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Why should songs be used MORE in the Young Learners classroom?

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Children singing in classSongs are a great way for children to learn English. But what other benefits does using songs in the classroom bring? In this post, Devon Thagard, co-owner of Super Simple Learning and songwriter for the new primary course, Everybody Up, shares his thoughts.

My first day teaching a class of kindergarteners many years ago started with me greeting the students one by one at the classroom door. When I turned around after greeting the final student in line, I discovered that, before the lesson had even started, I’d lost all control. With my back turned for a minute, the children’s nervous energy had them running around the room, screaming, and tearing apart the foam tile ABC carpet I had laid down for a story time area. My pleas for calm had no effect. For the children, all they knew was that a big strange man was saying some odd words (loudly) in a language they didn’t understand.

Needing a minute to think, I walked over to the CD player and, not knowing which song was first on the children’s music CD I had ready to go, pressed play. I was rescued that day by a song. An old classic clean up song started playing, and I started simply picking up the foam tiles as I sang along.

Midway through the song I noticed the children had joined me in tidying up, and some were singing along, too. By the end of the song, the classroom was clean, the children were quiet, and they were all looking up at me with an expression on their faces that said, “What’s next?” We had a good lesson, and songs have been an integral part of my classes ever since.

The benefits of songs as teaching tools go well beyond just teaching the language. Here are a few reasons to implement songs in your lessons from start to finish.

Songs create a positive atmosphere.
Just as we take great care in decorating our classrooms to make them warm and conducive to learning, we should think about how we are decorating our classrooms with audio. Learning a foreign language can be stressful for anyone, especially young learners. Fun, simple English songs playing as students enter the classroom help create a welcoming environment.

Songs help to balance energy levels.
Some children come to class bouncing off the walls, while others are quite reserved. Starting class with an active song allows the higher energy students to “get the wiggles out” and the lower energy students to pep up a little.

Songs are very effective in signaling transitions.
Students often get confused, and subsequently tune out, during transitions from one activity to another. Verbal directions alone can be difficult to understand, especially when a student was focusing on different activity. Using songs to signal changes helps students understand what is going on (and helps save the teacher’s voice, too!). Try using different songs to signal when it is time to start class, time to clean up, time to make a circle, time to take out your coursebook, etc.

Songs allow everyone to participate.
These days, some students come to our classes having learned English from birth, while others in the same class may be learning English for the first time. Singing is an activity that children of all levels can enjoy equally. Students with low English levels will be able to follow along with gestures and dances as they gradually learn the language in the song. More advanced students can also enjoy singing and dancing while improving their rhythm, intonation, and pronunciation, even if they already know all the words.

Songs allow for quick review.
It can sometimes be difficult to provide as much review as we’d like for our students. Songs are a fun, easy way to quickly re-introduce language from earlier lessons.

Songs are ‘sticky’.
When you teach with songs, you be assured those songs will bounce around your students heads long after the class is over. The same can’t be said for most other teaching tools.

A classroom full of songs is a warm classroom where students are getting lots of quality English input in a fun and easy-to-understand way. Are you using songs enough in your classes? What are some of your favorite ways to use songs in the classroom?

[img courtesy of caseywest, via flickr]
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Author: Oxford University Press ELT

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16 thoughts on “Why should songs be used MORE in the Young Learners classroom?

  1. Excellent Devon, as always! Go on with your amazing job because we, teachers, need lots of your enthusiasm to allow children enter the English World in a great and fun way.
    Congratulations and keep on with your positive energy 🙂

    Paola (Argentina)

  2. I love to have a song of the day in my classroom for secondary aged students. It gives them a chance to be exposed to different music genres, and helps set the tone for the day. My students know that after the song of the day is played, they must be ready to begin the lesson. We normally start with a Bell opener.

  3. I have enjoyed every part of this article.
    I use songs all the time, as I realise I ahve not forgotten the ones I learnt at preeschool and at home at a very early age!
    Thanks a lot.
    Greetings from Galicia (northwestern Spain)

  4. The power of music over children is well known and nobody knows it better than you, Devon. I’d add that music and movement liberate teachers as well, relaxing us and getting our inhibitions down and putting us more in touch with our inner child. We can be open to young learners and appear to them in a way we don’t if we just stay still. If you can get down to the Mulberry Bush with a bunch of people x decades younger than you you’re certainly breaking down barriers. Moments of shared silliness. Not silly at all. Enjoyed your post as always since the good old days of your ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and all that’ blog.

