Teaching with songs and music revisited

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“Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents.” –Ludwig van Beethoven

I recently attended and presented at a seminar for teachers at Dickens Institute, Montevideo. There were two presentations which involved the use of songs and that got me thinking about how we use music and particularly songs in the classroom. Much has been said and written about using songs for language teaching specially about the types of tasks that can be implemented with them, but certainly it is worth reviewing the reasons why and the principles that frame their introduction to the classroom.

Songs and music can take central stage in our lessons and need not to be just a fun activity for the last 5 minutes of class provided we have a clear aim for their use and have devised a clear sequence of tasks to make the most of it.

We can identify three distinctive group of reason for using songs in the classroom. From a linguistic point of view:

  • Songs provide a context for language. Even though there are liberties song writers take with the language, there are millions of songs that can be used as presentation text for a certain target language.
  • They are theme-based so they can be the starting point for discussion and debate.
  • They are particularly useful to highlight and practice pronunciation and intonation.
  • They can be used as basis for a listening lesson to develop gist listening and detailed listening.

From a cognitive point of view, songs and music focus attention and aid memory as well as facilitating multisensory learning.

Finally, from a socio-affective perspective, songs can set the mood and atmosphere of the class as well as mark the tempo and rhythm of work.

My principles when using song

  • Popularity: I try to avoid songs that are too popular since students, mainly teens, know the lyrics by hard so the scope of work may be restricted.
  • Sensitization: I use songs that allow me to work on certain sensitive issues that need to be addressed. Normally I choose songs that tell a story that springs board discussion. Recently, I have been working with the song Kaching by Shania Twain that deals with the issue of consumerism.
  • Language standard: I try to work with songs that represent a standard version of the language, especially when working with teenagers since they are still struggling to understand the notion of register and tend to overuse the expressions and language seen in music and videos.
  • Meaningful learning: When used for language learning, songs provide that memorable experience that makes language learning meaningful. We all certainly remember which song taught us specially certain idiomatic expressions.

Why and how do you use songs and music in the classroom?

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2 thoughts on “Teaching with songs and music revisited

  1. There are many reasons why… to help students know about each others’ interests, to lower the affective filter, to make students feel/see that they’re using the language they’re learning immediately, to include/motivate auditory learners… and… what about playing some background music while they’re doing a task? A few months ago I gave a mini-presentation on this subject. The reason why I started reflecting on this different ‘angle’ or perspective of the topic is that I as a student, was exposed to this experience at advanced levels and the result… well, it didn’t work very well for me as I couldn’t focus on the task itself but paid fully attention to the music/song on the stereo! However, I have to admit that some of my peers worked really well having some background music. Now, as a teacher, I try to bear in mind which students would find this strategy helpful… or not! I know that this is not the exact aim of your reflections… but it’s something that rang a bell and perhaps, food for thought! Thank you for sharing your experience and knowledge!

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  2. Thank you for your comment Florencia! You certainly have a unique perspective on the matter being a teacher and a musician!! You´re raising an important issue here. I personally feel very distracted with music and cannot work and listen to music at the same time because, as you say, the music takes me far away from the task at hand!!

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