it, and are just looking for someone who has relevant teaching experience, or they are aware of it and are only willing to hire people with a CELTA because they think it brings some credibility to the training and they can vouch for the trainer. Sometimes, employers just have ‘CELTA’ as a required qualification in their job profiles, but don’t really know how that should translate to the training quality and experience once the person has been hired. They believe getting a CELTA-qualified trainer will guarantee quality training and are thus also willing to pay for it, because it shows them that you’ve invested time and money towards your craft and are serious about it.

7. Did you apply for any jobs overseas? What was your experience? 

The first few months after I completed my CELTA I often contemplated looking for a job oversees and getting a year or so of experience teaching people from around the world, thus widening my repertoire. However, the opportunities are extremely bleak if you aren’t white-skinned or don’t hold a passport to prove you’re a native speaker. I did a lot of research about teaching in places like China and Vietnam, where it is believed that some schools and institutes are willing to hire “non-native” English speakers, but it honestly didn’t seem worth it to me. Most of them had crazy working hours, or were in extremely remote places, often hard to find on a map, so I gave up the idea.

8. How have you been developing yourself? 

I’ve been looking for a substantial qualification to further my career, something that doesn’t just look fancy on paper but also adds significantly to my skills and knowledge- I’m primarily considering an M.A. in ELT- but there aren’t a lot of options if you’re looking to do it in India. I’ve done a lot of research on credible digital M.A.s in ELT too, but can’t find anyone to vouch for them or share their experiences. In the meantime, I’ve been doing whatever I can to upskill myself, like taking courses through sites like Udemy and FutureLearn, participating in webinars and following blogs and websites that I find interesting.

9. Where to next? 

As a freelancer, I’m currently working on getting more consistent work which would be ideal. I’m looking to explore different kinds of training as well as polish the kind of training I already do. Within the next few years, I not only want to get another useful qualification, but also work on different kinds of projects with varied clients.

10. What advice do you have for new CELTA qualified English teachers in India? 

One very important thing I would say is, don’t expect the CELTA to create jobs for you overnight. From what I’ve seen, in India it’s quite a niche qualification for a niche industry, which not a lot of people are even aware of; but if you look really hard and in the right places, you will find people who are interested in your qualification and willing to hire you for what you bring to the table. It’s not like an MBA that often promises high-paying jobs in big companies, but what you learn from the CELTA is something that will always be with you and can’t be replaced by any other qualification.

I would also advise newly qualified CELTA teachers to keep themselves updated with what’s relevant to their fields. It’s easy to get comfortable at a full-time job that pays the bills, but keep developing yourself professionally, or one day you may just become obsolete!

If you have questions for Khadija, please put them into the comments section and I’ll pass them on to her. 

‘Topless’ images | A bias exploration activity

Topless image

This activity is inspired by something I saw on a project I was on although that particular activity was being used to explore gender roles. Since then I’ve used ‘topless images’ many times with my learners. Whether or not you want to explore biases and stereotypes, it’s a really productive speaking activity that gets everyone talking.


  • Explore biases, stereotypes and their impact
  • Develop oral fluency in this context

topless photos ELT


  • You will need to keep an eye out for images that are sure provoke a discussion on biases.


  • Snip the tops of the images and place them on slides or print them out.


  • Put learners into small groups.
  • Bring up each image and ask learners to come up with a backstory for the person in the image.
  • Take whole class feedback (Learners will generally suggest that A is a Hindu/Indian woman who is getting married, B is an Asian female model and that C is a Scottish bagpiper).


  • You can either display the original images and tell learners who these people are or ask them to visit the Huffington Post articles they’re taken from and confirm their backstories.
    • A is from
    • B is from
    • C is from
  • I usually keep QR codes ready and ask each group to send a representative to scan the QR Code on his or phone, access the article, skim and discuss it with their group members. Alternatively, you could stick the articles up on the walls of your classroom.
  • Ask learners to discuss how similar or different the real stories are from the back stories they came up with. Ask them to consider what this might reveal about their biases and the impact stereotypes have on their thinking. Get them to discuss what kind of impact this might have on their interactions with others, at work and in their personal life.

Here are the original pictures:


Image attribution –  fair use for educational purposes: 

  1. Here’s Theresa May Looking Gorgeous In A Saree (Link), Huffington Post, 09/11/2016

  2. 80-Year-Old Model Crushes Stereotypes With His Runway Swagger (Link), Huffington Post, Suzy Strutner, 04/11/2016

  3. This Woman, Who Claims To Be India’s First Female Commercial Bagpiper, Has Made Some Really Cool Music (Link), Huffington Post, Anwesha Madhukalya, 07/11/2016

The headless black and white image is in the public domain.

