CD Review ~ Super Simple SongsAlmost certainly the best song CDs for EFL very young learners.
Super Simple Songs consists of three CDs, available separately, which have twenty or so action songs each. Most of the songs are original or adapted from their traditional versions to make them super simple- exactly as their name would suggest! While having “Great for ESL!” written on their covers might make you think they are just adaptable for our kinds of classes, I’m guessing from how well they work and the fact that they come from Japan that they were actually designed for EFL classes of two to eight year olds and the publishers are just trying to expand their appeal outside that limited market. Having said that, my own English-speaking daughter loves some of the songs and The Bath Song (CD 1) has become part of our evening routine.
The way I always review young learner song CDs (and select which songs to use in class) is to listen through them and mark them with three, two or one tick for excellent, very good, or good, plus maybe add a few scribbled comments. Other tracks get a question mark for “Not sure if this will work” or “Need adapting, if I ever have time” or a cross for ones I’m sure I will never use with any of my classes. Annoyingly bad ones get a double cross. Super Simple Songs 3 was probably the first time I’ve ever given a collection of EFL songs so many ticks. Favourites included Hello Hello, Open Shut Them (and Other Opposites), We All Fall Down, Do You Like Broccoli Ice Cream?, The Pinocchio, and Five Little Pumpkins.
In my opinion, the most important thing for an EFL song, even in our multimedia age, is that you can do actions that make the meanings of the majority of words absolutely clear and keep the kids involved. That is true of almost all the songs on these CDs. My favourites added catchy tunes, added excitement (e.g. going fast and slow), practice of language that I hadn’t seen elsewhere and fits in well with these ages (e.g. “tiptoe” and “yawning”), and/or fitting in with important stages of the lesson like saying hello and clearing up. Examples of simplification include stripping “left” and “right” out of the Hokey Pokey, and examples of including extra language in traditional songs include “Put it on your chin” in One Little Finger and “If you’re scared scared scared say ‘Oh no!’” for If You’re Happy and You Know It.
Favourites from Super Simple Songs 1 included Walking Walking (an absolute favourite with one class of 8 year olds) and the song to accompany the fabulous Big Green Monster storybook. Super Simple Songs 2 only scored three ticks once, with Rock Paper Scissors Fingerplay, and was generally my least favourite of the three CDs.
The tracks I was least fond of included chants and some songs that were more spoken than sung. In these tracks, the singers’ efforts to make up for the lack of inherent interest by putting even more energy and exaggeration into their voices did grate with me a bit, but luckily this is only a small proportion of any of the three CDs. My other main complaint was that having two versions of the same song was theoretically a good idea but here added little and seemed a bit like padding. Super Simple Songs 2 was guiltiest of these things, but I’ve known plenty of collection from other publishers who have scored lower on my tick scale.
Most of the other songs got one tick from me, or at least a question mark. There were a few traditional ones that I already had useable versions of, and a couple of times when the simplification might actually strip out a source of extra language- although I am still undecided on that point. Otherwise, these are the best collections of songs I have come across, and much better value than textbook CDs or other song CDs from the big publishers. I’d probably buy Super Simple Songs 3 first, but if I had come across these a couple of years earlier in my very young learner teaching career any of them would have been absolute lifesavers. The booklets don’t include any instructions on how to use the songs (vital for songs like Eensey Weensey Spider), but the accompanying free Super Simple Learning website is a great resource even for those who don’t have the CDs.