IN THE COMING weeks every local primary school in Hong Kong will receive a free copy of a book worth singing about. Let's Sing, containing a collection of more than 60 songs and chants and 50 language learning activities, is the result of a year-long project undertaken by the English Department at the Hong Kong Institute of Education (HKIEd). But this is not just another song book. It really is something to sing about. 'Our aim is to enhance language development in the classroom by assimilating language as a whole,' said project leader Ruth Kivela. 'Textbooks tend to focus on structure and grammar in a very targeted way. We want to stimulate learning by providing enjoyable and fun songs and chants that use active participation and repetition to develop positive attitudes to language learning.' The project is designed to reinforce the experience dimension of Hong Kong's task-based curriculum. 'The use of song, rhythm and rhyme deals with the creative and expressive aspects [of the curriculum]; being able to use language to express emotions, feel emotions and develop creativity and not just processing information,' Dr Kivela said. She believes the government's encouragement of expressive and creative education is a significant initiative. 'This aspect of the curriculum is quite weak in Hong Kong schools. There is too much emphasis on completing the syllabus and there is pressure from above to teach for exam success. 'The experience dimension always seems to be squeezed out by other requirements that seem to be more important. But research shows that these kinds of activities are just as effective as formal language instruction. We need a combination of approaches: a balance,' she said. This is borne out, she said, by the fact that some of the language activities written to be used in conjunction with the songs and chants are to do with grammar, writing and reading comprehension. But Dr Kivela is keen to point out that many involve craft and drama activities as well as other practical exercises. The institute trains teachers for local schools who are being encouraged to use all kinds of children's literature in their practice. 'We look at the whole range including the type of thing found in our book and rhymes, poetry, limericks and tongue twisters,' she said. A practical demonstration of the Let's Sing project's success is provided with the book. A set of VCD and CD discs of students from five local schools, including HKIEd's own school, performing the material is provided in the package. As well as mainly traditional songs and chants for younger students, a number of original lyrics have been written by project team members especially for the Hong Kong context. This includes a punchy piece about tourists by Phil Glenwright, a senior lecturer and writer of the original proposal for the project. Production of the discs was time consuming and not without difficulty. Dr Kivela tells how team members had to work with the schools' music teachers to tutor the students to get the pronunciation and intonation of the pieces to the standard required for a general publication. 'There was an enormous amount of collaboration and enthusiasm, but it was quite a tricky logistical exercise.' Students were finally bussed to HKIEd's multimedia studio for filming and recording. The schools will be rewarded with extra copies of the book and gift certificates. These aural and visual aids make using the book easier for teachers with little or no musical ability or confidence to incorporate the songs and chants into their lessons. 'This is very important,' Dr Kivela said. 'Otherwise the books will simply lie on the shelves and gather dust.' And that would be a waste of money. Funding for the project came by way of a $150,000 grant from the HKIEd's Special Projects and Initiatives Funding Committee. The project team hopes to receive feedback about the book's practical use in schools. 'We have invited all staff members who use the material to let us know how things go. Both positive and negative feedback comments are welcome,' Dr Kivela said. Already initial feedback from colleagues and their children has been encouraging. Anybody wanting a copy of the book will be able to purchase it at cost price at HKIEd's campus bookshop. 'It should cost about HK$50,' Dr Kivela said. 'But the shop will add 10 per cent. That's really good value for money.' The large format book has nearly 200 pages, is sturdily bound and is attractively illustrated with line drawings and black and white photographs. If successful, Dr Kivela hopes the model may be extended. 'Maybe we will look at producing a book of plays. The idea of teacher-friendly resources that are easily photocopiable is an attractive one. Teachers are very busy nowadays,' she said.