Socrative SAQs | Formative assessments


Lately, I’ve been using Socrative for formative assessments. While Kahoot is engaging and brings gamification into the classroom, it’s sometimes good to run a quiet student-paced assessment which Socrative enables you to do. The other advantage that Socrative has over Kahoot is that it offers multiple question types within the same test and it’s got multiple choice questions (MCQs), true or false and short answer questions (SAQs).

I like interspersing brief Socrative based interactions through lessons. Students get instant feedback and I can track their progress – and everything is happening on their own devices (using the Socrative Student App). It’s also a useful affordance to have the ability to capture longer responses from the students using the SAQ feature and when coupled with automated assessment, it’s potentially a very powerful tool

I’m going to be focusing on my experiences with using SAQs in this post.

Socrative question type.png

What really excited me about the SAQ feature was that you could automate grading by feeding in a targeted response. This works well with:

  • Form based gap-fill for grammar items
  • Missing word exercises for vocabulary items such as collocations.

You can add as many correct answers as you’d like but this is where there’s a catch. The responses are case sensitive which you could perhaps proactively address by supplying different permutations like I’ve done in this example. However, if students leave a space before or after the word or have a typo, then they’ll get marked incorrect by the system. These kind of errors are unavoidable when students are typing responses on their mobiles.

Socrative short answer.png

I haven’t really faced an issue with automated validation for gap fills but with exercise types that require students to type an entire sentence, it’s been really challenging. For instance, at a recent Business English lesson where we explored ways of reducing wordiness in emails, students were required to reword a sentence. I had two alternatives for the correct answers ‘We want to successfully implement this initiative’ with/without terminal punctuation. We’d just looked at masked verbs and how to uncover them as a way of reducing wordiness.

Socrative challenges

Here are the responses I got from the students:

Socrative responses.png

One of the students wrote “we want to successfully implement this initiative” but because the first letter wasn’t capitalised, she got it wrong. The next closest to my targeted response was “we want to implement this initiative successfully” but because I didn’t have it my list, she got it wrong! In a subsequent question, the rubric was really explicit but nevertheless, most of the students got it wrong on the system although their response was possibly correct.

There’s no easy solution to this. Plugging in every single permutation of an answer (including with and without punctuation & capitalisation) is mind-numbing. I could eliminate the correct response option (Socrative lets you do that) and have that question graded manually but that’s something I wanted to avoid and was in fact one of my principal reasons for using Socrative.

Until I figure this out, I’ll have to convert these exercises into MCQs which of course makes them a lot less challenging. The other option is to give feedback in a whole class discussion as I did when I discovered that the whole test was going awry.

How to write corporate training materials | Book review

How To Write Corporate Training Materials.jpg

Title: How to write corporate training materials

Authors: Evan Frendo

Publisher: ELT Teacher 2 Writer | Smashwords edition

Year of publication: 2014

Companion resources: NA

Source: Complimentary ebook from the author

A couple of years ago, I met a teacher (let’s call her Meera) at a conference who’d been working with tertiary institutions on a freelance basis. Meera wanted to get into corporate training and was wondering if she could partner with me on a project. I didn’t really have anything for her at the time but a few months later I found myself on the phone with a client who desperately wanted a bespoke solution rolled out for an urgent need. My schedule was chock-a-block at the time and I didn’t have the bandwidth (as we say in corporate circles) to design the materials and deploy someone else to teach the course. So I asked them to take things forward with Meera (who I judged as fairly competent), which they did.

Little did I realise that I’d done them both a great injustice. Meera was utterly unprepared for the engagement and the client had assumed that she was on the ball because I’d recommended her. I know we often bandy about the bland encouragement to General English teachers that Business English and ESP courses don’t require them to be experts in business, management or a particular industry and that their expertise in language will help them sail through. I’m afraid it’s a claim that’s simultaneously true and false.

The uninitiated teacher or trainer risks missing the forest for the trees. Meera apparently did an intensive needs analysis but her focus was very narrow and the sorts of information she collected caused her churn out or select run of the mill language exercises with token nods to the business setting.  Her materials were completely divorced from the context that her learners worked in and required language for and the specific need that she had been called in to address.

Knowing what to look for and how to feed these insights into materials-design comes with experience, and it helps if you’ve spent time with a corporate setup in a business/operational role i.e., not training or teaching. In the absence of that kind of experience, Frendo’s How to write corporate training materials could be a useful primer.

