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Songs in the Classroom
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The use of songs in the ESL classroom can be a fun and innovative way of covering a range of English language topics. Songs can be used for vocabulary, grammar, dictation, pronunciation (stress and intonation), phonetics, speaking, writing, listening, integrative skills, and many other ESL points. Furthermore, songs can invite the non-native speaker into the English speaking culture. For instance, pop music gives the learner a taste of what is trendy at the moment. Meanwhile, the lyrics to classic rock songs can give a sense of history and the attitude of the country at the time of recording (for example, “Give Peace a Chance,” John Lennon, 1969). Additionally, children’s songs are crucially important for the young learner as they are an easy way to encourage memorization and pronunciation.
According to the website ESL through Music, maintained and created by Dr. Suzanne Medina), the use of music in the ESL classroom is a highly effective way of teaching English as a second language. However, very little empirical research has been done to support the use of music in the ESL classroom, and therefore its use has been criticized at times. Dr. Medina and many other scholars, fully support music as a means of language acquisition. As a result, Dr. Medina conducted a study to test the effects of music in the classroom. In her study of 48 Spanish-speaking students, she was able to prove that those students exposed to music in their language instruction were better able to remember and use the language afterwards (versus those students who were not exposed to music).
It is interesting to consider the use of songs to teach more than just a vocabulary point. Songs allow a teacher to cover specific grammar points in an effortless fashion. For example, one teacher, Loretta, who posted on Dave’s ESL Café, discusses the use of Cat Steven’s, “Moonshadow,” for a lesson on the future tense. She writes, “it has many 'if clauses' and uses both 'will' and 'to be going + infinitive' constructions.”). Loretta’s lesson is exciting for students because not only do they get to hear the song, but they are also able to see their grammar lesson in action. Therefore, even if the student cannot construct the future tense by him/herself, the use of song allows the student to practice speaking (or singing) this grammar point until they have mastered the use of this technique for themselves.
The website, also provides an array of lessons with song. For instance, instead of just showing children how to use Comparatives/Superlatives and Can/Can't, you could accompany the lesson with the children’s song, “Anything You Can Do,” which has examples of both lesson points. According to the webpage, , “the use of music in the classroom can make the entire learning process more enjoyable and can stimulate "right" brain learning.” This website commends music for its ability to activate vocabulary and grammar. Furthermore, they point out that NPR (National Public Radio) uses music after each story broadcast in the “Morning Edition” to encourage listeners to reflect on the story they have just heard. Every time that piece of music is played, the listeners associate the music to the story and it encourages them to think about the story once again. Similarly, using music in the classroom allows students to make associations with something other than the lesson point itself. Music promotes memorization, listening and speaking skills.
In conclusion, the use of music in the classroom is a fun and integral part of the ESL experience. As Joy Brown suggests, in her article on The Internet TESL Journal, ESL students “are at a disadvantage when participating in conversations or watching movies if they lack the knowledge of cultural elements native speakers of English may take for granted” . Therefore, by using song in the classroom, the ESL student is able to practice grammar and vocabulary points, but more importantly, they are exposed to how the native speaker uses the language casually and artistically.
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"We learned more from a three minute record than we ever learned in school"
Bruce Springsteen, No Surrender
English, in all its complexities, at the end of the day, can crossover language barriers and cultural divides through the power of music. Music in the classroom provides students of all ages the opportunity to experience the English language through a stimulation that touches both the mind and the heart. From culture, which I believe is an important part of language learning, to speech (syntax, pronunciation, cadence), songs of all genre types can prove to be both a fun and effective educational tool.
Let’s analyze the bridge between music and learning English.
Multi-syllabic words and unfamiliar sounding syllables can be a pain to pronounce, moreover use in a sentence, conjugate, and still maintain a confidence to use and speak comfortably. Such a word or syllable, as hard as you try, refuses to role off your tongue the way the teacher insists it sounds. Music though helps work past these pronunciation struggles. Lyrics put together by a musician with a rhythm in the background helps complicated words flow from the student’s mouth. It even helps generate a comfort using the word in conversation. Perhaps, rock stars are not such bad teachers after all.
Culture is evidently important in both music and language. While culture sets a context for learning, it’s important to learn English within these contexts. Using British English and American English as an example, you may note that there are well over one thousand words used exclusively in each dialect, and yet there are many of the same words that are used in both tongues that have different meanings. This is not to say that someone who speaks British English could not get by in the States and vice versa, but there is a difference to note and it comes from heritage and culture.
As mentioned, music has its natural place in culture. Looking at all three (music, language, and culture) you can see how they find their way to the classroom: culture - language - music - teacher/student.
