Issue 19: Mega Whole-Class Singing Activity – Singing Playgrounds

On the website,, is a set of playground singing games called “Singing Playgrounds”, which is a wonderful resource for at least half a term’s work.

At its simplest level, there are five songs to sing through, which all work together as partner songs and have games and actions to go with them..

“Concentration” is a circle game which is a opportunity to learn the children’s names,

“John Kanakanaka” is a simple partner action song,

“Eh Memarie” is another circle game,

“Here Comes Sally” will become a wildly popular playground game,

“Tancszmy Labada” is another circle game.

The genius part is that as my colleagues and I started teaching the songs, between us we developed a complete
program of linking the games and the songs into a great long performance as follows. Don’t panic – the long, long explanation that is coming up is much easier to follow than it looks. I have done this now about a dozen times in different schools, and it has been one of the most popular activities ever.

Week 1 – teach “Concentration”. The tune is very simple, so it is likely that the children will be able to play it on whatever instruments are around – percussion, keyboards, clarinets, etc. Instructions for the game are on

Week 2 – teach “John Kanakanaka”; This is a call and response shanty, and the opportunity to create new words for the call. The actions I use require the children to stand facing a partner. They do a “dos-si-dos” during “I heard, I heard, the old man say” and also “Today, today’s a holiday”. Stamp on John, pat knees for each syllable of “Kanakanaka”, clap own hands for each syllable of “Too-li” and partner’s hands for “ay”.

Week 3 – teach “Eh Memarie” as a circle game (I have heard of other versions of this game, eg “hot potato, pass it on” and even a Brownie version which I am assured by these particular Brownies is called “pass the bogey” – but you might not want to share this particular factlet with the children. The children stand in a circle, hands palms up, each child’s left hand under their neighbour’s right hand, and their right hand over their neighbour’s left hand. The person who starts, pats their own right hand over onto their left-hand-neighbour’s right hand, who repeats the movement so that the “pat” travels clock-wise round the circle in time to the pulse (now you know why another name for the game is “pass the bogey”.) When you sing “one-two-three”, whoever is supposed to receive the “pat” on the word “three” snatches their hand away, so that the patter pats their own two hands together.

Week 4 – teach “Here comes Sally” – The children make two lines with an alley between them. Label one side “Sally” and the other side  “The Other”. In the first section, (“Here comes Sally”) the top person from the “Sally” line goes down the alley, doing a funny walk.I always get them to join the end of the “other” line, so that they swap ides. In the next section (“Here comes the other one”) the top person from the ” Other” line copies the way Sally went down the alley (and then joins the Sally side, to swap sides). You continue with the song; the children will soon put actions to the words; for example we clap hands on the word “whup”. (Shy children can be directed to nip down to the bottom of their line, thus avoiding having to have a go until they are more confident)

Week 5 – teach “Tancszmy Labada” – be warned – it took me most of the week beforehand to get my tongue round the words! This is how I play this game; the children stand in a circle and I stand in the centre. After the first time through the song, I call out “have we done walking?” Response “no”, so we repeat the song, all walking round
in the circle. Then I call “have we done walking?” “yes!”. “Have we done hopping?” “No!”, so we repeat the verse, all hopping round. Then I call “Have we done walking?”  “Yes” “Have we done hopping?” “Yes” “Have we done kangaroo jumps” “No” We all kangaroo jump round, while jerkily singing the song. “Have we done walking” “yes” “Have we done kangaroo jumps”  There is a chorus of “you’ve missed out hopping”. So, becuase I made a mistake in reciting the list of actions in the correct order, I am out. A new leader is chosen – I do this by holding out my hand and pointing at the children, slowly turning round with my eyes apparently closed to “randomly” choose someone “suitable”.

I have been assuming that each week you have been revising the previous songs and games. Now for the grand performance stage 1;

Week 6 –  the tricky bit – putting the first part together

Explain that you are going to link all the games togethe. Listen to the performance track so you know how it
works. Before you do all the songs with actions, you need to get organised!

Arrange the children in two concentric circles facing each other, so they all have partners for “John Kanakanaka”.

Practice getting the hands sorted to make outer and inner rings for “Eh memarie”. You want the inner ring of children to stay facing their partners rather than turning round. It’s a little awkward but not impossible. Choose who starts the game off for each circle.

Define one circle as “Sally”, and the other as “The other”; choose one person to be Sally, and their partner to be “The Other”. They will go round between the two circles when we get to that song.

Explain that in “Tancszmy Labada”  we will be doing “walking” – if things are going really well, you might be able to get the circles to go in opposite directions – practise this first!


do all the songs with their actions in order; “concentration” actions are now pat thighs, clap, click, click, “John
K” actions with partner in opposite circle, “concentration”, “Eh memarie” in two circles facing each other, “concentration”, “Here comes Sally” with Sally going through alley between the two circles and back to his/her place, followed by “The Other”, “concentration”, “Tancszmy” with both circles walking round, “concentration” and HIT THE PAUSE BUTTON. Stop there for this week.

Week – 7 the songs all work together as partner songs, as you will have realised. So, to do the whole performance, I arrange for the children to divide into four groups, roughly according to the quadrants of a circle. It helps if there is some easy way – like floor markings or maybe features like posters on the wall to act as reference points. having done all the actions as above, the children now stand in their four groups. They won’t necessarily know which group they are in until they get to this part of the performance, which is why they need some kind of visual reference to know what they have to do. Each group is allocated a song. All sing “Concentration”over and over until their song starts; group 1 will organise themselves into pairs and sing and play “John Kanakanaka”; and will carry on doing it until the end. Group 2 sing “Concentration” over and over until it is time for “Eh Memarie”; then they sing and play that. Group 3 need to be ready for “Here come Sally”, and finally Group 4 start “Tanczmy Labada”.

You will probably need to listen to this section of the performance recording several times to get the hang of it; if the children sit down at the end of the first part, and then mime what they should be doing they will son catch on.

And more…..

I have used all or some of the tunes of the songs with treble and descant recorders, clarinets, and keyboard
roups depending on the expertise of each group; I just transpose the tunes into whatever key best suits the instrumental group I am working with.


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