Teaching Young Learners with Songs (by Matt Richelson)

Barbara was so kind to ask me to write about how to use songs with young learners.  I have learned a lot from teaching English using songs, and I am happy to share what I know.

I have a background in music, and bringing music into the classroom has been very natural for me.  What if you don’t have a musical background? Don’t worry!  You do not have to be a great singer, or musician to use songs with kids. Just be enthusiastic!

If you are new to using songs you may think, why songs? Songs are great for many reasons. The melodies help the words stick into children’s heads. Have you ever had a song stuck in your head you couldn’t get out? The rhythm of the songs helps the children speak in a natural flow.  Simply put, they are great practice! Also, many ESL and EFL songs nowadays have built in actions and activities.  So when we sing “I brush my teeth”, then we can do the action while we sing. This combination of singing, and doing actions really helps stimulate the memory of the child. Oh, and it is fun!

So here are my tips on how to use music with young learners in the English classroom:

1. Pick the right kind of song: Twinkle, Twinkle is nice, but there are so many lyrics that it might be confusing. I recommend using songs written specifically to teach ESL to children. Some of my favorite authors of children’s songs for learning English are Carolyn Graham, Genki English, and Super Simple Songs. I also have my own songs for teaching Children, which you can read more about below. Here is an example of my students singing one of my songs that I think is appropriate for young English learners:

2.  If it is a new song introduce it slowly: Play it as the kids are coming into the room, and play it while the students are doing other activities. Get them used to the song before they even begin to sing it.

3. Teach the lyrics of the song by using materials like flash cards or books: If you teach the words, “I brush my teeth” and you can reinforce this with images and actions it will really help the students understand the meaning. Understanding, in my opinion, leads to better singing. To this end, play some games with the flash cards, drill them, get the children used to the vocabulary before you sing it.

4. Teach the song slowly at first, if possible use meaningful gestures: If  you are teaching the ABC song, it may be hard to use gestures for every letter with young learners. You may just want to make up a simple dance. If you are teaching a song with easy to do actions, teach the actions with the lyrics.

5. Play the song, and give it a try! You do not have to worry if your students will sing the song perfectly the first time, or even the second time. Just have fun with it, and they will follow along at their own pace. Continue to use the same songs week after week, and eventually the students will sing them. Of course it is nice to change it up, but I use the same Hello and Goodbye song every lesson! It is like my theme song. Some T.V. shows do not change the theme songs for years on end, so why should you?

6. Play games that deal with the vocabulary in the song: Reinforce the vocabulary learned in the song with language games. This is a great way to review and see if the students really understand what you are teaching them.

You can see how it is easy to make a full lesson out of just one song: Introduce the song and vocab. Sing the song slowly. Sing a song with a CD if available, and finally play some language games to review the language. That is how I run my classes with young learners. Songs, songs songs! These are just some ideas to get you started, I hope you find them helpful! Happy Singing!

Matt Richelson is the creator of DreamEnglish.com a website with children’s songs and materials to learn English. Matt is also the author of the music in Circle Time a three level Book/Workbook/CD/Animation series published by Bonding Education. His songs are also featured in the Big Step English Text Book Series available soon from Maddso Publishing. You can visit Matt’s website here, join the discussion on Facebook or check out his twitters here. Thanks Barbara for the opportunity!

  1. Thanks for these tips, Matt! I love using songs with my young learners, and my not-so-young learners. Gestures and movement make a huge difference in helping children remember lyrics.

    Since a lot of the songs I use also reinforce conversation and grammar patterns, the actions are also great short cuts to help them remember the language they’re learning in class.

    I agree with you on the idea of using songs specifically written for young language learners. I know there are different camps of thought on this, but when I only have 45 minutes a week, I don’t want to spend it teaching language (posey, water spout, etc.) that won’t be of immediate use :-)

    Great, clear approach. I love the Monkey song, and the children are adorable!

