Vanessa Reilly is a teacher, OUP author and teacher trainer. She has an M.A. in English Language Teaching specializing in very young learners and young learners. Vanessa is co-author of the OUP Resource Books, Very Young Learners and Writing with children. She is also the author of the many OUP course books for pre-primary and primary. She is currently working on her PhD. In 2014, Vanessa trained as an official Zumba teacher and teaches Zumba Kids to Spanish children in English!
Music gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. Plato
Plato’s words epitomise what music means to many, although we may not express ourselves quite so poetically!
Music has always been very important in my life. I have music playing around the house, in the car and I usually have one song or another going around in my head. Those who know me well consider me to be a happy, optimistic person and I think that having music in my life has a lot to do with it. Is music important in your life?
Music is a more potent instrument than any other for education. Plato
I agree with Plato again here. We are actually surrounded by music in our everyday lives, in shops, adverts on TV, soundtracks to films and the radio. Boyd Brewer (1995) however asks, “How is it that for most people music is a powerful part of their personal life and yet when we go to work or school we turn it off?” Luckily, in ELT, we tend not to turn music off. In fact, all those years ago when I started teaching English to primary children, I soon discovered that music and songs were also my closest allies in the classroom.
As well as teaching the children new language with a song, I used music for classroom management, having a Hello/Goodbye song, songs to mark transitions like the start of story time or circle time, music to play in the background to settle the children to a desk-based activity, or a stirring tune if I wanted them to be more active. At one point, colleagues would ask me if I actually did any work in my classes as the children just seemed to be “all singing all dancing”, to which I would reply, “Do the children leave your class singing the maths curriculum? They could do! If you need any songs, just ask.” If a song is memorable enough, children will take the English song out of your classroom, into the playground, and all the way home the English will be in their heads. Murphy (1992) refers to S-S-I-T-H-P, Song Stuck in the Head Phenomenon, when a song is catchy and you just cannot get it out of you head. You know the feeling, that song you hear first thing on the radio in the morning which is still in your head at break time, lunchtime and sometimes on the way home. It’s the same with the children in your class and luckily for us, most children’s songs are catchy by nature.
Some years later, when I reflected on how much music means in my classes, I realised that it is one of, if not the most important element in my lesson planning for children. This was a serious issue when choosing a course book for my English classes. I always made listening to the accompanying CD paramount and I encourage teachers on my training courses to never choose a course book without having listened carefully to the songs first, as you could be living with them for years!
Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents. Beethoven
There are many advantages to using music, songs and rhymes in a language class.
Why use songs and music with primary age children?
- Most children like songs, music and movement;
- For classroom management – starting, ending, marking transitions, stirring or settling the children. Songs can cut back on teacher talk time and help save your voice as children can join in with the classroom management instructions. You can often start the “Everybody tidy up” song and never have to finish it as the children take over and sing everything back to its place!
- A well-chosen song can provide children with the language we have to teach. If the song includes a lot of repetition and can also incorporate movement and actions, these two elements enhance the learning process and help to make the language even more memorable. As long as we expose the children to a song with the right language, they can leave our class and spend the rest of the day singing our curriculum!
- Songs are motivational for children at this early stage in their language-learning career as songs permit them to sing whole sentences at a reasonably fast pace, something many children consider to be a sign of being able to speak a language.
- When a song contains chunks of language, teachers can refer back to these in order to help children remember and use the language more confidently.
- Music can lift the mood in a class and make learning more fun. Cameron (2001) found that ‘… a new word needs to be met at least five or six times… before it has any chance of being learnt.’ Having to repeat a word so many times could become tedious, however, a carefully chosen song can provide this necessary practice and be fun at the same time. A song where the target language is repeated the “magic” 3 times, means that on just one listening, we are making language learning more accessible. However, we tend to listen and sing a song many times and this brings us closer to our goal.
- Murphy, (1992) said “With young children, language divorced from action seems to be mostly forgotten.” Songs with TPR provide instant clarification of meaning but also help children channel their natural energy into the learning process. Well-chosen actions can be used to instantly refresh a child’s memory and elicit language. As children get the hang of TPR and actions, I work with the class to encourage them to choose the actions. We talk about the important language we want to learn and think of and select the best actions to help the children remember. Actions can mean a lot more to children when they have chosen them.
In this practical webinar we will look at using music in a manner of ways to make our job easier, and make the language learning process more memorable for children.
Please think of your favourite children’s song so you can share it with the group. Mine still has to be “Head, shoulders, knees and toes.” I have a favourite version of this song though. If you don’t know the Learning Station, check them out on YouTube. I think you’ll love this version! It may get stuck in your head again though!
You’ll be singing “Neck, elbows, hips and feet” for the rest of the day!
Boyd Brewer, C, (1995). “Integrating Music in the Classroom.” https://www.newhorizons.org/strategies/arts/brewer.htm
Cameron, L, (2001). Teaching Languages to Young Learners, CUP
Murphy, T, (1992), Music and song, Oxford University Press