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by Erica Fischer on Apr 29, 2013

7 Best Ways to Use Music in World Language Classrooms

“Songs can get to your brain and heart faster than any other language interaction,” stated @DiegoOjeda66 last Thursday night. His comment got right to the heart of many teachers’ perspectives about using music in the world language classroom.

Music is a universal element of culture, and one of the eight learning intelligences discussed by Howard Gardner in his multiple intelligences theory. It is no wonder then, that #langchat participants were so excited to share their ideas about why music is so effective and how to tie it into world language learning.

Why Music?

There are a lot of reasons that music is a great teaching tool in the world language classroom. Not only is it fun and engaging for students, but there is a lot of subconscious knowledge that is being transferred when teachers include authentic music activities.

Cultural Rhythms. Many teachers spoke of the cultural elements embedded into authentic songs. @cadamsf1 said, “I use songs to link with culture and politics- then we talk about comparisons to American songs. I also do the song lines in order.” @karacjacobs said, “I love using songs in class! Big reason: Songs are the cultural products that describe cultural perspectives and practices.”

Motivational Music. Another key reason that many world language teachers use music is that students just love to participate with it. @dr_dmd said, “It is a great motivator for my students, or a reward at end of week.” Many expressed the motivation that music offered them when they were first learning their language. @yeager85 said, “Music sparked my interest in Spanish and is why I’m fluent. My HS teacher introduced me to it and the rest is history. Music is powerful!”

Outside Practice. @ProfaBaros said, “How do we get “free” comprehensible input outside of class? Get a song stuck in student’s heads!” Many teachers agreed that songs stuck with students outside of class much more often that simple poems or repetitive activities. @jennahacker said, “They listen AND sing outside of class. I love when I hear them singing the chorus in the hallway. They’re practicing w/o knowing!”

Pronunciation Patterns. Some #langchat teachers mentioned that using songs within the world language classroom can improve students’ pronunciation. @alisonkis said, “I teach Mandarin and use lyrics to help students with pronunciation.” @tmsengel said, “Started year with children’s song video. Used instead of alpha to learn special Italian pronunciation. Best pronunciation this yr.”

Fast-Track Proficiency. Finally, a key element of using songs to teach is that students in early learning stages can quickly understand and identify key vocabulary and concepts in songs. This gives them a sense of ownership in their language acquisition and can help them feel more proficient. @tmsaue1 said, “Song could be a great strategy to get kids feeling successful in early stages of language learning.” @dr_dmd responded, “This was my experience – really boosted by confidence and enjoyment of learning English.”

7 Best Practices for Using Music in World Language Classrooms

    1. Rap, and repeat.

Repetition is one of the reasons why music is so effective when other ways of teaching concepts are not. Music is naturally repetitive, so it allows much more inherent practice than other forms of learning. @CalicoTeach said, “Repetitive, simple lyrics are great for novices. Making the music comprehensible is what brings value.”

    1. Dance It Out.

Other teachers mentioned that students love dancing along as well, which makes for a positive learning experience within the world language classroom. @senoralopez said, “The best part is dancing! Learning must be fun.” @jennahacker said, “I love incorporating songs that go with movements. Muscle memory helps the learning!” @CalicoTeach said, “Use music and specific actions to teach action verbs (turn each action into a dance) is an effective, fun strategy for elementary students.”

    1. Pick Music You Like!

@DiegoOjeda66 reminded us that, since teachers spend a lot of time with the music they choose, it is vital to choose likeable music. @suarez712002 said, “Oh yes, we can work with songs we don’t like but the effect is not comparable when you work with the ones you like.” Plus, when teachers like the music that is being played in class, it becomes more authentic in the students’ minds. @jennahacker said, “I have music on during group work, etc. The kids see me singing along. Lets them know it’s real! Not just 4 show.”

    1. Be the Weird You Want to See

Many teachers expressed concerns that students won’t feel comfortable enough to sing or dance along with authentic world language music. @dr_dmd suggested, “Make it SAFE to perform, be goofy, teacher should model this!” @DiegoOjeda66 said, “Even if you are a good singer, sing in your worst fashion so they won’t feel the pressure to sing perfectly.” @jennahacker went even further: “I make sure I look like the biggest fool in the room. Sing and dance dramatically so they can be comfortable.”