    • Thank you, Barbara! I am in the same boat, I see my students once a week so I have to get right to the point.

      I’m glad you like the Monkey song, those kids are some of my favorite to teach. They are in a rare situation in this part of Japan where the principal of the school has the children watch and listen to English CD’s and DVD’s everyday. So they love practicing English!

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Teaching Young Learners with Songs (by Matt Richelson) – Teaching Village -- Topsy.com

  3. Hi Matt and Barbara,

    Thanks for your contributions. It’s been great following your posts!

    As for the use of songs in a language class, I consider it an indispensable tool for children and older learners alike. Whatever form they come in (authentic or ‘tailor made’), they truely encourage memorisation, natural learning, establish good phonological habits and, most important of all, they promote language in use. All in one!
    Reserved learners may still be a teacher’s concern. They seem to take longer to open up and sing but, subconsiously and gradually, they still learn and manage to establish good habits at their own pace.

    Thanks for the Monkey song, Matt. It’s very sweet!
    And Barbara, thanks for hosting so many useful posts!

    • Hi Helena,

      Thanks! I am glad you like the post. That is a nice point about students establishing habits at their own pace. It is definitely something to be aware of as a teacher, in order to know when to hold back, and when to push a student.

      I’m glad you like the Monkey song!

  4. Pingback: uberVU - social comments

  5. Matt,

    Great tips. Simple and direct. Wonderful for those first taking a swing at the teaching thing or even for those of us still learning….(we all are).

    I really like 5. Even with stories too. I’ve seen too many teachers “kill” the kid’s curiousity and involvement with a song/story by “teaching it”. Just give it a go and discover. You can tidy up the sandbox afterward.

    thanks again,

    David

    • Thanks, David!

      Good point with stories. I think it is true that you can just get going with something, and you might be surprised with what students know. If they don’t seem to understand, then you can take a step back and assess. I do find with songs though if the students understand what they are singing, they have more confidence as they sing.

      Thanks for the comments!

  6. My favorite tip is 4. Kids never get bored when they can move around. I love using songs in my classroom and still do even though my daughter tells me not to sing in public ;)

    • Hi Anita! Nice blog post. It is a nice idea to ask the students to bring in English music they like, especially the older students. I may try to use even more background music and see how it goes. Thanks!

  7. Matt,

    Thanks for bringing to the fore-front something that is constantly being put on the back-burner. Music is often the first to go when it comes to budget cuts, but when given the opportunity to create a song, write the lyrics, and perform it, the kids really have fun. I just wish that more people would realize the value of music in education and learning.

    Catherine

    • Hello Catherine,

      Thank you for your nice comments. Please thank Barbara for the great idea to write the post. I agree that music is very important in education. I think it is really unfortunate if budget constraints hold back this tradition in school. I do think that with the many great materials on the internet, and our own voices, we can help spread the music!

      Thank you!
      Matt

  8. Pingback: Music and Movement for Young English Learners (by Kathleen Kampa and Charles Vilina) – Teaching Village

  9. hello Matt!
    i really love your songs and chants..I’m a preschool english teacher here in China… Before i start my class i always show them the videos and they really like it…The kids are indeed learning in a more interesting way…i am looking forward to more videos…thank you very much..

    • Hello miss Shila, would i get ur email address? I want to know what are u felling when you teach your syudents.

    • I am a student but i really love children songs…. and i love to teach songs for my little brother,, he is really enjoy and fun with that.

  10. I just wanted to let you know that you are very special to an boy with Autism who I am working with. He gets so excited when he watches your video’s. He is mostly non-verbal. He comes out with words out of the blue. He has been repeating many of your songs and also hand gestures and sign language. Both his school and I have been working on sign language with him but since he started watching you, he has been using more signs. I hope you keep making more videos. Please keep children with Autism in mind. His siblings also enjoy watching you.

    I am a EECE teaching student and I have learned a lot from your video’s. I am sure your students have a blast in your classroom.