CD players and music have become a vital part of most modern classrooms.
The first hint for any teacher regarding the use of music is that it is a tool, not a panacea. Just like any other tool, it can be used appropriately for great benefit, or if used inappropriately it could be useless or perhaps even harmful. Just as a carpenter wouldn’t use a power saw to drive a nail, don’t use music where it shouldn’t be used.
So, where should it be used?
Use Music as an ESL Warm-up
This tactic is especially useful when you have students who are coming in from a very boring period or one that was very stressful.
In warm-up situations, keep in mind the mood you want to set for your period. Since I tend to prefer a class that is active but not frantic, I use lots of music that has a “rock” edge to it. When working with students that are already overly frantic, I choose slower, mellower music. Either way, I choose the music to bring the students into the mood that I want them to be for that class period.
Text by: David Arnes
When choosing a song for warm-up, while the mood of the music is paramount, do not forget about the lyrics. Students need a few minutes at least to switch their minds from their native language to English. Try to find something with a decent “hook” or chorus that students can at least repeat consistently without feeling stressed.
Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” comes to mind, and while it may have very fast verses, the iconic “we will, we will rock you,” combined with the backbeat make it a fun song.
Group singing is perhaps the easiest way to implement music as a warm-up.
Remember, you want something that is quick, easy to understand, and can be explained in just a few minutes at most. If you have to spend five minutes explaining how, you’re going to miss your window of opportunity. If you have a lower-level class, just having them sing the “hook”/chorus is perfectly fine.
I prefer to let students move around; a little dance or a little jive is great to set the proper mood. For lyrics, choose something so simple that they can pick it up on the fly. Remember, we’re trying to get our students’ heads out of their books and papers in this instance -not having them read lyrics sheets.
Personal Favorite EFL Warm-up Songs:
- Queen – “We Will Rock You”
- The Beatles – “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah”
ESL Warm-up Songs for Younger Children
- “Mary Had a Little Lamb”
- “Five In the Bed”
After trying a new song through group practice, there are tons of variations you can do. Songs with multiple parts can be reviewed by breaking up the class into groups, or you could even try a full-on choir style of singing if you have experience. I’ve also used it as a game with younger children, pausing the CD at random points and having them fill in the blanks by singing the next phrase of the song.
Review Previously Learned Vocabulary and Grammar
This is great for all ages, from children to adults. The main difference between the warm-up repetition and using music for previously taught vocabulary and grammar is that in this instance, the song can vary more like a normal song. The key is that the students are already familiar with the words and the grammar ideas. This means they’re using the song for review, enjoyment, and exposure to new variations on familiar themes.
When using music in this way, it’s important to pick music that fits the temperament of the class or the student and keep the lyrics clean to safely avoid cultural problems or potential future faux pas.
Personal Favorite ESL Music for Vocabulary Review
Disney Songs – These songs are familiar in most countries and enjoyed by all ages. Also, the song lyrics are invariably safe. “Toy Story,” “Tarzan,” “Winnie The Pooh” and others have spawned dozens of great songs to use.
Increase Cultural Understanding with Music
Communication is as much about language as it is about culture. Oftentimes, miscommunication occurs not because of the words said, but because of cultural assumptions by the parties on all sides that conflict or are not understood. Music stands as the one nearly universal cultural expression. Every culture through history has had music in some form or another.
By breaking down and analyzing the lyrics and the message of a song, students can gain a greater understanding of the foreign culture. First and foremost, for this type of lesson activity make sure to be flexible.
Personal Favorite Songs for ESL Cultural Understanding:
Leonard Cohen – “Hallelujah” (Note: This song is recommended only for adult students, as the meanings behind the lyrics can be rather racy, but the slow delivery is helpful.)
Pink Floyd – “Another Brick in the Wall”
Dire Straits – “Working for a Living”
Music can both bridge gaps and help educate. Songs have been a part of human expression since our caveman days, and there’s no doubt that they help us learn.
Add that to its global impact, and it’s clear that music is a key tool for any ESL instructor.
So whether you regularly use music in the classroom, or have only ventured there once in a while, try using music and enjoy the results!