    1. Have Non-Threatening Alternatives

Although there are usually always some students who love to sing and dance at the front of the class, there are others who won’t. That is why it is important to have low-stress alternatives to participation. @jennahacker said, “I don’t force students to sing, but I do highly encourage it. We all laugh together. They at least have to stand and do gestures.” A number of teachers also suggested group singing and listening activities for non-performing students. @CarolGaab said, “I always give student the option of lip syncing. That way, those who are tone deaf are not “exposed.”” @DiegoOjeda66 said, “Recite songs as poems, in a very dramatic way. For those who rather not sing.”

    1. Pre-Teach

Since many popular songs include slang and advanced vocabulary such as idiomatic expressions, it is wise to pre-teach a song before it is shared with the class. @natadel76 said, “Songs often use conversational lang or slang too. Sometimes I have to look it up myself! Thanks for WordReference! #langchat” @CarolGaab commented, “So many authentic songs have a ‘story’. Easier to pre-teach more common vocabulary to tell the story, THEN delve into lyrics.”

  1. Tell a Story.

There are so many great songs out there, it can be difficult to choose one that is catchy, interesting and supportive of other world language benchmarks. Some teachers suggested choosing songs with stories in order to help students grasp the meaning of song lyrics.

Other Great Ideas for Using Music in the World Language Classroom

  • @dr_dmd said, “Very fun to create our own songs, if we have some level of ability!”
  • @dr_dmd said, “There is the ever popular Cloze text approach – helps students listen for missing words – easy and fun”
  • @DiegoOjeda66 said, “Competitions among students to see who can read the songs the fastest without mistakes.”
  • @WLteachmeh said, “Novices can listen for words they recognize or how many times they hear something specific.”
  • @natadel76 said, “If song is comprehensible to students, cut lines and have the kids restore the lyrics as they listen.”
  • @dr_dmd said, “I like to embed YouTube videos on a wiki page, then create a Google form to embed below it with some questions/activities – Fun!”
  • @natadel76 said, “Can also write summaries of stanzas in comprehensible lang and have sts match w authentic lyrics.”
  • @natadel76 said, “Use songs as #authres to reinforce/illustrate a theme in intermed/advanced (environment, war, etc). Springboards to conversations!”
  • @dr_dmd said, “Anyone on #langchat tried having students write their own songs? They love to rap! Wrap it up in Rap!”
  • @jennahacker said, “For novice, I do a quick “what did you hear?” and have them circle words or short phrases.”
  • @alisonkis said, “You can also put on Voicethread and have students talk about their ideas and opinions about the song.”
  • @SenoraMcLellan said, “I agree, I like to play clips, short, sweet and recognizable.”
  • @yeager85 said, “Use wordle!!! I got the idea here. Put song lyrics on one and have students highlight lyrics. Pairs with SMARTboard perfectly!”
  • @MonsieurMiami11 said, “I do a song of the week with a lyric sheet and missing words. It serves as a rare extra credit opportunity.”
  • @alisonkis said, “Students can also learn the song and demonstrate their understanding by making music videos via animation!”
  • @DiegoOjeda66 said, “Always start working with syllabic division. Make them feel comfortable with pronunciation.”
  • @DiegoOjeda66 said, “Use www.grooveshark to find any song and create class lists for free.”
  • @SECottrell said, “Another tip: Use 2 songs to ask for comparisons. Pushing for comparisons pushes for higher level thinking.”
  • @SECottrell said, “A few tips – keep your own Pandora, Spotify going regularly; jot down title to research when pattern/theme strikes you.”

Thank You!

Thank you so much for your participation in this amazing #langchat! There were so many great comments and suggestions that we didn’t even get half of them down. Make sure you check the #langchat transcript for a complete version of this amazing chat!

Again, thank you to our wonderful moderators, @dr_dmd and @CalicoTeach who shared such great ideas and resources with us. We are glad to have a place to talk about what is working (or not working) in the world language classroom.

If you have a specific topic you would like to see discussed this Thursday at 8pm EST, please share it with us!

Additional Resources

A Few Singers and Songs

Edith Piaff
No Me Ames by JLo Marc.
Celine Dion
La Reina del Pop by La Oreja de Van Gogh

Other Links

Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.


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