Using music and English songs in the ESL classroom
К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2011
Автор: Осколкова А. А.
When students make
a major breakthrough in learning, it is music to a teacher's ears. There is
nothing more rewarding for a teacher, than seeing their students enjoy the
results of their work while they learn. The same can be said for students.
Students, who are taught in a fun and creative way, love attending classes.
Using music and songs in the classroom is a great way for teachers to achieve
success with second language learners (L2) learners .
Benefits of using music
Have you ever
heard of anyone who doesn't like music? Some people may not like art, dancing,
reading, or movies, but almost everyone likes one kind of music or another.
Most people like many different kinds of music. Studies have shown that music
backs up the learning process in the following way :
• It improves
concentration (when students listen to different kinds of music while
• It improves
memory (students remember the material better while associating it with certain
• It brings a
sense of community to a group (after listening to several music samples
students may make their own choice together);
• It motivates
learning (students are aware of that education is not only drilling and
remembering a lot of things but also it can be very pleasant);
• It relaxes
people who are overwhelmed or stressed (of course, music must be applied only
at specific class periods but not during the whole period);
• It makes
learning funny (the spirit of the lesson will depend also on the kind of music);
• It helps
learners absorb the material (music stimulates students’ mental activity so they
Techniques for using Music with L2 Learners
There are a
variety of different ways to use music in the classroom. Some teachers prefer
to use background music and others use music lyrics as the basis of a lesson. Music
can be used to:
• introduce a new
theme or topic (for example: Christmas/colors/feelings, etc.);
• break the ice in
a class where students don't know each other or are having difficulty
communicating (at the first class or when you have a multi-national class);
• change the mood
(liven things up or calm things down);
• teach and build
vocabulary and idioms (here also a teacher may practice chanting with students);
• review the
learning material (background music improves memory);
pronunciation and intonation (e.g. falling, raising);
• teach songs and
rhymes about difficult grammar and spelling rules that need to be memorized
("i before e", irregular verbs, phrasal verbs);
• teach reading
• inspire a class
• teach listening
for details and gist.
Many teachers try
using music once in the class, but forget to do it again. It might take a few
times before he/she and his/her class gets used to hearing music while learning.
If a teacher can commit to using music once a week, he/she may soon see the
benefits, and realize that they want to do it more often and in a variety of
ways. Here are 10 activity examples :
1) Use background
music such as classical, Celtic music or natural sounds to inspire creativity;
2) Teach a national
3) Teach a song
that uses slang expressions;
4) Teach a song
that uses a new tense being introduced;
5) Add variety to
a reading comprehension lesson. Students can read lyrics and search for the
main idea, theme, and details;
6) Teach Christmas
vocabulary through traditional carols;
7) Write or choose
a classroom theme song;
8) Create (or use
already prepared lessons) cloze exercises using popular song lyrics;
variations to familiar songs by making them personal for the class members or
10) Have "lyp
sync" contests. Allow students to choose their own songs. A little
competition goes a long way in the classroom. Have groups explain the lyrics of
their song before or after they perform.
Teaching kids with music
Using music with
ESL kids has all of the same benefits mentioned above and more. Children are
natural music lovers. A teacher doesn't have to convince them that it will help
them learn. If a teacher feels uncomfortable singing in front of the class to
teach a song, they may use a tape or CD player. A teacher shouldn’t expect the
students to sing if they don't. the teachers must remember, that they don't
care about the quality of teacher’s singing voice, just like they don't care
about theirs . Here are some suggested activities to use with kids:
songs: one can teach simple songs that indicate transitions from one
activity to another, such as "clean up" songs and
boosters: students may
learn simple action songs that require kids to stand up and move around. A
teacher may think of traditional birthday games that use songs, such as pass
the parcel (use a classroom mascot or other favorite item instead of a gift) or
- Animal songs: children love learning about animals. The students are taught animals and
animal sounds using repetitive songs like "Old McDonald had a Farm"
and "There was an Old Lady who swallowed a fly";
- Multi-culturalism: kids may learn about multi-cultural
instruments and learn how to create them in class;
Names: a teacher helps students remember names of their classmates (this
helps teachers too) with songs like "Willoughby Wallaby Woo";
songs: Use lots of different alphabet songs (not just the traditional ABC)
to help kids remember them in English. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill
Martin Jr and John Archambault is a catchy children's book and song;
- Colors: the colors are learned with various color songs and rhythms, such as Louis
Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" or Kermit the Frog's "It
ain’t easy being green";
- Rewards: Reward hard working kids with "Music Time". The students are allowed
to make requests for background music that they can listen to while they work
on their written exercises;
teachers: the kids are encouraged to teach each other songs from their own
language. Turn this into an English lesson by having students translate the
Tips for using music effectively
• When teaching students a song, it is a good idea to introduce an
instrumental version first (If an instrumental version is not available, play
the song softly in the background while they are working on something or hum
the melody before introducing the lyrics). If students become familiar with the
sound of the music first, they will be more likely to understand the words.
• Make a
vocabulary list ahead of time. Go over the words once before you introduce the
• Expose students
to a certain song many days in a row. Within a few days, students will not be
able to get the song out of their head.
interactive songs whenever possible. Adding actions enhances language acquisition
• Have soft or
upbeat music playing before class to encourage a positive atmosphere. Turning
the music off is a great way to signal to a large class that it is time to
can and should use songs as part of their classroom teaching repertoire .
