There are many activities which you can use with your learners to exploit songs in the classroom. They can be used with specific teaching points in mind or just for fun to motivate children.
Why use songs in the primary classroom?
Songs tend to be repetitive and have a strong rhythm. They are easily learnt by primary children and quickly become favourites because of their familiarity. They are fun and motivating for children. They allow language to be reinforced in a natural context, both with structures and vocabulary.
All songs build confidence in young learners and even shy children will enjoy singing or acting out a song as part of a group or whole class. This also develops a sense of class identity. Children are often proud of what they have learnt and will like having the opportunity to ‘show off’ what they have learnt to friends or family.
Many songs can help develop memory and concentration, as well as physical co-ordination, for example when doing the actions for a song. For the teacher, songs can be a wonderful starting point and can fit in well with topics, skills, language and cross-curricular work.
Here are some tips for using and exploiting songs in the classroom.
1. For reinforcing grammar points
Some songs lend themselves naturally to teaching or reinforcing grammar points. They may be integrated into lessons with a particular grammar focus and provide much-needed variety, while contributing to the overall aim of a lesson. Particularly at lower levels when children are still learning basic key grammar patterns, songs can play a role as input.
On LearnEnglish Kids there are several songs which can be used in this way. For example the song ‘Quiet please’ is useful to practise the structure ‘Can I have…?’ and to practise other phrases typically used in the classroom. You can listen to the song on the website, or print the lyrics to sing.
The song ‘Over the mountains’ provides practice of the present continuous in the context of travelling. The chorus refrains such as ‘I’m driving in a car’ are repeated several times and children can produce their own sentences afterwards.
2. Using songs to teach vocabulary of a particular lexical set
Research into child language acquisition has shown that lexical items may need to be repeated many times before they are internalised by the child. Songs provide an excellent means of repeating and reinforcing vocabulary and are suitable for children of all abilities. For example, a song like ‘Pizza and chips’ follows a very simple repetitive format and teaches days of the week. This song could be used with very young learners for reinforcing days of the week and as a basis for further work:
Songs are easy to fit in with a topic-based or thematic approach. The topic of animals forms part of most young learner syllabi and there are several songs which could be used for this topic, such as the traditional song ‘Old MacDonald had a farm’, which also has lots of related games to help support learning:
‘People work’ is also a catchy song for teaching jobs vocabulary and has a fun element in that the names of the people rhyme with their jobs:
Longer songs with a wider variety of structures and vocabulary are more suitable for the development of overall listening skills. For example, the song ‘The ballad of Lisa the lemur’ is a story based on the topic of the rainforest, and endangered animals and the environment in general. Although quite long, the tune is folksy and catchy and you’ll find an activity worksheet to download and print.
Some songs are linked with stories which your learners may already be familiar with, for example the traditional story of Goldilocks and the three bears. The song ‘The Goldilocks song’ is a song based on the story.
Many of the songs on LearnEnglish Kids are suitable for singing in class or for an individual child to sing along to. Community singing in class brings the benefit of total participation from all learners, especially if accompanied by actions or mimes. The total physical response (TPR) approach is particularly suited to younger learners.
Children enjoy singing along and it can really improve motivation. Singing can also improve the pronunciation and intonation patterns of the learners, especially younger children. At primary level, vocabulary teaching tends to concentrate on single word items, and songs allow learners to learn ‘chunks’ or meaningful phrases of language rather than single words, as well as to learn about how sounds connect and run together. For example, children can become aware of using contractions and weak forms. Traditional songs are particularly useful for developing pronunciation and acclimatising young learners to the sounds of the language.
Simple songs are very repetitive and good for singing along. For very young learners the ‘The alphabet song’ is a good starting point for singing and reinforcing the alphabet.
Before they listen
It is a good idea to warm up for a song by providing some input. You could do this by using visuals of the main vocabulary items, or using realia. For ‘Old MacDonald had a farm’ for example you can practise animal vocabulary with flashcards or small toy animals. For ‘The Goldilocks song’ you could provide some household items, e.g. three bowls and cutlery. Each song on LearnEnglish Kids also has a ‘preparation’ activity, matching images with some of the key words in the song, both online and on the worksheet.
Children could predict or guess words from a song, for example predict the animals in ‘We’re going to the zoo’.
They could try to guess the missing words in a gapped song.
They could try to put the jumbled lines of a song in order.
They can circle or tick pictures of what is included in the song.
They could be asked to order or sequence pictures or words as they listen.
They could complete the gaps.
They could sort out jumbled lyrics.
They could be asked to match half-lines.
The teacher could give true/false statements.
When you introduce the song allow the learners to watch and listen to the song a couple of times to become familiar with the tune. Ask children to point to any visuals or items of realia as they listen. Children usually start to sing along naturally without much prompting from the teacher. Performing actions to accompany the song is a good way to encourage this. The song ‘If you’re happy and you know it’ is a fun action song to get children used to joining in this way. For most other songs, actions can be invented for almost any word or line – ask learners to help you invent the actions!
Many of the songs on the website have a topic or theme and therefore act as a natural stimulus for subsequent reading and writing activities, such as changing the words or adding verses. For example, the ‘Old MacDonald had a farm’, lyrics could be adapted to ‘Old MacDonald had a zoo’. Many of the songs have worksheets which support children with this, such as ‘What can it be?’
Many of the songs also lend themselves to creative arts and crafts activities. For example, with ‘Old MacDonald had a farm’ you could make a classroom wall display of farmyard animals. Or for ‘The scary skeleton’, children can make a skeleton using the ‘Skeleton’ craft activity,
Some songs provide opportunities for drama and acting out narratives, for example ‘The Goldilocks song’. You can download masks and a script to use for acting out the song and the story.
But best of all, they can listen and sing again!