Songs are a great way for children to learn English. But where do we start and how do we go about it? In this post, Nick Manthei, OUP Senior Professional Development Consultant, shares his thoughts.
Name one activity that gets all students to give their full attention, supports pronunciation in English and allows fun movement of the body. As you can guess from the title of this blog, it is songs that can do all this consistently, plus start a lesson well, repair a lesson when things get a little chaotic, and can close a lesson with a review of the language learned.
Here, I present you with ten reasons to use songs with your young learners along with song ideas!
1. Songs create a positive atmosphere
Singing and movement naturally put a smile on everyone’s face. Songs are fun and learners look forward to joining the harmony whenever they get a chance. They can even make learners giggle, which is one of the best sounds to hear from a class. A fun example of this is with the song ‘Here is the Beehive’ and pretending to sting each other after the chorus.
2. Songs help to balance energy levels
When learners are bored or distracted, I find that a good upbeat song is the thing to recapture their energy for the lesson. An example here could be ‘Wheels on the Bus. When learners are overstimulated and it’s time to reorganize to start a new task, I find slow songs can be helpful in the transition from lots of movement to lesser amounts of movement. An example here could be ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’.
3. They are very effective in signalling transitions
Moving from a coursebook activity to a non-coursebook activity, or vice versa, can be a real challenge for young learners. A short and simple song can really help learners speed up their tidying-up process and can get them motivated for the next activity. It signals to the learners that we are moving on to the next activity so let’s get ready. An example here could be a Tidy Up or Clean Up song.
4. Songs use the body
Sitting still for long periods of time is not something young learners are known for. They are curious, want to learn, and also want to move. Moving and singing at the same time can actually help vocabulary retention and understanding meaning. A great song example for this is ‘Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed’.
5. They allow everyone to participate
Some of our learners come to our classes with a lot of English vocabulary, while others in the same class may be learning English for the first time. Singing is an activity that children of all levels can enjoy equally. Students with low levels of English will be able to follow along with gestures and dances as they gradually learn the language in the song. More advanced students can enjoy singing and dancing while improving their rhythm, intonation, and pronunciation, even if they already know all the words. A great example here could be ‘If you are happy and you know it’ as it is quite easy to pick up the lyrics as well as allowing advanced learners to make up lyrics like ‘If you are sad and you know it start to cry’.
6. They can be used for group participation
Any song can get boring after a dozen times. To keep it exciting why not ask students to break into groups? You can have one group sing one line and the second group sing the next. This back-and-forth makes it fun for all. Additionally, you could give each group a keyword. Everyone sings sitting but when the keyword is said the group with that keyword stands up briefly and sits down. Great fun with this vocab game is while singing ‘Old McDonald’.
7. Songs allow for quick review
It can sometimes be difficult to provide as much review as we’d like for our students. Songs are a fun, easy way to quickly recycle language from earlier lessons. An example when reviewing body parts is ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’.
8. Songs stay in the minds of young learners for a long time
When you teach with songs, you can be assured those songs will bounce around your students’ heads long after the class is over. They can spontaneously start singing in the park, while washing hands or even when in bed. The same can’t be said for most other teaching tools. ‘Baby shark’ is an example that seems to get stuck in everyone’s head, especially the teacher’s!
9. They can help make a strong lesson routine for your learners
Learners thrive when they know what to expect in the lesson. Why not make it part of your everyday routine so that learners know to expect a song or two at a certain time of their lesson? This helps them mentally prepare both for the lesson as well as the songs.
10. Songs can be used to help the four skills
Taking songs one step further, I often include a skill exercise to really exploit the song. For reading you could print out the lyrics and scramble them for your learners to put back in order. For writing you could use parts of the song as a dictation or simply just write their favorite line. Learners could listen to an unknown song first and ask them what it is about and then show them the lyrics. And finally, you can turn the song into a speaking activity where learners get into groups of three and decide on new lyrics for the song. Any song could be used to help you work on any skill.
Want to learn more about adding music and songs to your Young Learner classroom? Come visit our Happy Notes resources page where you can find dozens of ideas to support you in the lesson.
Nick Manthei is a Senior Professional Development Consultant for Oxford University Press. He has previously taught in Istanbul and Izmir. He recently finished his Master’s degree in Education at Endicott College on International Education with an ESL Concentration. Nick has an optimistic outlook on Education in Turkey and the world and gives real examples of how education can be made better starting with the most important person in the school: the teacher.