Fluency MC Song and Video Activity Book
You Have It In You
You don’t much like to sing in class and neither do your young adult learners. Last time you ran a Saturday Singing Club in Ethiopia, you got as far as teaching Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, and without doubt, your students wholeheartedly sang the chorus with you*. Since Ethiopians practise a Christian religion that is older than Coptic Christianity, this sounded like a solid result but the issues remained. It was difficult to find culturally appropriate songs that were easy to understand, and hammered home a certain grammar point or contained high-frequency collocations (with Simon and Garfunkel’s El Condor Pasa being a blissful exception). Having listened and discarded dozens of songs, all you do these days at the Catholic University of Cuenca is play your favourite songs on YouTube as your students gather for their class at seven in the morning looking like zombies and just about ready to hum along.
And then comes Fluency MC. He pops up everywhere in the ELT world and you can’t but listen to his YouTube videos. Jason R. Levine (aka Fluency MC) started teaching English with music in 1998 and has been writing his own songs for almost ten years. The Song and Video Activity Book for English teachers contains 12 videos (nine of his popular songs and three that are not available on YouTube) that present such varied topics and grammar points as phrasal verbs, have + noun collocations, cultural aspects (Thanksgiving), collocations with make and do as well as an astonishingly rich collocational vocabulary for the verb get. Levine is venturing into areas that normally do not lend themselves to hip hop and rapping along, such as the science lesson on water or the reinforcing of IELTS and TOEFL academic exam level verbs and collocations.
A sure sign of success is that you find yourself watching all the videos at a stretch and by Unit 3 you happily rap along and tap your feet. But then again, this is a natural process because, as the author says, “The desire for repetitive input is instinctive.” There is no doubt that rhythm and rhymes, as well as the kinaesthetic element that go with them, help language retention and when the videos also contain perfectly timed and evocative images, the mix is irresistible.
The Activity Book contains a wealth of ideas on how the material can be exploited. The procedures and activities are straightforward while being flexible. Students can watch the video and listen to the audio, but it makes sense the other way round, too. They can read the lyrics before, during and after listening to the song. One of the most helpful features of the material is that the stress is marked in bold; no messing around with the hyphens of the International Phonetic Alphabet. It is a powerful visual tool that helps students practice pronouncing not just individual words, but “chunks” as well as whole sentences. The gap-fill activities will certainly work well, especially in a competitive setting. There is room for creativity, too: students can write an extra verse or write their own songs.
Those who buy the book and the (optional) Media Pack gain access to 36 mp3 files (with vocal, instrumental and slow-tempo acapella versions for each song), and can watch the 12 videos as well as use the teachers’ area to comment and exchange ideas with other English teachers. The author emphasizes that teachers have permission to photocopy the lyrics of the songs but only for their students.
I hope that, in due course, there will be a further, expanded version of the book. I already have a contender for No 13. Jason recently recorded “Give it your all”, a song for Heart ELT** which supports projects in refugee camps and volunteer teachers. Madeleine Boxberger accompanies him on the track and their intertwining voices, the images and the lyrics tug at your heart whether you are obsessed with the global refugee crisis or not. It talks about having faith, believing that “You can do it, because you’ve got what it takes.” Madeleine’s sweet, angelic voice makes it sound like it is your inner self talking to you, reinforcing the positive messages about trusting and relying on your best skills. Lovely examples of using have, do, and get, the grammarian would say.
The songs contained in the present activity book also reiterate what the author believes in: namely, that undue stress gets in the way of learning, that peace and respect are key words in a world where there is less and less of both. I would add on the “hemline”, the one that connects the heart and the mind, and in that order. For me, Levine’s most memorable song of the twelve is No 11 that explores the story of a young man (possibly of colour), who leaves the life of trouble, fights and drugs behind to get a university degree. Will he get sucked back into his old life when his mother gets ill and he goes home to be with her and his buddies? Well, you will have to listen…
Jason’s book is available here:
*How timely for the memory, you could say. Leonard Cohen died on 7th November 2016.