Mimes and Music

My last post touched upon the use of mimes in the MFL classroom, and I thought you might like to know a bit more about this technique. The idea is certainly not my own, it is part of what we were trained to do on our PGCE (at St Martin’s Lancaster, now University of Cumbria).

When we were first thrown into the world of the PGCE (a world which I seemed to have lived in very intensely for 9 months of my life!) we introduced ourselves to each other through a variety of ‘icebreaker’ style games, and before the first week was done we had all created our own songs with lyrics talking about what we had learnt that first week, namely visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners (VAK). I will never forget some of my classmates bouncing around the room to the tune of “YMCA” but changing the lyrics to “V – A – K” (with the A needing to be held for two beats in order to make it work). If I remember correctly, my group and I created a song to the tune of “Mambo Number Five”, but for the life of me cannot remember our lyrics…anyway, I digress. This first week of the course was to reflect very accurately how the rest of the course would go: we would dance, we would sing and we would bounce around the room (a very close friend of mine suggests that all trainee teachers should do a “shoe test” before purchasing a new pair of school shoes – can you bounce around and sing in them? Can you do the register routine in them? If not, don’t buy ’em!). The song writing was tough (as the course would be) and we worked with people we didn’t know very well (sort of like our experience on placement) but ultimately we got the job done, and we had lots of fun along the way.

Why am I telling you about our song creating? Well, because not only did we sing, but we mimed as well. When we first began teaching, it was done in small groups, to our peers. The very same peers that we had made fools of ourselves to during that first week. No one had any inhibitions left anymore! We also experienced being taught Italian in the way in which we were training to teach, and again, this made a lasting impression upon the group – we can all to this day still sing the Free Time activities song to a well-known (you can listen to me attempting it here). Naturally, the song came with its very own set of actions to help us remember the vocabulary, and to remember the question. And this was how we taught our very first practice session. The question (CQ – aka contextualising question) had mimes for nearly every word – a giant question symbol drawn in the air to represent the word “What”, a mime to represent the verb (a fist closed over the middle of the chest for “to have”, or over the heart for “to like” or a finger moving like a bee to represent the verb “to be”) and many other words to represent whatever needed to be represented.

As the class then learnt the language we were introducing, a mime was used for the beginning structure of the sentence, and a mime for each piece of vocabulary. Let me explain this more clearly – Spanish is used as the example, with one  masculine and one feminine pet:

¿Qué animal tienes?: Giant question mark in the air, claws going through the air and then point at someone.
Tengo…un perro: Hold up ten fingers, then mime running (TEN – GO), mime a dog (this could be a tail wag, or ears wagging or putting your ‘paws’ up in front of you – let the pupils decide the mimes sometimes, it allows them more of a sense of ownership over their learning. If more than one pupil comes up with a good idea, make the class vote as to which one they want to use, and you can even encourage to them to say why they want each one……porque es una buena idea, porque es interesante, porque no es muy interesante, porque no es obvio etc)

Tengo…una serpiente: Hold up ten fingers, then mime a snake (I usually move my arm in a slithering manner, towards the pupils, making an emphasis on the sssss sound). To emphasise this is a feminine word I may slip in a girly courtsey between the two actions.

When pupils have been introduced to the language visually (on the board/OHP), auditory (saying it a few times) and kinesthetically (with the action), and once they have been introduced to a few of these new words (three or four at a  time) they can then use these actions to complete pair work practice activities, where one pupil can mime the item, and the other has to guess it. Of course, this can get a bit boring if it is done too many times, so the *game* can be made a bit more fun by doing the action so fast that the pupil needs to ask the other one to do it again, but slower, or to do it again but faster. These miming games are great as a full class game as a drilling activity, with the teacher (or a pupil) leading at the front, or in pairs, as I have described.

It is also a good idea to develop a repertoire of mimes for other key languages – propositions, linking words etc, and as the class learns with you, you can end up getting the pupils to say a whole text, just through mimes!

Here are some of my favourite mimes  for Spanish:

hay – point to eye

soy – point to self

con – link two hands together with all fingers, but without the thumb

porqué – roll hands over each other, miming a ‘forward’ action. It is supposed to represent the drum roll type sound of the poRRRRRque.

por que – roll hands over as above, but stop early and place your left hand out, palm up to represent the QUE.

Personal pronouns: – yo – point at self, – point at a pupil, él – draw an L in the air or point with thumb of right hand towards the right, ella – point with thumb of left hand to the left, nosotros – point at self and then at the class in a grouping motion, vosotros – point like for tú and repeat, ellos -as for él repeated, ellas – as for ella repeated.

I also use these in French:

Avec – mime saying a prayer (and you can say the word a bit like Amen- “Ahhhh-vec”)

Je suis – point at self

J’ai – point at self with right hand, and slide the pointed finger across your chest to the right, simulation the elongated sounds of j’aaaiiiiiiii). This is meant to help distinguish between J’ai and Je.

Je n’aime pas -fist over heart, then the hand comes away and makes a cutting motion horizontally through the air for the negative.

Personal pronouns: – je–  point at self, tu – point at a pupil, il – eel/snake motion with hand, elle – L shape in air, nous – point at self and then at others in a grouping motion, vous – same as for tu then repeated, ils – use two hands to make the eel/snake motion, elles – draw to Ls in the air with both hands at the same time.

Il y a – snake motion from the sound “eel” and then karate chop for “y a”

I have some mimes that can be used for both languages. Some of  these are:

Me gusta/J’aime – fist over heart

to do – make a fist with each hand, bounce the right hand on top of the left hand (little finger touches thumb of the other hand) – this is actually the BSL sign for the verb

a/á – bend my thumb back, pretending it hurts. This also links into BSL as the vowels are represented by touching each finger, so the second finger would be E, the middle finger I and so on.

This post is entitled Mimes and Music, because although I have mentioned making up songs to well-known tunes in order to practise the language learnt in lessons, I also think music can be used effectively in other ways. If you would like a calming atmosphere, play a calming song, or alternatively, use fast music to speed up what pupils are doing. My favourites include the 30 second countdown clock, Scott Joplin´s Maple Leaf Rag or  the theme tune to Benny Hill. I also love playing sounds for pupils to guess vocabulary (this works for animals but not for everything!) and I also like sounds to represent correct and incorrect: for these I use the sounds from the Family Fortunes TV program. On twitter recently I have also heard the idea of using the QI Incorrect noise for a lesson on common mistakes. If you find the audio for this please let me know where, as I would love to use it in the classroom!



  1. Pingback: SLASPs and Inspiration « The LanguagesResources Blog

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