Improve Your English
Teach English With Songs Even If You're Not Musically Inclined
By: Richard J Graham
Although we hear a lot about how songs can help the English as a Second Language (ESL) or English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classroom, if you're not musically inclined it can be tough to make it work. But worry not, on this page I'm going to introduce some hints and techniques that I've used to teach songs very effectively from classes of 2 kids up to over 1,000. After a bit of practice ESL songs will save you a whole lot of time and stress!
Here are my top tips...
1. Pre-teach the Vocab
If you're using a traditional song, try and pre-teach as much of the language in previous lessons as you can. Don't bill it as a prelude to a song, just let them slip in naturally during the previous few lessons. ( This idea also works well with picture books or drama plays). If you're teaching a song specially written for ESL or EFL, you can probably introduce all the language at the beginning of today's lesson.
2. Actions & Gestures
The main reason songs work so well in the English classroom is that many kids are what's called "Musically Intelligent". It basically means that language sticks in their memory if it's accompanied by a melody. It's the same thing that happens when you hear the new Madonna song on the radio and can't get it out of your head all day!
But although musical intelligence is very common, some kids are also intelligent in other ways and we have to try and incorporate as many types as we can into the learning. So for kids who are more physical we add in gestures and actions for each lyric. The sillier the better. It's very often a good idea to let the kids choose the gesture, that way it becomes their own. As they own it they remember it longer.
3. Picture Cards for Each Lyric
Just as some kids are more physical, some learn more by visual means. More effective than simply writing the lyrics on the board, a fun picture card to illustrate each lyric is recommended. So now we have actions, melody and pictures for each new word or phrase. Ideally we'd also have a smell for each one as well, but I think we'll leave that for now, as we have most of the kids learning styles covered!
4. A Cappella - Without the Music
This is the key stage and the one that most teachers miss out. Even if the kids already know the English, and have all the gestures and can see all the pictures, if you simply play the CD and say "Hey, let's sing!" they're all going to give you some very strange looks!
The trick is to go through the song phrase by phrase without any backing music. Do the gestures and point to the picture cards and make sure everyone can get a hold of the melody. Don't worry if you can't sing well, in most countries it's the effort that the kids see and appreciate! In fact they'll often appreciate bad singing more than good singing. The side effect of too much karaoke I feel.
If you have a particularly tricky song, start off slow and gradually build up the speed. The point here is that by the time you've finished you should be up to or just a little bit faster than the recording on the CD. You'll be amazed at how fast the kids can get with this method.
5. Big Finish: Kick in the CD!
In the a cappella section you'll notice the kids getting better at the English but also sloping off in their concentration. That's when you kick in the music! Make sure the arrangement is ultra energetic and the kids will spring to life with a vengeance. Crank up the volume and they'll be singing their hearts out! Keep the gestures and actions in there and probably after just one run through the song they'll have all the new language permanently imprinted in their brains!
And that's all there is to it, it's quite simple really. Once you've done the song you'll be able to play it again at the beginning of the next class and they'll have remembered the English almost instantly. It's the best technique I've found for curing the "we've forgotten everything" problem you have with long gaps between classes.
Remember the "a cappella", make sure the music is loud and funky and you'll save more review time than you every imagined!