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Using songs in the primary elt classroom by Nick Dawson

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Using songs in the primary elt classroom by Nick Dawson. Longman author and Teacher Trainer.
When we teach a foreign language in the Primary classroom, our aim is to
teach language for communication. We hope that the children will learn English
so that they can communicate with other people. Songs are not a good example
of language for communication - normal people do not communicate by singing
to each other! So why do we use songs in the ELT classroom?

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Using songs in the primary elt classroom by Nick Dawson

  1. 1. Using Songs in thePrimary ELT ClassroomBy Nick DawsonLANGUAGE FOR COMMUNICATIONWhen we teach a foreign language in the Primary classroom, our aim is toteach language for communication. We hope that the children will learn Englishso that they can communicate with other people. Songs are not a good exampleof language for communication - normal people do not communicate by singingto each other! So why do we use songs in the ELT classroom?Firstly, we should not make the mistake of confusing our destination with theroute for reaching the destination. Communication is our aim (our destination),but language learning is the route to that destination. Secondly, when we think about using songs, we should think of their psychological and linguistic benefits rather than any value in communicative terms. Thirdly, songs are an example of expression and performance. They are a medium through which children can develop confidence, develop micro- skills and learn language.WHAT ARE THE PSYCHOLOGICAL BENEFITS OF USING SONGS?MotivationThe major benefit from using songs is at a psychological level. Children enjoysinging songs. The value of the song comes through repetition. The songbecomes a friendly, familiar and enjoyable experience.Social participationWhen singing a song, each child is part of a group. Singing together is an act ofsocial binding - a group of individuals becomes a single voice. Children findpsychological comfort in being part of a group.Multi-level participationSongs are stress-free. If a child is singing as part of a group, any errors inher/his individual performance are covered by the other singers. Every child isable to participate and every child is able to contribute.Building confidenceThe positive psychological aspects of singing help to build childrensconfidence. This is particularly true with the weakest learners. The song givesthem something which they can perform.
  2. 2. Memory (structure, tune, rhythm, rhyme, sense)The lyrics of a song are bound to the tune, the rhythm and the rhyme scheme.If you remove a word from a song, it is very difficult to substitute it with anotherword without destroying the rhythmic structure or rhyme scheme of the song.This is why songs (poems) are so easy to remember.WHAT ARE THE LANGUAGE BENEFITS OF USING SONGS?Pronunciation, stress, intonation, (psycho-motor skills)A song is a pronunciation exercise. In learning a foreign language, childrenneed to learn new psycho-motor skills to produce sounds which are differentfrom their mother tongue. A song is an opportunity to develop and practisethese skills in a low-stress context.ComprehensionSongs are so easy to learn that there is a danger that children will learn them asa sequence of sounds but will not learn or understand the meaning of thewords. It is therefore important that exercise material should concentrate on themeaning (AFTER the song has been learnt).Phrase learningChildren do not learn words like bedroom and bathroom in isolation but inphrases: in the bedroom or in the bathroom. These phrases are contrasted with"climbing up the wall" or "on my slice of bread".HOW DO WE TEACH SONGS?Rhythm and tuneStart by playing the cassette so children can hear the tune and rhythm. Play itagain and let the children clap (with two fingers against the palm of their hands)to the rhythm. You can play the cassette a third time with the children singing"da".WordsTeach the first line by speaking the words in the rhythm of the music. Get thechildren to repeat in the same way. Then sing the first line. Continue with thefollowing lines in the same way. Always return to the beginning of the song andsing the lines up to (and including) the new line.Chorus and dialogueWhen children have learnt the words of a song, it is a good idea to give differentlines (or parts of lines) to different groups. This means that they have to listencarefully to sing their part at the correct time. This increases the learning benefitfrom the song.
  3. 3. EXPLOITING SONGSMaking songs multisensorySongs exist in two auditory forms (the tune and the sung words), in two visualforms (the written words and music). Songs can be made more memorable andmore fun by extending the senses in which the songs are expressed.Songs and movementA song with movement becomes a dance. This can be in the traditional sense,or simply movements added to the words of the song. For example the song"Head, shoulders, knees and toes", obviously links itself to movement, but thereis also the chance to add movement to other songs.Songs and picturesChildren can illustrate songs with pictures or specific lines from songs. You canalso ask them to make cards to hold up (in place of words) when singing thesong. (This would work well with The ABC Song).Songs and wordsChildren can obviously copy out words of a song. You can put blanks in thesong for children to fill with the correct word. For more advanced ones, askingthem to write a new line/verse for the song is a good creative idea because theywill have to think about the rhythm, word stress and rhyme.Songs and activitiesThere are many extension activities which can develop from a song. Here aretwo examples: making a carnival mask or making a puppet.To sum up, here are some key points to keep in mind. Teach long songs insmaller sections; children cannot learn a long song in one lesson. Sing songsfrequently but not for too long. Exploit the music and words of the song in asmany ways as possible - especially movement. It must have meaning for thechildren - dont allow the song to be just sound. Practice saying the song inrhythm to concentrate on the sounds. And encourage children to write andillustrate the songs they learn so they can make their own songbook.Nick Dawson is a Longman author and teacher trainer.

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