Time to Tune In: 7 Simple Ways to Use Music in Your ESL Classroom

Time to Tune In: 7 Simple Ways to Use Music in Your ESL Classroom

Music may not make the world go round, but it certainly makes it a more pleasant place. All sorts of people listen to all sorts of music, and anyone can find tunes they like with just a little searching. This love for music is universal – it’s true for people in every culture of the world. That includes your ESL students. And while you may not be able to use their favorite singers to teach, you can include music in your classroom and your lessons. When you do, you create a more inviting space and a happier mood among your students. If you haven’t figured out the best ways for you to incorporate music into your classroom, and even if you have, check out these seven ways to bring a melody to your methods.

7 Simple Ways to Use Music in Your ESL Classroom

  1. 1

    Test Ambiance

    Did you know that students actually perform better on tests when there is music playing in the background? Try it with your ESL students the next time you have a quiz and you’ll no doubt see equal if not improved performance on your quiz. Keep this in mind, however. When you have students working on activities that do not directly involve the music you are playing, make sure you choose instrumental pieces. That way the words in the songs will not distract your students from what they are doing.

  2. 2

    I Like the Way You Said That

    Songs are a fun way to help your students improve their pronunciation. One advantage to using music when working on pronunciation is that singing tends to decrease or eliminate regional accents. (Have you ever listened to an interview with one of your favorite bands only to be surprised by their accents?) You can use popular songs to work on pronunciation, but if you are teaching a particular sound or sound pattern, try your hand and writing your own song. It’s easier than you think. Start with a simple tune that you know such as Jingle Bells, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, or Mary Had a Little Lamb. Then write your own set of lyrics that includes plenty of your target sound. Teach the song to your students and watch them have fun as they learn correct English pronunciation.

  3. 3

    Did You Hear That?

    If you are looking for a short listening comprehension exercise, a song or two might just be perfect for you. Many songs tell a story, and these songs are great for testing your students’ listening skills. Start by choosing a song which tells a story. Play it once for your students, but do not give them the lyrics to read as they listen. After they have listened once, ask your students between one and three questions that the song answers. They can write the questions down if they like. Then play the song a second time, letting your students take notes on the answers. Play the song a third time and then ask students to give you their final answers to the questions.

  4. 4

    Grammar Rock

    One of my favorite shows as a little kid was The Electric Company. (Yes, I am dating myself here.) Besides being entertaining, the show taught through music. Specifically, they had a series in the show called Grammar Rock in which they taught grammar concepts through short songs and animation. These songs were catchy, and forty years later I still remember them. Today, these songs are available online, and they are just waiting for you to share them with your ESL class. If you like, start with the classic Conjunction Junction or something else that fits in with the grammar points your students are learning.

  5. 5

    Lead in to Something New

    Before you introduce your next content area, whether it’s in reading class, vocabulary class, or another area of English, see if you can’t find a song that has to do with that topic first. Songs are a great way to get your students thinking about a certain subject area and can help them remember what they already know about it. Plus, they are good for reminding students the vocabulary they already know that is associated with the topic you will be introducing. This will help them understand more of what you teach and will help them remember the new information more easily.

  6. 6

    Let’s Talk about That

    Another way to use music in your classroom is as a discussion starter. Most contemporary songs are riddled with opinions, and getting your students to share their opinions is a surefire way to start a discussion in your classroom. If you want to use music this way, try searching your (controversial) topic on YouTube and see what songs come up in the search. Then play one or two, showing both sides of the issue, to your students. If you can, give them a copy of the lyrics to read along with as they listen. Then, when they are discussing either in the class or with a small group of classmates, they can refer back to the exact words the singer used to make their points.

  7. 7

    He Said What?

    If you like contemporary music, try bringing one or more songs to your students that use unfamiliar expressions or idioms. Since songs are often very informal as far as lyrics go, many songs will include several nonstandard expressions. To teach them to your students, let them listen to the song one time. Then give them a copy of the lyrics with the idioms and expressions replaced by blanks and see if they can hear the actual words that the singer is saying. Finally, give them the complete lyrics and see if they can guess the meaning of the idiomatic phrases based on their context in the song.

These are just a few ways to use music in the classroom, and you can see the many advantages to including a tune or two throughout the week. Another benefit to using music in the classroom is that you will connect with students whose learning style is musical. Without a song, these students may struggle to learn what you are presenting in class, so you can feel doubly good about reaching out to them when you bring music into your classroom.

Do you use music in your classroom?

What are your favorite ways to include it with your lesson plans?

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