When stress is high, make time to sing
Shelly Ambury, Sing Up’s head of learning, and Charlotte Law, learning executive, give thoughtful advice to lighten the pressure of exam stress
It’s the time of year when teachers and pupils are preparing for exams and keeping the atmosphere positive, calm and stress-free can take some doing. It can seem like time spent singing isn’t the priority when the pressure is high.
However, singing is a great stress buster, a mood elevator and can relieve tension at high-pressure moments. Getting pupils to spend some time singing during these tough periods will be a really healthy release and yield great results.
Singing is one of the most positive forms of human activity and has a remarkable impact on health:
- One in 11 children receive treatment for asthma in the UK (Asthma UK, 2011)
- Singing helps strengthen respiratory and cardiovascular health
- Singing helps stimulate the brain. It lights up more areas of the brain than any other activity 
- Singing increases alertness and improves physical posture
- Singing reduces stress and enhances the immune system 
Taking care of pupils’ wellbeing should always be front of mind, but especially at times when they need it most, such as exam periods. Here are some simple warm-ups for supporting pupils and teachers will benefit too.
If pupils are feeling anxious think about the places in their bodies where they could be holding tension for instance the neck and shoulders, in the jaw or in their tummy.
- Take inspiration from the humble hoola hoop. Loosen your knees and do a slow-motion hoola hoop in both directions, letting the lower back sink low. Imagine moving the hoop up and down your body – starting at the waist work upwards adding the hoola motion to the torso then take it down to the waist, knees and ankles. With the imaginary hoop on one ankle can you do any tricks, for instance flicking the hoola hoop to the other ankle? Improvise your own hoola routines.
- Release tension in the neck, shoulders and jaw with yawning, gentle neck stretches, shoulder circling (forwards and backwards) and shoulder scrunches. Do circles with the head, down to the chest, round to the shoulder and back again (not tilting the head backwards). Small, gentle movements are just as effective as big ones. Chant a tongue twister to get the jaw moving.
- Get your singers to put their hands on their bellies to feel the movement of the breath in and out. Think of the belly like a balloon. If it’s got air in, it will be fuller. When you breathe out it will get flatter. Breathe in through the nose for a count of five and breathe out through the mouth for a count of five. Repeat a few times trying to increase the length of the inhale and exhale.
If there is a lot of nervous energy and pupils are agitated and unsettled, you’ll want to use an activity to calm and refocus their energies. Games and sing-alongs are a brilliant distraction and will lighten the mood. Have a try of these ideas:
- Ask everyone to close their eyes and try to stamp (or clap) at the same time as each other. They will need to pay attention and use sensory perception to try and feel when to stamp. Repeat a few times. As pupils begin to concentrate their sense of unison should improve.
- Action songs such as ‘Hey, my name is Joe’ (Button factory), Shake My Sillies Out or clapping games like ‘Four White Horses’ will help pupils laugh, a sure-fire way of increasing serotonin levels. Remember the sillier the better – you’re giving pupils an opportunity to let off steam and relax.
- Sing well-known songs that pupils already know and enjoy singing. You could ask them for a list of their favourites in a secret ballot and see if any favourites emerge across the group. Keep it informal – it’s not about achieving a quality performance.
A physical warm-up in combination with a song will energise pupils, put them at ease and help them feel good about themselves. It doesn’t need to take long, and a five minute brain break at the start, midpoint or end of lessons/revision session will do.
You might even want to include a short warm-up before or after an exam. Encourage them to sing in their own time so the benefits and the feel-good impact carries on and this applies to teachers too.
- For more about starting a choir, the benefits, tips and tricks, read here
- If you are working with students going through their GCSE exams, we have more advice here
- Get everything you need to become a singing school with The Singing School Handbook
- Tweet @singshelly, @SingUpchar and @SingUpTweets to continue the conversation
Sing Up makes transformative change happen in schools to enhance children’s development and learning through the power of singing. Developed by teachers for teachers, we have been supporting singing schools for over a decade, and today Sing Up is used around the world.
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