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How do I teach a new song?

Music is a great tool to use in the classroom for young learners who are developing language skills, but what is the best way to introduce a new song to children? Here are a few suggestions.

Introduce songs as background music first

When you hear a new song on the radio for the first time, you don't start singing along with it right away. You hear it a few times, and before you know, even if haven't been actively listening, soon you find yourself singing along. Nobody "teaches" you the song. Keep this in mind when introducing songs to young learners.

When learning a new song, kids need to learn the tune, the tempo, the rhythm and sometimes even gestures and dance. We can't just focus on the lyrics. Even if they know the lyrics, they can't really sing the song until they know the tune. Help students learn the tune by playing the song as background music as they enter the classroom or while they are doing a quiet activity. The kids will internalize the tune, and when you formally introduce the song in class, you will be able to focus more on the words.

For example, if you have plans to introduce a song in class, play the song on repeat in the background in an earlier lesson as the students are doing a sorting activity, making a craft, or coloring. Often, the children will start humming or singing the song on their own after hearing it once or twice, especially if the song is at their level.

The following lesson, have the song playing quietly (again on repeat) in the background as students enter the class and during the warm-up activities and greetings. By the time you "teach" the song, the students will already be familiar with it and probably even know some of the words (even if they don't yet know the meaning of the lyrics).

Input comes before output

Listening comes before speaking, or in this case, singing. Don't expect your students to sing the songs right away. The first time or two you play a new song, have the students listen and do the gestures to the song with you. As they watch you and follow the gestures, they'll be learning the song in the process. After one or two times, they'll likely be singing along.

If you like, introduce a song in phases. First, demonstrate the vocabulary and gestures without the music, then listen to the song and do the gestures; finally, listen, gesture and sing.

Some songs don't need much pre-teaching

When using active songs or songs with lots of repetition, there is no need to do much "pre-teaching."

For example, to introduce an action verb song like "Walking Walking," or "We All Fall Down," start by making a circle with the students. Then say, "Walk!" as you start walking around the circle. Encourage the students to walk with you as you say, "Walk" repeatedly. Then say, "Hop" and start hopping. Next do "Run," "Stop," "Tiptoe," "Skip," "Gallop," etc. Now put on the song and do the actions as you listen. Don't worry if the students don't know the words right away. They'll have fun doing the actions, and will learn the meaning by following you. The next week, use the song again. This time, encourage them to sing along. Now they know the words and actions!

Active songs like this can be used again and again. Each time you use the song, kids can learn a little more. You don't need flashcards because the students learn all of the language by doing the actions. It's great when students can learn by doing.

But some songs do

Some songs are active but include a lot of new language. In this case, you may want to "pre-teach" some of the vocabulary. For example, if you are going to sing "The Pinocchio," you can introduce the parts of the body before you sing the song. This is as simple as saying, "Everybody show me your right arm" and holding up your right arm as the students follow you. Have them say, "Right arm!" Next say, "Everybody show me your left arm!" Continue through all of the parts of the body in the song and then "quiz" the students. "Right arm!" (students hold up their right arms). "Right leg!" (Students hold up their right legs).

After reviewing the body parts, say, "Make a big circle!" Then play the music and do the gestures! It's easy to follow and there is a lot of repetition, so even if the students don't follow at first, they will definitely catch on by the end (and will be asking you to sing it again the next class!)

You can also use picture cards to introduce new vocabulary. We have free flashcards for almost every song on Super Simple Songs 1, 2 and 3 and our Themes Series has printable flashcards included with each CD. When using picture cards, try to teach a gesture along with each word.

Use visual aids

Some songs have more of a story to them and can be difficult to teach by gesture alone. For these, you can teach the song with visual aids. For example, classic rhymes/stories like "Five Little Monkeys," "Ten in the Bed," "The Wheels On The Bus," or "Old McDonald" all have many picture book versions available (you can search for them online at a place like Amazon.com). Read the storybook first so that students understand what is happening when you sing the song. As you read the storybook, you can sing some of the words to introduce the melody of the song. After reading the book, try doing a simple craft or coloring page related to the book as you play the song in the background (see our Pinterest page for lots of craft ideas). Then sing the song and have the students follow along with the gestures.

Repetition is good

Remember that with very young learners (4 years and younger), they enjoy the familiarity of hearing a song over and over. You can use their favorites almost every week. If you are using a song frequently, understand that there is no need for them to sing right away...let them become comfortable with it and sing when they are ready (they will!).

As the kids grow older, you don't want to repeat songs as much. Students will still have their favorites that they like to sing, but you won't be repeating songs every week like you do with the younger learners. In this case, you'll need to build more exposure to the song into one or two lessons, and then go back to it every once in a while for review. Here are more thoughts on teaching songs to elementary school students from Devon.