A key strength of this book is the extent to which it aligns practices to what typically happens within organisations. The idea that we should “investigate discourse practices” instead of merely collecting language needs, strikes a chord with me. Beyond educating the practitioner about process and projects, and SOPs and SIPOC charts, Frendo offers a series of incisive tasks that raise awareness of language, strategies and issues we ought to consider when developing corporate training materials.

My favourites include task 6 which draws on research by Williams (1998) comparing the language prescribed by coursebooks for functions within meetings with actual usage.


Examples from contemporary textbooks:

  • You’ve got a point there.
  • I totally agree with you.
  • Absolutely. / Precisely. / Exactly.

Examples from real-life business meetings:

  • Mmm
  • implied by the function ‘accept (e.g., yes)
  • implied by not disagreeing
  • nods

Frendo goes on to state:

It is easy to see why St John described business English as ‘a material-led movement rather than a research-led movement’ (p15). It is writer’s intuition, rather than what we know about discourse, which has been leading the way. And many commentators feel that not much has changed since that article was written.

There are also several transcript-based tasks that draw attention to features of Business English as a Lingua Franca (BELF) including “code-switching, ellipsis, silence, incomplete utterances, repetition, deviation from ‘standard’ English” all of which Frendo suggests as worth exploring in the training room.

I found the section on techniques for gathering this kind of evidence interesting. There were some that I was familiar with such as language snippets, recordings, corpus analysis, work shadowing and questionnaires and others that I’ve never actually used such as simulated conversations and anecdote circles (sort of like an FGD but more informal).

Task 11 is another interesting one. It asks the reader to analyse an annual report and identify authentic texts that could be used for different roles and needs. I wonder how many Business English trainers have actually read an annual report.

There are also case studies of training projects Frendo has worked on and the solutions he facilitated. Again, we see a strong integration of what actually happens in organizations such as scrum meetings and how this might unfold in a training programme.

How to write corporate training materials is a useful compilation of practices for someone who is making the transition from General English to Business English/ESP and it’s particularly relevant to those who are working as independent consultants. However, it’s also full of insights for practitioners who have been consulting in corporate contexts for a while because it questions some of our practices, especially when we rely on intuition, rather than observation and research to inform our design.

You can purchase the book from Amazon as a direct download or through the Kindle and you can read more about Frendo’s work at his site.

Action songs for engaging YLs

Action songs.jpg

At the weekend, I attended another workshop at Adhyayan. This one was on Action Songs and was facilitated by three students, Becky, Bonnie & Rachel, from the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama in London. One of my CPD goals this year is to develop my ability to work with YLs and Action Songs couldn’t have come at a better time.  I’ve divided the activities we did into warmers & energisers (sans songs!) and ones that used songs.

By the way, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, action songs are as the words suggest, songs that involve actions.

Warmers & energisers

Ball game 

Students stand in a circle and toss three or more balls to each other. In round one, they say their own names while passing the ball. In round two, they say the name of the person they’re passing the ball to and in the final round, they don’t say anything all and indicate they’re about to toss the ball with eye contact.

Ha Ha Yeah 

A tweak of the classic Hee Haw Ho. Students stand in a circle with one in the middle. The student in the middle puts his or her palms together and points to another student while saying “HA”. Students who are pointed at by the one in the middle must raise their hands over their heads, and also say  “Ha”. The two students on either side need to do a chopping gesture and say “Ha yeah”. An additional tweak is to ask students who are out to die the most dramatic death to rejoin the game.


A variation of Ha Ha Yeah. The student points an imaginary gun at a student in the circle. This student then ducks. The students who are to the immediate right of the student who ducks must shoot each other with imaginary guns while saying ‘splat’ really loudly.

Counting … eyes closed 

Students sit in a circle with their eyes closed or heads down. The group needs to count to 20 without interrupting each other. The T starts by saying one. Any student can then say two. If students talk on top of each other, the T starts the count again. This is a brilliant activity for teaching the value of listening, being patient and supporting your peers.

Similarities & differences

Students walk around the space and when the T calls out a number, they form a group of that size. They then have a minute to discuss their similarities and present a still image representing these similarities. The other groups try to guess what the similarity might be. Repeat for differences and other variables.


Students stand in a circle and each person says a number in sequence from one to seven. While students say a number, they should also indicate the direction by folding the left or right hand across their chest. They can change directions at any time and their neighbours need to stay alert. The person who says seven places her hand on top of her head and says either seven or seven-up. The direction of the hand indicates whether the person on the right or the left needs to start again at one.

