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.
In addition, music can serve a variety of functions in your classroom, at home, or even in the car. Music can set a mood. Music can signal a transition from one activity to another (for both the teacher and the student). Music can be a bonding experience. Here are some ways you can use music in your classroom.
Play music in the background from the start of the lesson
Just as you take care to make your learning environment visually appealing and stimulating, you should also note the effect that music has on the atmosphere in the classroom. Entering a classroom can be intimidating for people of any age. For young children, it can be particularly daunting. Music can really help to make your classroom warm and inviting.
Start a typical lesson with a welcoming song like "Knock Knock Hello" playing in the background. It signals to the students that it's class time. Greet students at the door and invite them to come into the classroom and sit down. As they get settled, they'll usually start singing or humming along to the song.
With super energetic classes, try soothing music in the background at the beginning of class, such as any of the lullaby medleys from the Super Simple Songs - Original Series CDs, some classical music, or your favorite quiet music. With more reserved groups, try playing upbeat, even silly music, to start class. Music can set the tone of the class right from the start of the lesson.
Play music to signal transitions to the students
Children react to music in a way that they don't react to anything else. When a song comes on that they recognize and like, they'll notice right away. Use songs to welcome students to class, say, "Hello," lead into circle-time activities, signal when it's time to clean up, practice ABCs, read a story, or other classroom activities. The students know exactly what to do when they hear the music and respond right away. Even when you don't play music as a cue, the students become so familiar with the language from the songs ("Clean up," "Make a circle," "Please sit down," etc.) that they will quickly follow the teacher's directions.
Play music to signal transitions to the teacher
Plan your classes so that music accompanies the whole class. Use an iPod, or other MP3 device, to make playlists so that you don't need to change CDs during class. Before a 50-minute class, make a digital playlist of about 70 minutes worth of music (50 minutes worth of class-time music plus 4-5 songs to use as back-ups if you need to change activities or have extra time).
If you don't have a digital music player, all of the Super Simple Songs CDs are designed to work great in a class playing from start to finish. Each CD starts with a hello song, an active song, language theme songs, and then finish with a goodbye song and a lullaby. You can just put the CD on and let it play. When you get to a section of the lesson where you need to concentrate on an activity, just turn the volume down and leave the music playing quietly in the background.
When planning your lessons, think about how music can help you move from one activity to the next. Here is one idea:
When the hello song starts, stand up and start singing. When the hello song finishes and the get-up-and-move song (such as "Walking Walking" or "Seven Steps") starts, sing and act out that song. When that is finished and "Make A Circle" starts, come together and make a circle. At the end of the song, everyone is seated in a circle. Next, have some relaxing classical or other instrumental music come on signaling to you, the teacher, that it's time to start your planned activity, and signaling to the students that it's time for them to settle down and listen to the teacher. When the activity is finished, forward to the next song on your playlist (maybe the "Clean Up!" song or another active song) and that will signal to everyone what is happening next.
Planning your classes with musical cues not only helps the students recognize what is happening next, but it helps you as a teacher move smoothly between activities.
Play music to manage the energy level of the class
You never know for sure what kind of energy level young children are going to come to class with. One day, you have a class full of children bouncing off the walls with energy (often on rainy days when they can't go outside to play), the next day, the same kids seem like they are moving in slow motion. Music really helps to calm down a rowdy class, or give a lethargic class a needed boost of energy. The lullaby medleys, found on all three of the Super Simple Songs - Original Series CDs can help create a calming environment in class, or try the slower-paced "Learn It" versions of some of the songs on the CDs. Sometimes, when a class is full of energy, they need to let it all out before settling down, so play a super active song such as "Walking Walking," "Seven Steps," "Count And Move," "The Hokey Pokey Shake (Sing It)", "We All Fall Down," or "The Pinocchio." When the song is finished, most kids have burned off their excess energy and are ready to settle down and concentrate.
Play music to introduce new language
Songs are a great way to teach new language to youngsters. Even when children don't fully understand all the lyrics, they are excited to try to sing along. When you have songs with simple lyrics that kids can dance and do gestures to, the children sing and learn SO quickly.
You can use songs as part of the learning experience for any of the language themes you introduce in class. For example, when teaching about colors, sing "I See Something Blue" and "I See Something Pink." For practicing counting, try "Five Little Monkeys" or "Count And Move." If you are learning about likes and dislikes, sing "Do You Like Broccoli Ice Cream?" or “Do You Like Spaghetti Yogurt?”
Whatever the theme, songs can help you teach vocabulary in a way you just can't do with other activities. When you are singing and dancing, you interact with the language in so many ways. You are practicing listening comprehension, you are vocalizing, you are interpreting the language with movement... and all in a way that is fun and non-threatening to young learners.
When you use songs that can be taught through gestures, very little pre-teaching is necessary. Teachers can seat the students in a circle, teach some very simple gestures, and then play the music while everyone follows your gestures. Most kids will sing along right away, but even the kids who aren't ready to sing will be able to participate with gestures.
Play music to review language
Singing songs is a fantastic way to quickly and easily review language you've previously practiced in class. One of the great things about using music to learn is that people just don't forget songs. If you were to hear a few words from a song you haven't heard in 20 years, chances are, you could sing the next line with no problems.
In each lesson, try to include a song or two to review language that you have learned previously. The children love to sing some of their old favorites and it's great to see the amount of language they've amassed. Occasionally, have an all-singing, all-dancing class and sing ALL of your favorites.
Music is such a powerful learning tool. If you don't use much music in your classroom, give it a try...it will make an immediate impact. If you do use music, think of ALL the ways you can be using it to make your classroom a warmer, more effective learning environment.