  5. I teach English for very young learners in Hungary. Some of them are not more than 1 year old! Some people keep wondering what I can do with such young learners. SING!!! Having half an hour English lesson (singing and saying rhymes) a week can make miracles. Children under 3 learn what they do, and not the other way round like older children, who do what they learn. During a Mum+Baby/Toddler “lesson” we say finger rhymes with tickling in the end (like This Little Piggy), we go horse-riding Horsey Horsey, get on a seesaw See-saw, Margery Daw, row the boat Row Row Row Your Boat, see the ducks swimming in the pond Five Little Ducks Went Swimming One Day, etc., while we sing in English. And we use your Super Simple Songs, too. It’s amazing to see how much children learn in this way in all sorts of topics (animals, numbers, weather, vehicles, instruments, etc.). Singing Bubbles, bubbles, where are you? to the tune of Tommy Thumb always wakes the children up, and they are happy to catch the bubbles that I blow for them. (See the pictures on my site: http://www.bebeangol.hu)
    The other thing is that repetition is so important for very young learners because they learn by imitating the adults. With singing it never gets boring, mummies are always happy to sing. One of the biggest advantages of starting to learn English at a very young age is that they build their language from bigger “building bricks” not just isolated words, and song are brilliant for that, too! Kodaly, a great Hungarian composer and musician from the last century once said, “What a child only hears, he will forget. What he sees, too, he might remember. But when he takes part actively, he will surely remember everything.” So that’s what we try to keep in mind, and your songs are a tremendous help for these, too. I hope you will come up with more and more ideas. Thank you very much.

  6. Perhaps the article should have been simply titled ‘Why should songs be used more in the classroom?’ There’s no doubt songs have a place in all classrooms, but, unfortunately, I find not enough advantage is taken of the power of music. I talked about some activities that can be done with songs in my article We are the champions: one song, countless activities. Feel free to take a look.
    Regards,
    Chiew

  7. Thanks for this post! I found it very enjoyable and helpful. I am not a good singer, so I often avoid music in my University Prep School classroom, but your post helped me think through all of the benefits of using music to connect to the students. (YL and adults alike!)
    I will be moving to an elementary or at least middle school setting next year, so I will be keeping these tips in mind and hopefully incorporating more music into the classroom! Thanks!

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  11. Apart from singing and chanting I use to play music when my students are engaged in art and crafts activities or project work, they love it!! It’s relaxing, sets a good mood in the class and they get a lot of ” passive language” in the meantime they are doing something else. Thanks for the articles

  12. I love SSSongs from Devon. I used them for 2 years. The job, what they do with children it is amazing. I can say that with them I am confident to teach any children (Italian, Japanese, Czech atc.) I love them, children love them. We are great team thanks to them. The teacher is suddenly just a child. 🙂

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  14. In one class of kindergartners that I teach, we use a phonics series called “Morphun” that is specifically designed to be used with large plastic blocks (like lego, but not). The children actually build models of the words that we learn in class, like alligators, penguins, or cars. We hold the class in the kindergarten’s gym, so there is lots of space to spread out and have a good time. The end of class, though, could sometimes prove a challenge because children being children, they didn’t want to stop doing something they thought was really fun in order to do something that to them would likely be less fun.

    So I followed Devon’s example after reading his blog entry titled “Why should songs be used MORE in the Young Learners classroom” at the OUP ELT Global Blog and started playing the “Clean Up!” Song at the end of class. The children weren’t exactly less pleased about class being over, but they accepted that it must be so since the catchy song being played on the CD player was telling them so.

    Soon afterwards the children began recognizing the “Clean up!” song upon hearing the first few notes and the look of shock (“Uh-oh, time’s up) on their faces is still priceless. This did not make for a glum atmosphere, though, because the focus of the children soon went to the song, which they would merrily sing all the back to their classroom.

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  16. These tips are really great. Music is an amazing tool for teaching languages, especially to children. Good songs will bounce around in a learner’s head long after their lesson is over. Young learners pick up vocabulary, grammatical structures, and the rhythm of the language simply by doing what they already love to do…singing.

    HeyGirl@HeyEntertainment

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