One effective method of teaching language to your ELs is through music and songs. It is remarkable how quickly children pick up words and sentences and remember them for a long time when music is integrated into a lesson.
Here are four tips for teaching language through music to Pre-K–5 ELs.
Provide comprehensible input through music. This can be accomplished when teachers preteach the key vocabulary in a song and provide visual support of this vocabulary when the song is sung. This can be done through realia, drawings, pictures, and photographs. It’s not productive for ELs to learn words to a song if they have no idea what the words mean. Content-area material can also be taught through music as long as comprehensible input is provided. An example of this is a K–2 lesson on my website entitled Ribbit! Ribbit! A Thematic Unit on Frogs.
Choose songs that have simple lyrics and provide lots of repetition. ELs need to hear the lyrics over and over again. When ELs feel comfortable with the lyrics, their affective filter will be lowered. In fact, music increases ELs’ confidence with oral production and makes them more eager to participate. Constant repetition of songs will also help ELs learn language chunks and increase their fluency and pronunciation in English. One resource that I have used to teach ELs through music is Singing Machine. My students loved singing the words to songs into the microphone and hearing themselves sing when it was played back.
Include songs that lend themselves to movement. Movement adds a huge dimension to learning through music. Many of the popular children’s songs are on YouTube, and using them to introduce a song to your students is helpful. You want to be sure that the songs are not sung too fast. Try songs such has the Hokey-Pokey and Old MacDonald Had a Farm, If You’re Happy and You Know It, and Wheels on the Bus. These are all excellent examples of the use of movement with music.
Teach songs in the languages of your students. The music you teach does not have to be in English. Music connects children across cultures. Karen Nemeth, a national expert on early childhood dual language learners has this to say:
Early literacy experts focus heavily on the value of music for supporting language and literacy for ALL young children. I object, however, to mixing two languages in the same song. We know from research about young children’s language processing that their brains will focus on the familiar language and tune out the new language when they are presented simultaneously. I support singing in one language or the other so that children can focus on whole phrases and sentences and get used to pronouncing strings of words.
Have your ELs or their parents demonstrate a song from their home language to your students. This will help students appreciate the culture of the other children in their class. It also adds a sense of community to the classroom. Be prepared to search for songs that are not sung too fast. Many songs in English for young children have been translated to other languages. Here is the Wheels on the Bus in Five Languages. Colorín Colorado has an excellent list of children’s songs in Spanish.
Do you have favorite songs in the first languages of your students that you use in your classroom? Please share them with us.