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Q&A: Everything is better with music

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Music in the ELT classroom

Children singing their favourite songs whilst learning English

Vanessa Reilly is a teacher, OUP author and teacher trainer. In this post, she answers some of the questions from her recent ‘Everything is better with music’ webinar.

As I promised in the webinar, although the session was for teaching pre-primary and primary children, I will address some of your questions about teaching teenagers and adults.

 

 

 

How can I use songs like ‘head, shoulders, knees and toes’ with adults?

If I were to teach beginner adult classes again, I would tap into all the things I know help children to learn, and TPR would be one of them.  I think I would be upfront with them and say, ‘this is a song I use with children which will help you to learn parts of the body with little or no effort on your part. I need you to count to ten and then do the song with me, but let’s pretend we are six-years-olds.  Let’s have some fun!’ Willingness to participate may depend on a whole range of factors, but I think my Spanish students would find it a fun and useful way to disconnect from their busy lives for a couple of minutes. You could even ask them to go home and teach it to their children or grandchildren.

How does TPR work in a large class of teenagers?

With any activity, it depends on the timing.  If a group of teenagers are lethargic and tired, a TPR activity is the perfect remedy to wake them up and get them moving.  I would be more inclined to give them the words and ask them to come up with the actions. You could tell them to prepare as if they are the teacher, teaching the song to younger siblings or cousins. That way they get the benefit of the language, without the activity seeming too babyish.

What about teens or adults? What music activities work for them?

As some of you commented, teens can often react badly to music a classmate has chosen or indeed, music you think is great!  With teens, I often like to go for music that has been made popular by a film or an advert, rather than jump straight to a pop song that you know some of the class won’t like.  Either that or I go for music that is so old, they cannot really object!

Older children, teenagers and young adults work well with music by the Beatles, ABBA and songs like ‘Wonderful World’ by Louis Armstrong.  The second webinar was on 21 September, World Peace Day; the song ‘Wonderful World’ was perfect for such a day, as was ‘With my own two hands’ by Jack Johnson.

Both these songs are proven big hits with my pre-teens and teens, and work just as well with young adults.  If used well, the lyrics should spark a discussion about how we can ‘change the world’.

I don’t make teens and young adults sing along to a song – this has to be something that they want to do.  Students will often sing along or hum to a well-chosen song, but it’s more important that they have the words in their head.

These three musical activities tend to work well with teenagers and young adults:

  1. Music critic – I choose snippets of songs based around the topic we are working on. The students look at the lyrics and listen to the music. They then discuss and write comments on each piece. Then we feedback to the class.
  2. There’s a letter for you – This is an activity I got many years ago from a CUP book called ‘The Standby Book – activities for the language classroom’, edited by Seth Lindstromberg.

I send the students the words of a song like ‘Wonderful World’ in a letter, starting with ‘Dear class…’ and end by signing off with the name of the artist; in this case, Louis Armstrong.  I handwrite the words and put the letter in an envelope addressed to the school. I photocopy or display a copy of the letter on the board. In class, we read the ‘letter’ and the students discuss what the sender means in the letter (lyrics). The students also talk about the sender of the letter, have they got a problem? What’s happened? Do they think the sender of the letter is a happy/positive person?

This activity works best with songs the students do not know, so they can form an opinion in the discussion. Once the students are finished with their interpretations, I would then play the song.  It is often a big surprise for the students to find out it isn’t really a letter.  Obviously, you can only do this once with a class, or they’ll already know your secret!  Here are some songs that work particularly well in a letter:

  • Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong (Letter: Dear Class… Love from Louis)
  • Love me do by the Beatles (Dear Linda… Love from Paul)
  • Perfect by Fairground Attraction (Dear + boy’s name…From + girl’s name) 
  1. Story songs for teens.

Did you know that some songs have been made into books? These are great tools to use in class. You can tell your students the story, and then play them the song as a surprise!

The three Bob Dylan songs ‘Blowing in the wind’, ‘Man gave names to all the animals’ and ‘Forever young’ have all been made into books.  I have used all three with students and they are very surprised to hear the song at the end. When doing this, you may find a more recent recording of the song will better appeal to your teenagers. I used the Jason Mraz version of ‘Man gave names to all the animals’.

How do you calm children after an energetic song?

The key is choosing when to play a song.  If the music stirs the group, use it when they need stirring. However, if the children are energetic when they get to class, I would use music to calm them down before doing anything more energetic.

Should we have background music while we’re teaching English in our classrooms?

I often use background music.  If the children are doing desk-based work, I will often play the song from the course book related to the language they are working with, it helps to reinforce the language.

Try playing music that is 432 Hz in the background. 432Hz music is used in places like spas to calm us down. Here’s some YouTube inspiration.

It is believed that music tuned to 432Hz will fill you with a sense of peace and well-being, regardless of the style of song you listen to. I know many teachers that use music tuned to 432Hz to calm down children and adults in their classes.  Mozart and Verdi composed music tuned to 432Hz, and so did artists like Bob Marley, The Police, Prince, and Jimi Hendrix.  Check out which style best suits your students.

Thank you to everyone for attending, and for your questions. I hope to see you all in another webinar soon!

Author: Oxford University Press ELT

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3 thoughts on “Q&A: Everything is better with music

  1. Can I watch the webinar? Is it available online?

  2. I totally agree with this post. Music is essential in the clases. I always use it, as I tell in my post, Halloween Party in http://www.britishacademy.com.
    Thanks!

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