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How to use songs and music in the primary classroom

The benefits of using songs and music General tips

There are many good reasons for using songs and music • If the activity focuses on the lyrics of a song, make
in the language classroom. Children enjoy hearing and sure that the recording is of good quality and the
singing songs. Language is often more memorable lyrics are easy to hear. Check that the language of the
for children in songs because singing is fun and is not song is appropriate for the level and age group.
seen as a language exercise. The feelings and images • If you use video from websites, check there is no
that songs inspire also help children to remember inappropriate advertising with the video.
vocabulary and chunks of language. Songs can often • Lead by example and model singing the songs
be personalized easily, which makes the language more before the children join in. If you aren’t prepared to
meaningful. sing along with the song, the children won’t feel
Songs and music can also be very beneficial for social confident doing so either.
integration when children sing as part of a class group. • Not all children are happy to sing along in a group,
This helps to build the confidence of children who may so don’t force individual children to sing if they don’t
be struggling to produce spoken English. The move from want to.
listening to speaking is also less stressful for children if • It is often a good idea to sing along with a
it is part of a group singing activity, because they don’t professionally produced CD or MP3 as the music is
have to worry about their own individual errors. usually of a high standard and the lyrics are clear.
However, for variety and spontaneity, consider
Songs can help to achieve main language aims in a
sometimes singing songs without the recording,
lesson, such as learning new vocabulary, and also the
especially once the children are familiar with the
subsidiary aims of developing skills, such as listening and
song and lyrics.
speaking. Songs for primary learners are often repetitive,
so children hear the same structures again and again. • In general, it’s better to choose instrumental music
When, as often happens in songs, the structure is for background music; lyrics can distract children
repeated using different words, this helps children from their task.
to understand how they can substitute words within
fixed phrases. Songs also expose children to common Seven activities with songs and music
collocations (e.g. have a shower, go to bed), so they don’t
only learn words in isolation. Songs can also be used for This section contains ideas for classroom activities,
listening practice; every kind of task that can be done together with useful tips and variations; all the activities
with a normal listening passage can also be done with work well in a wide range of different classrooms. We
songs. encourage you to try them out, if necessary adapting
them to suit your own classroom.
Music can be used for classroom management as a way
to mark the start and end of a task, or for different phases 1 Singing the song
of an activity. For example, the children participate in Aim To introduce variety in singing activities
a mingling activity and stop speaking when the music Age range All children
stops; or when they are working in pairs, they change Singing along to a song as a group is something
pairs every time the music stops. In this way music can that children of all ages can enjoy. Although most
also be used as a way of setting routines for the children. teachers usually play the audio track and encourage
Music played quietly in the background can be very the children to sing along, there are other interesting
effective for certain parts of the lesson and can help alternatives:
establish a specific mood. For example, during a • ask half the children to sing only the verses and
role-play in which you want the children to enjoy the other half to sing the chorus
themselves as well as practise speaking, you might have • ask the girls and the boys to sing different parts of
lively music playing in the background. Quiet classical the song
music playing before the lesson starts can be very • make simple instruments out of classroom
effective in helping the children focus and tune into the objects. This may include using the table tops as
English lesson. drums with pencils as the drumsticks. These can
then be used to accompany the children as they
sing, and it adds a kinaesthetic element to the
listening and speaking activity.

Professional Development  How to use songs and music in the primary classroom photocopiable © Oxford University Press 1
How to use songs and music in the primary classroom