Songs contain authentic language, are easily obtainable, provide vocabulary,
grammar and cultural aspects and are fun for the students. They can provide
valuable speaking, listening and language practice in and out of the classroom.
Some key reasons songs can work exceedingly well in the foreign language
classroom include the following:
almost always contain authentic, natural language. This often contrasts the contrived, stilted
language found in many student texts. Of course songs can also go to the other
extreme by using overly crude, foul or otherwise objectionable language. With
careful screening, an extensive library of usable songs for language learning
can be compiled.
2. A variety of new vocabulary can be introduced
to students through songs. If a teacher is looking to boost student vocabulary with useful
phrases, vocabulary and expressions songs are almost always directed to the
native-speaking population so they usually contain contemporary vocabulary,
idioms and expressions.
are usually very easily obtainable. Songs are usually not that difficult to obtain. Local
sources may be available including the students themselves. There's always the
Internet which can connect the class with song downloads in all but the most
can be selected to suit the needs and interests of the students. In English especially, so many songs are
available that selection of songs with suitable themes, levels and vocabulary
is not at all difficult. Allowances can also be made for complexity or
simplicity of language, depending on the students, by selecting and using
and cultural aspects can be introduced through songs. Most, if not all, songs have a recurring
theme or story. So excerpting cultural elements is usually a possible, but
often overlooked aspect of using songs. "Hit the Road Jack" sung by
the late Ray Charles illustrates spoken contractions. Spoken contractions are
used in every line of the song.
length is easily controlled. Whether you have an hour, 30 minutes, or only 15 minutes or so, a song
can be used in the course of a planned lesson. Use of songs is very flexible.
Students can experience a wide range of accents. A good thing about songs is that you can
expose the students to many different kinds of English. British English,
American English, Caribbean English are all widely available through songs.
Accents too are well represented by songs from different regions and in a
variety of types and formats. Gospel, soul, R & B, Pop, Rock, Reggae, Jazz
and other styles change not only accents, but vocabulary and usage too.
lyrics can be used in relating to situations of the world around us. Songs have been used as vehicles of protest
for civil rights, workers' rights, even prisoners' rights along with an untold
number of other causes. They've expounded on pollution, crime, war and almost
every social theme or cause.
Students think songs are natural and fun. Well actually they are. Fun, even silly songs abound
in English. Some singers actually made a career out of them. They make offbeat,
fun changes of pace with classroom use.
These are only
some of the many reasons songs are useful in the language learning classroom.
They contain authentic language, are easily obtainable, provide vocabulary,
grammar and cultural aspects and are fun for the students. They provide
enjoyable speaking, listening, vocabulary and language practice both in and out
of the classroom . So EFL, English as a foreign language, ESL, English as a
Second language and foreign language teachers should all consider using songs
as a regular part of their classroom activities.
loves music. It is a part of our language and life from before birth onwards.
As babies, we hear lullabies. As young children we play, sing and dance to a
myriad of nursery rhymes. As adolescents, we are consumed by the beat of
popular music artists worldwide. As adults, every form of advertising we hear,
every special event we experience, is in part, music.
television, movies, theater, and even the nightly news. When we exercise, when
we work, when we play, when we worship and even when we die, music is there to
reinforce or alter every mood and emotion. A catchy tune is played, hummed or
sung, at times in our head, as we go about our everyday lives. So, why not
include music and songs in language learning as well?
Use of new
vocabulary, idioms and expressions. You'll need to address the new material
offered in each song. This includes grammar, vocabulary and usage.
accent of the singer. Every native speaker doesn't pronounce or sing with the
same accent. Students may be exposed to an accent which is outside the realm of
what they might normally hear in context.
Use of new grammar
and structure. Song writers and singers are notoriously "loose" when
it comes to use of grammar, structure, pronunciation, stress and other language
factors applied to songs. The teacher must prepare for this.
1. Use songs that
are popular with the students whenever possible. Unfortunately, students
frequently select songs for classroom use which are objectionable in some way
making the song unusable.
2. Songs must have
clear and understandable lyrics. Nothing is worse than a song almost nobody can
understand. If you have trouble understanding the lyrics by listening, then
another song needs to be selected.
3. Songs should
have an appropriate theme. There's enough bad news, negativity and violence in
the world already. Songs with any type of negative theme should be avoided.
There are plenty of positive, upbeat, even humorous songs available. Use these.
virtually every aspect of our lives. Students adore it. It contains numerous
useful elements for language teaching and it's fun for both the teacher and
students. So, why not include music and songs in your language learning classes
1. Eken, D. K. 1996 Ideas for using pop
songs in the English language classroom. In English Teaching Forum, 34, 1,
2. Graham, C. 1993 Grammar chants: More
Jazz Chants. OUP
3. Graham, C 1994 Mother Goose Jazz Chants.
4. Jedynak, M. 2000 Using Music in the Classroom.
In English Teaching Forum, 38, 4, pp.30-32
5. Murphy, T. 1992 Music and Song. Oxford University Press.
6. Saricoban, A. & Metin, E. (October
2000). Songs, Verse and Games for Teaching Grammar, The Internet TESL Journal,
Vol. VI, No. 10, October 2000
К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2011