Songs in the Classroom Songs in the classroom are a wonderful
Songs in the classroom are a wonderful way to learn English but did you also know that it has been proven that they can 'help ['] acquire vocabulary and grammar, improve spelling and develop the linguistic skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening (Jalongo and Bromley, 1984, McCarthey, 1985; Martin, 1983, Mitchell, 1983, Jolly, 1975)'1. The following research assignment will go over different methods that can be used to implement songs when teaching English language. Depending on the age and level of the class songs can be used in a variety of ways. Three age groups will be covered: young children (aged 3-5 without any previous knowledge of English), elementary to early teens (aged 10-14 with basic English grammar knowledge), and adults (intermediate level). These groups were chosen as they will demonstrate well some of the activities that can be used. When possible, publications or reports will be cited, in all other cases my own experience as an English language teacher for the past 5 years will be implied.
Everyone has always learned songs when they were children but few have ever wondered why. First of all, we should know that 'children rely exclusively on the oral language they listen to in order to acquire their first language' . When it comes to songs, it has been proven that a 'rhythmic presentation benefits memorization, especially when the verbal information is meaningful' . Children of a young age need much stimulation to keep focused, when singing and using meaningful gestures, often accompanied by some sort of illustration(s), it has been proven (Medina, 1993) that they retain vocabulary better than using more traditional methods. Based on my own experience, I have noticed that most young children enjoy singing with gestures as they can immediately relate to what they are learning, as well as release much energy.
In elementary-level students, songs take a different tone, since they are at an age when singing can seem childish but at the same time, they usually don't have enough vocabulary or grammatical skills to understand more complicated songs. So it's best to select material that will match their abilities and interests. Many books suited for their level will include chants (e.g. Let's Go 4, Oxford University Press) --instead of more traditional songs-- that provide a musical approach to learning and reviewing grammar structures. Not only is the experience very relaxing but also 'as students repeatedly sing songs, their confidence level rises'1.
The last group that will be studied, is the intermediate- level adult. Based on experience, these adults are usually comfortable with all grammar structures, have good listening skills and most importantly a sufficient vocabulary to do well on the following type of exercise. For the exercise to be a success it is important that the teacher know their students' interests: 'if [the learner] is anxious, unmotivated, or simply lacks confidence, language acquisition will be limited'(4) . Music that students will enjoy is always important for the activity to work. A variety of activities can be used with adults but a great one to improve their listening, practice specific grammar structures and build-up their vocabulary is: 'Musical Mini-Dialogue Mixers' 1. Besides the common listening and filling-in the missing words from the lyrics activity, it makes students become creative using similar sentence patterns on their own. As well they can rely on other students to help with vocabulary, which promotes more English conversation.
As it was just demonstrated, songs in the classroom can be used at various levels and will enhance the English language learning experience as well as improve students' skills. The key to its success is to find the balance between the goals the teacher wants to achieve and providing a stimulating content.
1 Suzanne L. Medina Ph.D. (2002), Using Music to Enhance Second Language Acquisition: From Theory to Practice (Language, Literacy, and Academic Development for English language Learners. Pearson Educational Publishing) 2 Suzanne L. Medina Ph.D. (1993). The Effect of Music on Second Language Vocabulary Acquisition (NATIONAL NETWORK FOR EARLY LANGUAGE LEARNING, Volume 6, Number 3, Spring 1993) 3 Glazner, M. (1976). Intonation grouping and related words in free recall. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 15, 8592 4 Krashen, S. (1989). We acquire vocabulary and spelling by reading: Additional evidence for the input hypothesis. Modern Language Journal, 73 (4), 440-464
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