Music is an explanation of feelings, of attitudes, of convictions. While learning English, music can assist by providing an understanding of how the words are used and why.
Briefly, it’s stated that music is a functional educational device, but is it practical? I would say ‘yes’. To begin with it’s fair to say that music is fun. We dance to it. We sing to it. Most importantly, we listen to it.
Music facilitates the learning process and does so swimmingly. The teacher has a limited amount of time to transfer knowledge: to teach vocabulary, grammar, etc. Songs have an already determined length. They can be the heart of the day’s material or used to break up exercises. Either way, a professor’s one-hour class can have a pre-determined time structure. It’s this approach that will keep students from dazing off at day’s end; able to follow along a song, they will keep energized throughout the length of the course.
A list of website provided below can be used to gain further understanding of music in the classroom:
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Music is probably the most global of all languages. All creatures make a sound the same as all living things breathe. In the days of the cavemen, tribes etc. music was a major tool for their everyday life. Songs were sung for traditional celebrations, depicting all aspects of their way of life and bringing a sense of community making them one with each other. Through their music making they would be feeling love and compassion for each other, and respect. The children would need to start somewhere, so they probably learnt information early on in life about where they come from and what their ancestors had been through, from the elders singing them songs.
When we look back to the days of the slave trade, there is one song that comes to mind, for instance, Nina Simone “Work Song”. Songs like these had come about as a way of escaping the persecution that was inflicted on them by the masters. The work songs would have made them a “force to” be reckoned with, basically saying “you can use our bodies, but you can never take our soul.”
“Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents.”-Ludwig van Beethoven.
Songs in the classroom: Why?
Students all over the world are familiar with music, for example, a student in Thailand who has no knowledge of the English language will probably know the lyrics to a pop song like “I will always love you” by Whitney Houston. This would not have been difficult to learn if they were enjoying the sound, rhythm, and melody inspiring them to listen over and over again, therefore learning subconsciously.
I traveled all over the world as a musician and have met people with little knowledge of English, but they could recite all the lyrics to “Hotel California” by The Eagles, so I know this fact to be true.
How do we apply this knowledge?
Music can help us to remember learning experiences and information. A soundtrack increases interest and activates the information mentally, physically or emotionally. When information is put to rhythm and rhyme these musical elements will provide a hook for recall.
There are three ways we can use music to help us learn information, for example:
Active Learning Experience- This enhances learning states by playing a dramatic piece of music, if the topic is a dramatic story for instance, it reinforces the information.
Focus and Alpha State Learning-Music stabilizes mental, physical and emotional rhythms to attain a state of deep concentration and focus in which large amounts of content information can be processed and learned. Music by Bach and Handel, that is 50 to 80 beats per minute creates an atmosphere where students are led into deep concentration in the alpha brain wave state.
Memorization- Songs, chants, poems, and raps will improve memory of content facts and details through rhyme, rhythm, and melody.
Music can change the atmosphere of the classroom, enlivening or calming. It also provides a positive environment that enhances student interaction and helps develop a sense of community, a powerful tool for understanding other cultures and bonding with each other. Music can also help the students to express themselves more freely therefore expanding their horizons in a creative way, also heightening their musical intelligence. If the students are having fun they are more likely to remember more information. Music brings students together in their learning process and urges them to be more confident.The possibilities are endless because music and song heightens all senses which in turn brings people to life, therefore more open to learning and that cannot be bad.
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In the education system, songs are used in many ways to teach students, especially children content. Songs can be melodic or just rhythmic chants. Like many other pedagogical methods, songs can also be used effectively in the EFL classroom. In this paper, I hope to show information (empirical and experience based) that supports the use of songs in the classroom as well as resources that can be accessed on the internet. I will conclude why I believe it is important to use songs in the classroom.
As I searched the internet for articles about songs in the EFL classroom, there were very few studies. The studies that I did find often did not have statistically significant results. Suzanne Medina (1993) discussed the use of music to increase incidental language acquisition. Incidental language is not acquired through teaching, but through experiencing and being exposed to the vocabulary. Music can be used to increase incidental language acquisition because it exposes students to more language as well as vocabulary that might not otherwise be heard.
In my experience, music is very useful in the classroom. It catches the attention of students and is another technique for teaching that adds variety. In my experience, songs make memorization easier, so memorizing the English language should be no different. As well, songs tend to stay in a person’s mind long after the class is finished. For example, I can still conjugate “ir” verbs in French because I can remember the song that I learned in high school. Younger students especially enjoy singing and don’t realize that they are actually learning.
