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The Benefits of Implementing Songs and Music in the ESL Classes

The Benefits of Implementing Songs and Music in the ESL Classes | ITTT | TEFL Blog

For the summative task for this course, I decided to research the use of songs in the classroom. The use of songs interests me because it seems that this is a good medium to provide some variety in the classroom and develop interest. Songs and music can also be used with all age groups, although of course whereas singalongs may be more appropriate with very young learners, other activities such as lyric breakdown are still very useful for older learners.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate David B. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Motivation

For example, Lynch (2019) states that “Many teachers think that using songs in the classroom is only for young learners, or as a means for motivating teens. While it is true that children learn most by doing and singing, and teens love learning the lyrics of their favorite singers or bands, songs work equally well with adult learners.” Therefore, the use of songs could be useful for even the most serious of business English students to introduce a fun aspect.

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The 9 Benefits by Lynch

Lynch (2019) discusses nine benefits for the use of songs in teaching English. These benefits include the fact that they: are authentic material (that allows students to apply their language skills to real-life material which can be motivational); contain real use language including slang, idioms, and taboo words (though of course, audience considerations are therefore also needed); are easily obtainable (e.g. YouTube, Google lyrics); contain a variety of vocabulary and grammar; can be tailored to students needs and interests (I.e. students could potentially suggest songs for use in classes or list genres of interest); cover various grammar and cultural aspects; provide time length flexibility; cover various accents; can stimulate discussions on various world situations topics (depending on the topic of the song), and are natural and fun.

Pronunciation Training

According to Stokes (2014), singing can also help with pronunciation. Although singalongs are very useful with younger learners, this may not be as appropriate for older learners who tend to be more subconscious about their singing skills. As well as age, there may be cultural effects on willingness to partake in singing activities in school (Wheeler, 2014).

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Developing Language Aspects

Džanić and Pejić (2016) state that that “songs are appreciated for their linguistic, pedagogical, cultural and entertaining features and are precious language learning material”; being used to teach and develop every aspect of language. These researchers verified these claims and confirmed the effectiveness of using songs as a means to improve young learners’ English language vocabulary whilst also increasing young learners’ motivation to learn English. Their research showed that songs have a positive influence on vocabulary retention of young learners, are suitable for different learning styles, encourage positive learning experience, and enhance their knowledge. Songs aid motivation and help learners develop a love for language learning. Students motivated in this way are imaginative, creative, and eager to learn and succeed.

Using Songs with Older Students

Ontesol (2018) considers the use of songs with older learners, which would apply to those taking English for special purposes. Intel points out several advantages of teaching English with songs to older learners, including Improved student motivation, reinforcement of grammatical structures, enhanced pronunciation, vocabulary building, pattern memorization, building fluency, and making learning easier. There are also some disadvantages, however, including the fact that songs can be: very fast or unclear for ESL learners, contain slang or ungrammatical sentences (such as “he don't…”), and have a difficult vocabulary that even upper intermediate students will not understand. These can be rectified, however, such as by pre-teaching words, discussing poetic license, and providing lyric sheets after concentrating on listening.

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6 Steps to Make a Song Accompany the Lesson Context

Simpson (2015) discusses how to use songs in the English language classroom. Simpson states that when planning for the use of songs there needs to be a careful examination of what you want the students to learn. I.e. this should be done before picking the song, not the other way around (similar to the use of games, as discussed in the ITTT course). There needs to be consideration of both the language level and age level of the students; repetitive songs may be useful for younger learners but could be boring for adult learners, for example. For older students - teens and adults - choice/suggestion of songs/genres may be prudent, where possible. Sensitivities to cultures and ages also have to be made in regards to song choice where lyric language may be unsuitable.

Simpson (2015) also suggests a six steps process for making a song the focus of the lesson which, as discussed below, seems to follow an ESA framework. These six steps are as follows:

First, listen to the song, asking learners if they’ve heard it before, and not overloading them with tasks at this point; simply letting them enjoy the music. Second, asking some questions about the title, or words in the title as conversation starters. I would also suggest an initial pre-step of asking students about their preferences in music or favorite songs, which, along with steps one and two, seem to me to be ideal to engage phase activities.

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Third, listen to the song again, this time with lyrics. This reflects how the ITTT course mentions that listening activities should first be conducted without the assistance of transcripts, to focus on the development of those listening skills initially. The learners can then identify any unknown words needed to be learned or can complete a gap fill type exercise. Fourth, to focus on a particular verb tense that the song uses, or aspect of grammar. Here it will be also necessary to discuss any poetic licenses where grammar rules are not obeyed. Fifth, focus on vocabulary, idioms, and expressions; again highlight any poetic licenses. Steps three, four, and five seem to me to study phase activities.

Sixth, to round things off with some creativity (which to me suggests an activate phase) such as: writing another verse of lyrics, maintaining the same mood and style as the original; a paragraph explaining the point of view of the singer or the person the song is being sung about; creating a music video/play based on an interpretation of the song; writing a diary entry for a character in the song.

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Songs for Adults

Ontesol (2018) also discusses activities for teaching English with songs to adult learners. These largely consist of activities where you have to rewrite part of the lyrics, add words or phrases, or create questions. One such commonly used activity is “Fill in The Gaps”; though caution has to be used in not overusing and in choosing the right word to leave out to fill which focuses on the topic being taught. For lower levels, a list of possible words to choose from could be made available.

Other suggestions Ontesol (2018) makes for using songs, after listening, include: putting verse segments, whole verses, or letters in an individual word in the right order; putting the verbs in brackets in the correct tense/form of the verb; identify a specific tense/grammar type in the song; grouping underlined words by type; gap-filling from listed (or not) words; choosing the right word; checking the words heard; correcting the words/mistake; questions on the theme, the message or meaning of the song to encourage discussion or on the individual worksheet; writing to the protagonist and (give advice, or tell him what you think); writing the story in the song. From this list, it can be seen that these activities could be used for both receptive (listening and reading) and productive (speaking and writing) skill development as well as in all three lesson plan phases: Engage, Study, and Activate (ESA).

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In summary, songs can be a very useful medium for addition to any English language teaching program for both young and adult learners, including business English students. They can be used for both receptive and productive skill development and in all three ESA lesson phases.

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