Action songs

Everywhere we go 

T  leads this call and response. Here are the lyrics and here’s a protest march using the same tune.:

Everywhere we go,

People want to know

Who we are

Where we’re from

So we tell them

We’re from <city’s name>

Mighty, mighty <city’s name>

My name is <name>

(and then everyone sings) Her name is <name>

And then it goes around the circle with these last two lines until everyone’s had a chance to share their names.

Number game 

T shows the students how to sing this song after which the students take over. The pitch rises as the numbers ascend and falls as the numbers descend. Many thanks to Anahita from Adhyayan for recording the tune for us.


1 2 1

1 2 3 2 1

1 2 3 4 3 2 1

1 2 3 4 5 4 3 2 1

1 2 3 4 5 6 5 4 3 2 1

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

When students have mastered this sequence, ask them to now do it backwards from 8. Then make them put it all together (start at 8 and then when they get to 1, start the ascending sequence).

Number-finger game 

This one’s a bit tough but lots of fun. Get the students to count on their fingers as they sing the numbers. And here’s Anahita with the tune.

1 2 3 4 5

1 2 3 4 5

1 2 3 4

5 1 2 3

4 5 1 2 3

4 5 1 2 3

4 5 1 2 3

4 5 1 2

3 4 5 1

2 3 4 5 1


The pirate song 

You can get the tune from this YouTube video but the lyrics I experienced were a bit different

When I was one

I broke my thumb

*The day I went to sea

I climbed aboard a pirate ship

and the Captain said to me

We’re going this way, that way

Forward, backwards

Over the Irish Sea

A bottle of rum

To fill my tum

That’s the life for me

Second stanza: When I was two, I broke my shoe (and then repeat from *)

Third stanza: When I was three, I sat on a bee (and then repeat from *)

Fourth stanza: When I was four, I knocked on the door (and then repeat from *)

Fifth stanza: When I was five, I felt alive (and then repeat from *)

After the facilitators got us to sing this as a whole group, they divided us into smaller groups and got us to create our own verses but substituting English numbers for Hindi ones.  For example, when I was ‘ek’, I baked a cake the day I went to sea etc.  and then teach our version to the rest of the group. A lovely little adaptation to bring some multilingualism into the classroom.

Listen & respond

Students listen to a piece of music (in our case, it was by Moby) and respond to it in groups either through a freeze frame, drama or dance.

The grand old duke of York 

Teach the students the lyrics of this song along with some appropriate actions. You can get some inspiration from this YouTube clip.

Oh, The grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men;
He marched them up to the top of the hill,
And he marched them down again.

And when they were up, they were up,
And when they were down, they were down,
And when they were only half-way up,
They were neither up nor down.

When students get a hang of it, ask them to swap actions on up and down. So instead of pointing up when they say up, they should point down. Then ask them to do the actions without saying the words up and down. Finally ask them to do the reverse actions without saying up and down.

Bear hunt

The T starts this off by doing a call and response but students will get a hang of the chorus pretty quickly and after the second stanza, you’ll need to do call and response with just the new stanzas and not the chorus.  You’ll need to add appropriate actions – here’s a great video by the original author of the Bear Hunt, Michael Rosen (lyrics may differ a bit)

We’re goin’ on a bear hunt
We’re going to catch a big one,
I’m not scared
What a beautiful day!

Oh-no Grass!
Long wavy grass.
We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.
Oh no!
We’ve got to go through it!
Swishy swashy! Swishy swashy! Swishy swashy!

We’re going on a bear hunt…

A river!
A deep cold river.
We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.
Oh no!
We’ve got to go through it!
Splash splosh! Splash splosh! Splash splosh!

We’re going on a bear hunt…

Thick oozy mud.
We can’t go over it,
We can’t go under it.
Oh no!
We’ve got to go through it!
Squelch squerch! Squelch squerch! Squelch squerch!

We’re going on a bear hunt…

A forest!
A big dark forest.
We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.
Oh no!
We’ve got to go through it!
Stumble trip! Stumble trip! Stumble trip!

We’re going on a bear hunt…

A snowstorm!
A swirling whirling snowstorm.
We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.
Oh no!
We’ve got to go through it!
Hooo wooo! Hooo wooo! Hooo wooo!

