ESL teachers can use songs to teach English to their students with great success. ESL songs can bring energy to the classroom, boost student confidence, and provide a much-needed active learning experience for younger students who can easily get bored or distracted. They are great for adding motivation and excitement to your classroom routine!
Integrating language through songs
Children hear complete sentences when listening to songs; this helps them learn and remember words and phrases as they unconsciously grasp the grammar and syntax. It leads them to naturally use their new vocabulary in context rather than single syllables or words.
Repeat through songs
Songs that ‘get stuck’ in your students’ minds lead to a constant cycle of learning: the more they listen to the song and think about it, the easier it is 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 be actively involved.
Better classroom management with ESL songs
Songs in English can also help calm down an excitable or disruptive class – just turn on the music and you’ll be amazed how quickly the children calm down. They can also bring a newfound zest for life and confidence to a group of overwhelmed and struggling students. Simply announce a time to sing and watch the students light up with interest.
Songs to teach English cover all learning styles
Language is one of the most complex subjects, and English is one of the most complex languages. The songs help teachers engage a broader range 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 expressing words in context.
Kinesthetic and tactile learners can benefit from the actions added to the songs; work with the melody, rhythm, and lyrics to provide actions that help these students absorb knowledge in a way that makes the most sense to them.
Visual learners can be helped by pictures from stories or flashcards related to the song, as well as by observing other students and joining in the actions that match the different words.
Songs build confidence and make learning fun
ESL songs give children the opportunity to learn at their own pace within the group: instead of being singled out, they can listen and participate at their own pace, 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 little by little they will work up the courage to add new words to their vocabulary and work on their pronunciation naturally.
The fact that the songs are fun means that your students will be motivated to work harder before singing time. Singing is an energetic activity that will easily capture the attention of students, particularly if hand and body movements are implemented.
Songs can be great memory aids; the melody and the movements facilitate the memory of the words, and the context facilitates the correct use of grammar and syntax. Songs have a strange way of ‘sticking in the head’, and in the case of English learners, this is a wonderful thing.
Obstacles to using songs to teach English
Many English songs are too fast and complex to use as a teaching tool. If words are spoken so quickly that children cannot tell them apart, it will take too many repetitions to try to figure out the letter, leading to frustration and defeat.
Also, the average English song has too many words to realistically learn, and the words will vary widely in difficulty. If the words are too difficult, you have the same problem as above: playing the song over and over again while students get restless and overwhelmed.
A further obstacle is that many popular songs in English contain content that could be inappropriate for children or offensive to different cultures. So how do you overcome these obstacles?
Choice and implementation of 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 a context that is difficult to understand will only confuse your students. This will completely destroy any positive benefit the songs may have and will demoralize your students as they will fail rather than succeed.
What you really need are songs tailored to teach ESL. Save the run-of-the-mill English songs for background music while doing other activities or games, and choose something repetitive with simple words and phrases to sing.
You can start teaching vocabulary with flashcards. This is a good approach for young children (3-4 years). Once they begin to recognize the words, you can introduce the key grammar and begin to use the new vocabulary in the context of sentences and/or phrases.
Move on to play listening games to practice vocabulary. Even if your students may not understand all the words at this point, previews like this one will gradually move them from just ‘hearing’ to actively ‘listening’ and will help when it comes time to listen carefully to the song for the first time.
Use language games to help you focus children’s attention on specific words. They can run and jump on a flashcard of a noun when they hear it in the song, or clap their hands each time they hear a word from a group of words that have been pinned to the wall.
Take it easy when using songs to teach English, especially with younger and less experienced students. Play the song two or three times and then put it aside until the next lesson. Break the song up line by line or phrase by phrase until you find a level your students are comfortable with, then gradually increase each line until you’ve learned a full verse, then the entire song. This may take several lessons.
Make up actions that go with the words and implement them in the song. Your students can be a valuable resource here – children’s imaginations hold a great source of inspiration! With elementary students, once the song has been learned, it can be performed and set aside for review from time to time. The letter can always be used later for spelling, reading and writing activities.
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