ESL teachers can use songs for teaching English to their students with great success. ESL songs can bring energy to the classroom, boost students’ confidence, and provide a much needed active learning experience for younger students who may become easily bored or distracted. They are great for adding motivation and excitement to your classroom routine!
Integrating Language through Songs
Children hear whole sentences when they listen to songs; this helps them learn and remember words and phrases as they subconsciously pick up on grammar and syntax. It leads them to naturally use their new vocabulary in context instead of isolated syllables or words.
Repetition Through Songs
Songs that ‘get stuck’ in your students’ heads lead to a constant cycle of learning – the more they hear the song and think about it, the easier it will be for them to learn all the words and their meanings. Songs are a great and exciting alternative to standard reading comprehension, as they allow the child to become actively involved.
Better Classroom Management with ESL Songs
English songs can also help calm an excitable or disruptive class – just put on the music and you will be amazed at how quickly children will settle down. They can also bring new zest for life and confidence to a group of struggling and overwhelmed students. Simply announce a singing time, and see students light up with interest.
Songs for Teaching English Cover all Learning Styles
Language is one of the most complex subject, and English s one of the most complex languages. Songs help teachers appeal to a wider array of learning styles:
Auditory learners easily learn from songs – the rhythm and phrasing provide the perfect vehicle for teaching vocabulary and pronunciation, as well as delivering the words in context.
Kinesthetic and tactile learners can benefit from actions added to the songs; work with the melody, rhythm and lyrics to provide actions that will help these students absorb knowledge in a way that makes the most sense to them.
Visual learners can be aided by story pictures or vocabulary flashcards relating to the song, as well as by watching the other students and joining in on the actions that match the different words.
Songs Build Confidence and Make Learning Fun
ESL songs give children the chance to learn at their own pace within the group – instead of being singled out, they can listen and participate at their own speed, joining in when they can and learning from the group around them. They can feel comfortable since everyone else is also concentrating on the lesson, and will slowly build up the courage to add new words to their vocabulary and work on their pronunciation naturally.
The fact that songs are fun means that your students will be motivated to work harder in anticipation of singing time. Singing is an energetic activity which will easily capture students’ attention, particularly if hand and body motions are implemented.
Songs can be great memory aids; the melody and motions make it easier to remember the words, and the context provided aids in correct use of grammar and syntax. Songs have an uncanny way of ‘sticking in your head’, and in the case of English learners, this is a wonderful thing.
Obstacles to Using Songs for Teaching English
Many English songs are far too fast paced and complex for use as a teaching tool. If the words are spoken so fast that the children cannot differentiate between them, it will take too many repetitions to try and decipher the lyrics, leading to frustration and defeat.
In addition, the average English song has too many words to realistically learn, and the words will vary widely in difficulty. If the words are too hard, you have the same problem as stated above – playing the song over and over while the students become restless and overwhelmed.
One more obstacle is that many popular English songs contain content which could be inappropriate for children or might be offensive to different cultures. So how do you overcome these obstacles?
Choosing and Implementing Songs for Teaching English
Finding the right songs to use in your classroom is critical. Ones with too many words, a melody that is too fast, or context that is difficult to understand will only confuse your students. This will completely destroy any positive benefits songs could have and demoralize your students as they will fail rather than succeed.
What you really need is songs which have been tailor-made for teaching ESL. Save the run of the mill English songs for background music while you do other activities or games, and pick something repetitive with simple words and phrasing for sing-along time.
You can begin teaching vocabulary with flashcards. This is a good approach for small children (3-4 year olds). Once they start to recognize the words, you can introduce the key grammar and begin using the new vocabulary in the context of sentences and/ or phrases.
Move on to playing listening games to practice the vocabulary. Even if your students may not understand all of the words at this point, previews like this will gradually move them from simply ‘hearing’ to actively ‘listening’ and will help when the time comes to listen to the song attentively for the first time.
Use language games to help you focus the children’s attention on particular words. They can run and jump on a flashcard of a noun when they hear it in the song, or clap whenever they hear a word out of a group of words which have been pinned to the wall.
Take it slow when using songs for teaching English, especially with younger and less experienced students. Play the song two or three times then shelve it until the next lesson. Break the song down line by line or phrase by phrase until you fin the level your students are comfortable at, then gradually build on each line until you have an entire verse learned, then the whole song. This may take several lessons.
Make up actions to go with the words and implement them into the song. Your pupils can be a valuable resource here – children’s imaginations hold a wealth of inspiration! With primary students, once the song has been learned it can be performed then set aside for occasional revisiting. The lyrics can always be used later for spelling, reading and writing activities.