The internet is a wonderful resource for songs to use in the classroom. This is particularly important for EFL teachers who could be teaching anywhere in the world. One site, http://www.forefrontpublishers.com/eslmusic/index.htm, has lists of songs that can be used in the classroom as well as lesson plans from real teachers about using the songs.
Another site, http://members.tripod.com/~ESL4Kids/songs.html, has a list of songs with lyrics to familiar tunes. These songs teach basic English phrases and words to students, almost as games.
These are just two of the many sites that can be found when searching the internet. Many sites have lesson ideas, new lyrics to familiar tunes or CD’s that can be purchased with songs that were explicitly written for ESL students (such as genkienglish.net).
I believe that it is important to use songs in the classroom, because songs are engaging and motivational for students. I also believe that songs can be used with all ages and levels of students. Younger and beginner students can use songs to learn basic English words and phrases. These songs are often written especially for ESL situations. Older or more advanced students can use songs from popular culture to focus on listening skills or for vocabulary. This makes their study of the English language more real-world for them and quite possibly more fun.
In conclusion, the benefit of songs in the EFL classroom has little empirical evidence, but through experience, I have found it to be effective. There are many internet resources to help teachers find ideas or specific songs to use in their classroom. It is important to use because it is motivating and engaging for students.
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If I asked you to sing the alphabet song for me, would you know the tune? Chances are great that you would. A-B-C-D-E-F-G... If you were born and raised in an English speaking country, it is almost certain that you learned the alphabet song before you learned the meaning and use of the alphabet itself. There have been many technical, scientific reports compiled, and conclusions drawn as to why music helps us learn, all of them valid, and persuasive. Positions citing left/right brain dual modal thinking, repetitive use of lyrics matching the mathematical timing of the melody, to alliterative qualities of the song itself. While these are all important positions however, this paper doesn't focus on the technical aspects of songs helping students learn. The best reason in my opinion to use songs in the classroom isn't for any of the aformentioned reasons. The best reason is simply - because it's fun!
It's fun to use songs in the classroom. Learning a new language can be intimidating and stressful for new students at any age. Unfamiliar terms, syntax, grammar, pronunciation...So many unknowns that the students may feel overwhelmed. If a teacher plays a song for them, it may make the students feel more relaxed and comfortable. They may even already know the song, even if it isn't in their native tongue. This can improve their confidence, and pique their interest. If a student is engaged and interested in the material, they are more likely to try harder and take more risks because they aren't afraid of making mistakes. Comfort is key for engagement, and engaging students increases participation.
One of the hardest things for a teacher of English to consistantly do, is get and maintain the students' interest in a lesson. There are only so many methods and modalities for the teacher to use before they have been exhausted through repetition, especially when teaching an advanced class. Songs are a great way of "breaking up the monotony" so to speak, as they are a real, entertaining way for students to learn complicated grammatical structures. Many times, students will analyse, and interpret a song, and they won't have felt like it was hard work. It feels more like an entertaining activity for them. Think about it: if you had to learn a new tense system and had the choice of learning it through taking copious amounts of notes, and doing vocal drills, or through singing and breaking down the song which would you choose? Even with the same amount of paperwork involved, most would choose to analyse the song. It provides the students with simultaneous aural, written, and verbal (pronunciation) examples that they can rewind and hear again and again if they choose! Since listening to and interpreting songs is generally more fun, and engaging to do than an everyday lesson based on more technical, structured materials, the students will be more excited about, and look forward to the lessons.
Music is universal. Have you ever met anyone who did not like any genre of music at all? There are many types of music, and it seems like new sub-genres are being created every day. One way of engaging someone in an activity is to ask them about themselves. Music is amazing for this, because of the fact that there are so many types of genres, and bands within those genres to choose from. Perhaps let the students choose by majority vote, a band they like (that sing English songs), and then selecting a song that applies to the lesson at hand. This way they have had some creative input into the lesson, and they are already somewhat familiar with the song - both of which promote interest in the lesson!
Although there are many reasons from a scientific, neurological standpoint that explain why music can aid learning, sometimes the best reasons are less pedantic. Too few students would claim that learning is fun, but it should be! I think that any activity, or modality that can make learning easier or more fun for the students should be used and encouraged. Yes it's fun, and some may think it's frivolous to study music in class, but it works! Time seems to go more quickly when we are in the midst of an activity we enjoy doing. Using songs in the classroom may very well be one of the best tools we as teachers have at our disposal, so let's make the time feel like it's flying by! Let's make the students feel like they can't wait for their next lesson by using our music in the classroom!