Matt Richelson makes some excellent points about the power of music in the EFL classroom in his recent article, “Teaching Young Learners With Songs.” I use music and movement daily with young learners in the English classroom. Let me add a few more suggestions that can assist you in using these powerful tools to teach English to your students.
1. Choose a chant or song that matches your curriculum or lesson goals. There are many chants and songs written to teach specific vocabulary, everyday language, or even grammar concepts. I especially look for chants and songs with ample repetition or patterns that make them easy to learn. As Matt points out, a good chant or song will stick in a child’s heads (and yours!).
2. Believe in your students’ ability to learn the intended content. I was once asked to teach a song that I thought was beyond the ability of my students. I decided they would enjoy it just by listening to the CD and marching. Soon a few students started singing along! I found myself able to sing it as well. As I taught it to other classes, my belief that they could learn the song made it easy for all to learn.
Give students opportunities to hear the music on the CD and move with it before expecting them to sing along. Learn small “chunks” of the song. If you believe they can learn it, soon every student will be able to sing the song with confidence.
3. Use your picture cards to reinforce the language in the song. Perhaps you are familiar with rebus books? Pictures are used in place of words. To use this as a teaching strategy, organize the picture cards on the board to follow the chant or song you are using. Write the rest of the words (usually just a few) next to the pictures. For example, if you are teaching shapes you might sing, “I See A Star.”(from Magic Time 1). Write out “I see a ____” and then place the picture card for “star” after the words. You can even write a period after the picture card. This strategy helps children who learn best through pictures. It can also help students visualize the patterns in a chant or song.
4. Use movement. Most young learners love to move. It’s a natural way for them to learn. They can make shapes with their fingers, arms, or whole bodies. They can create movements for verbs, or act out nouns or adjectives. Movement can be varied by moving in one place, with a partner, taking turns with a group, or even moving around the classroom. My secret to using movement has been to play the “Move and Stop” game early on. For this activity, students do the movement you select (such as “jump”) in one place until you call out “stop!” Praise those children who set a good example by stopping after the movement and remaining still.
5. Use repetition, but in varied ways. Children learn language in many ways, such as through picture cards, a chant or song, and movement. You can add more variation by changing the way you say the words. Practice words by saying them slowly, then quickly. Say them loudly, then quietly. Use character voices (a mouse, a giant) — whatever your students may be interested in. You can add these variations to chants and songs, too. Children need a variety of strategies to get enough exposure to language. At first many children are just listening; later they are singing, moving, and speaking in English.
6. Now practice the target language through other activities such as games, role play, or individualized activities. Songs and chants give students ample opportunities to hear language and practice it as a group. When students play games or do role play, they now use the language individually and speak with natural intonation. Children can then personalize the language through artwork or small group activities.
7. Celebrate! The last thing I do in my classes is review the chant or song from the day’s lesson. Children have had time to process the language in many different ways. Now it’s easier for them to chant or sing. It’s a nice way for parents or teachers to see what the children have been working on.
Music and movement have proven to be very effective in the English language classroom. These seven strategies can turn your language lesson into a joyful and memorable experience for your students, while creating opportunities for real learning.
Kathleen Kampa is passionate about creating a “magical” learning environment for young learners. She has been teaching children for over 25 years in Japan and America using music, movement, and multiple intelligences strategies. She and her husband Charles Vilina are the co-authors of “Magic Time,” a starter level English course that uses these strategies, published by Oxford University Press.
Note from Kathy: I‘m wondering if you can help me out. My thesis research is investigating the use of music and movement in teaching English to young learners. I’m looking for teachers who are working with young learners who could answer this survey. I’m collecting data through mid-June. If you, or any of your colleagues would be willing to do this, I’d greatly appreciate it.