We’re going on a bear hunt…

A cave!
A narrow gloomy cave.
We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.
We’ve got to go through it!
Tiptoe! Tiptoe! Tiptoe!
One shiny wet nose!
Two big furry ears!
Two big goggly eyes!

Back through the cave!
Tiptoe! Tiptoe! Tiptoe!
Back through the snowstorm!
Hoooo woooo! Hoooo woooo! Hoooo woooo!
Back through the forest!
Stumble trip! Stumble trip! Stumble trip!
Back through the mud!
Squelch squerch! Squelch squerch! Squelch squerch!
Back through the river!
Splash splosh! Splash splosh! Splash splosh!
Back through the grass!
Swishy swashy! Swishy swashy! Swishy swashy!

Back home!

Now comes the really fun part. Divide students into groups and ask them to come up with their versions. They’ll have to think of something to hunt and six places they will need to travel through and the actions that will accompany their song. As students get their song ready, give them chart paper, colours, glitter and miscellaneous craft supplies and ask them to draw the thing they’re hunting as well as their path through these six places. Each group then teaches their song to the rest of the students.

Living machine 

Students stand in a circle. Tell them that they’re going to construct a living machine.  A student goes into the middle of the circle and performs a repetitive action along with a sound. The other students join this student one by one and construct a living machine. Ask students to construct a new living machine, this time using more expansive gestures and actions.

Heads, shoulders, knees & toes

The facilitators used this classic action song to suggest that content could be taught through action songs. They first got us used to the song along with the actions:

Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes

Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes

And eyes and ears and mouth and nose

Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes

And then taught us the French version.

Tête, épaules, genoux pieds, genoux pieds

They elicited that to a child learning a language, this can sound like gibberish and that it might be important to isolate word and actions within the song. You continue doing the action (for example touching your head) while saying hmmm.

Hmmm, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes

Hmmm, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes

And eyes and ears and mouth and nose

Hmmm, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes


Heads, hmmm, knees and toes, knees and toes

Heads, hmmm, knees and toes, knees and toes

And eyes and ears and mouth and nose

Heads, hmmm, knees and toes, knees and toes


We then practised the French version with the hmmms before the facilitators asked us to come up with a Hindi version we could teach them. It was actually quite catchy – here are the words in Devanagari & IPA.

सर कंधे घुटने पैर घुटने पैर
/sʌɽ kʌnɖheː gʊtneː pɛ:ɽ gʊtneː pɛ:ɽ/

आंख और कान और मुंह और नाक
/aːŋkʰ oːr ka:n oːr mʊʰ oːr na:k/

We had a lot of time on our hands and this being multilingual India, we also tried our hand at heads, shoulders, knees and toes in Marathi and Tamil.

The extension activity involved working with our groups to come up our action song inspired by heads, shoulders, knees and toes to teach the facilitators something about India. We used the same tune to teach Indian states and capitals and pointing to different parts of our body as if it were a map of the country.

I like the flowers

Teach the students this song along with some actions. Here’s a YouTube clip for the tune.

I like the flowers

I like the daffodils

I like the mountains

I like the rolling hills

I like the fireside

When the lights are low

Singing ah doo wopa, doo wopa, doo wopa doo

Singing ah doo wopa, doo wopa, doo wopa doo

Divide the students into three groups and have them start singing in staggered way. As an extension activity, you can ask students to replace the nouns with ones of their own.

Green screen 

Any of the action songs that involve students creating and performing their own version can be coupled with a green screen recording.  Green screens are used in television studios to enable a computer to superimpose a background during production. They’re quite reasonably priced (around ₹500) like this one. Get students to select an image they’d like as a background and load this into an app on your phone or tablet such as Green Screen for iOS and voila you’ll have a video of students performing with an interesting backdrop. If you’d like to know more about using green screens, check out this video and this lovely showcase of what children can do with green screens.

While action songs are meant for YLs, I have a sneaky suspicion that I am going to be trying them out on my unsuspecting adult learners. 

Image attribution: Public domain


Text Inflator | Make your text wordier

Text inflator.jpg

Why would you use an online tool that makes your text wordier, right?  But there is possibly an instructional use waiting to be exploited. The text inflator injects unnecessary adjectives such as basically, essentially and literally along with multi-word phrases such as for all intents and purposes.

I reckon this site could be used in Business English and ESP contexts to get learners to explore how their writing might become unnecessarily wordy and it’s kinda fun. It could also be interesting in creative writing courses.

Text inflator.png

Pumping up the desperation metre can, however, render the text incoherent.

Here’s the link and don’t forget to read the disclaimer at the bottom of the page.