2 Action songs 4 Musical board slap

Aim To practise recognizing simple vocabulary and Aim To listen for specific words in a song
grammatical items in a song Age range Older children
Age range Younger children 1 Before the class, choose a song that the children
1 Before the class, choose a song which has a lot of are already familiar with. Pick approximately 15
verbs or nouns that can easily be acted out (e.g. words from the song and write them down on
animal or weather words). separate pieces of card or paper.
2 Pre-teach the important vocabulary items and 2 Stick each word onto the board and divide the
give the children a simple comprehension class into two teams. Get each team to stand in a
exercise to check they understand the lyrics. line in front of the board.
3 Ask the children to decide on actions for the song. 3 Play the song, and when the two children at the
For example, with ‘Old MacDonald had a farm’, the front of each line hear a word from the song that
children can act as the different animals as they is on the board, they race each other to slap that
are named in each verse. word. The child who slaps the word first wins a
4 Play the song and have the children act out the point for their team.
actions as they hear the appropriate words and 4 The two children go to the back of the line and the
structures in the song. game continues until all the words are slapped.
Note This activity caters for different abilities and You may need to play the song more than once
levels of confidence. Some children may not be while the game is being played. The winning team
ready to sing along, but may be able to recognize the is the one with the most points.
words and show they understand them by doing the Variation You can make this more difficult by putting
actions, whilst others can sing the words and do the extra words on the board that do not appear in the song.
actions. Note Children tend to get quite excited during this
3 Draw the song activity. If you want to make the activity quieter you
can change the rules so that the children have to walk
Aim To encourage creativity and personalization
to the board and just touch the correct word.
Age range All children
1 Before the class, choose three short audio tracks 5 Write an extra verse
of about one minute each. As far as possible they Aim To provide an opportunity for creative writing
should be very different in style. practice
2 Play the tracks once and ask each child to decide Age range All children
which one they like best. They shouldn’t tell 1 Before the class, select a song that easily lends itself
anyone else which track this is. to adding more verses. With lower primary classes
3 Tell the children that they will listen to the tracks this would be a simple, repetitive song where they
again and this time they will imagine how the only need to substitute at word level, for example,
music would look if it was a picture. ‘Old MacDonald had a farm’, or ‘Ten little fingers’ (both
4 Give the children five to ten minutes to draw a these songs can be found on YouTube™). Higher
picture of the track they liked best, and give help primary classes can deal with more challenging
and encouragement as you walk round the class. songs where writing at sentence level is required.
5 Put the children into three or four groups and 2 Play the song in class and check that the children
have them take turns to hold up their picture. The understand the general meaning.
other members of the group guess which piece 3 Put the children into small groups of three or four
of music the picture represents, and say why. and tell them to add one more verse to the song.
Encourage the children to talk about their ideas in If necessary, brainstorm some ideas first and write
a freer practice speaking activity. them on the board.
6 Ask two or three children to come to the front of 4 The children work in their groups to write the
the class to talk about their picture and why they verses. Monitor carefully to make sure that the
drew it. children are on task and have the language
Note If there are words with the song (which is best needed to express their ideas.
for younger children), the pictures will probably 5 Ask each group to stand up and sing their verse.
reflect a literal interpretation. If there are no words 6 An optional final stage would be to have the
(which works better with older children), the pictures class vote on the verse they liked best and to sing
may be more abstract. It’s a good idea to explain to the whole song again, with the new final verse
the children that there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ pictures. included as a class.

Professional Development  How to use songs and music in the primary classroom photocopiable © Oxford University Press 2
How to use songs and music in the primary classroom

6 Wrong words 7 Jumbled lyrics

Aim To give the children intensive listening practice, Aim To practise ordering sentences in a text
focusing on the pronunciation of similar-sounding Age range Older children
words 1 Before the class, cut up the lyrics of a song so that
Age range Older children there is one line on each strip of paper. It’s best if
1 Before the class, type the lyrics of a song with this is a song that the children don’t know. Prepare
wrong words inserted at regular intervals (e.g. one set of lyrics per group.
every one or two lines). The new words should 2 Put the children into small groups and distribute
sound similar to the original words and it’s best the cut-up lyrics.
if the result is funny. For example, ‘We all live in a 3 Give the children a time limit to put the lines in
yellow submarine,’ becomes ‘We all live in a jelly the correct order.
submarine.’ You can also use nonsense words. 4 Play the song and ask the children to check
2 Give the children copies of the modified lyrics, and the order of their lines and make any necessary
explain that they are going to listen to the song changes.
and try to identify which words are wrong. Give 5 Ask each group in turn to read out (or sing) the
them some time to read through the lyrics. lines of the song in the correct order. You can
3 Put the children in pairs, play the song and let make this step easier by playing the song again at
them do the task. the same time.
4 After playing the song give the children some
time to go through their work, and write in what
the correct words should be.
5 Play the song again and let the children check
their work.
6 Check their answers at the end of the activity and
explain any problems.
Note This activity works best with a song that is new
to children, or one that they don’t know very well.
Variation To make this activity more difficult, play the
song straight away without giving the children time
to read through the lyrics first.

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Professional Development  How to use songs and music in the primary classroom photocopiable © Oxford University Press 3