Six ways to use music in the young learner classroom

During the YL extension to the CELTA I learned an infinite amount of things but one thing that stuck with me and  I really wanted to experiment with was the use of music in the YL classroom.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this course (soon to be discontinued – December 2016) it is a ten week course where the group comes together once a week. This day usually has the following timetable:

10:00 – 11:30 First Input session
11:30 – 13:30 Second Input session
13:30 – 15:00 Planning time
15:10 – 16:10 Assisted lesson planning
16:30 – 18:40 Lessons
18:50 – 20:00 Feedback session

During the “Lessons” stage those who aren’t teaching have to observe the other participants lessons and fill in an observation task.

This course also has a requirement to observe experienced YL teachers and choose from a list of observation tools to fill in while in the lesson.

It was during these observations that I encountered music being used as a part of a lesson. The first time was a participant who used it during a mingle activity to control timings of a mingle. The second time was when observing my previous line manager as part of the peer observation scheme mentioned above. When students were working on a particular task he would allow them to choose an English song they wanted to listen to. It was clearly visible that this had improved classroom rapport and helped establish the idea of turn taking when choosing a song.

After observing these two teachers I wanted to experiment with what I had seen and try other ways to use music when teaching. Here is what I came up with.

Music as a “filler”

The school I work at has recently introduced a new product divided into modules and each module leads up to a final task. I found that when we did the task for the first module it was a bit quiet with the odd students speaking in L1. For this reason the second time I decided to ask them what music they wanted to listen to and played it on youtube making sure it was appropriate.

Music creates a real purpose for listening and communicating in class

While students were completing their tasks some of them were singing along to some of the songs and telling me which songs they liked and didn’t like. When it came round to choosing the next song a lot of students were raising their hands trying to get my attention and telling me what they wanted the next song to be, even some of the weaker students were doing this.

Music as a timer and attention raiser

As mentioned in the introduction, the first time I saw music used as a classroom tool was for timing purposes. In my lesson the task was divided into different stages such as cutting, glueing and so on. For each stage I allocated a time and as the time progressed I turned down the music until completely turning it off when the time had completely run out. This had the exact same effect as when I saw the participant on the YL extension: as soon as the music stops you have students full attention. I found this amazing as I sometimes find it hard to get the attention of all students, especially in big classes like this one. I have tried it out a few times and it really works.

Music improves classroom relationships

If you let your students choose their own music to listen to they will see you as a more alternative and relaxed teacher breaking down a possible barrier to learning if students still don’t feel entirely comfortable in the classroom. It is almost guaranteed that in their public schools this will rarely/never happen and it creates a positive environment. It can also help improve students´relationships with each other as they get to share their taste in music and have to reach agreements on which song to play next. After all how many of your friendships aren’t based on taste in music and other interests?

Music helps with settlers and stirrers

The choice of music can also boost the kind of activity you are doing at different stages of the lesson. If your activity is more of a settler then you can play something slow maybe with instruments such as the piano. Whilst if your activity is a stirrer you might want to play something faster and with a bit of rhythm to get students moving around and to boost excitement.

Music improves students natural speech

When students are listening to music in class they will probably sing along to it and at some point they might not understand something. Guess what? They just might ask you for an explanation so be prepared!

 

Some dos and don’ts when using music in the classroom

Do:

  • Ask students what they want to listen to
  • Share your own music taste with students (they love to know what the teacher likes too)
  • Use this with all levels. Even the youngest learners will know English songs.
  • Encourage turn taking so all students get a chance to choose a song.

 

Don’t:

  • Play a song that you are not entirely familiar with as the lyrics might not be appropriate. (Try and find a radio edit – If you can’t find one you can always quickly scan the lyrics to the song if you can find them on the internet.

 

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