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!