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by Erica Fischer on Mar 19, 2012

Integrating Music in World Language Classes

Our topic this week was especially fascinating and trendy: how to turn a target-language song into an integral part of a world languages unit. Participants shared lots of great ideas and activities that are proven to be effective in the classroom, and we’ve included a summary of the chat below for your convenience.

Thank you to all our participants and colleagues who joined us to share their ideas and experiences, and a special thank you to our moderators for the night, Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell (@SECottrell) and Diego Ojeda (@DiegoOjeda66).

Why Use Songs in World Language Class

Using songs in class is a fantastic way to get kids excited and engaged in the target language. Target-language songs are perfect authentic texts, combining language, culture and often students’ interests together into a highly motivating and memorable language experience. We’ve discussed the use of music in world language classes in the past on #langchat, so be sure to check out our previous summary.

Engaging

Many students enjoy listening to music in class, and they willingly practice the target language at the same time.

Memorable

Students enjoy listening to music outside of class, too. Often, they’re already exploring different music styles and artists. Exposing students to music in the target language may cause them to begin following the artists independently — several participants mentioned loving it when a student tells them they added a song from class to their iPod.

This regular exposure does wonders for pronunciation, especially if students are tempted to sing along (@karacjacobs).

Authentic Materials

Authentic materials expose students to culture, accents, pronunciation and patterns of speech. Authentic materials are language resources directed toward target-language speakers, in contrast with materials directed toward target-language learners. These materials don’t necessarily need to be originally written in the target language, as any translation is also aimed at the target-language audience.

Songs are great authentic resources, and using them in your class brings a lot of advantages. @SECottrell mentions that using songs always brings up phrases and words that she’d never think to teach normally.

Integrating Songs into a World Language Unit

Songs make good supporting resources, and they fit easily into a thematic unit. Try making songs and videos into the “text” of a unit, the central thread of the unit that binds the rest of the instruction together (@karacjacobs). Connect the songs to other authentic materials for more variety and opportunities. Songs used in this way are great “hooks” for students, grabbing their attention and focusing it throughout the unit.

Songs can also be used as an introduction or warm-up to the class. Several teachers have spent 5-10 minutes of the beginning of a class to explore a song, every day for a week (@pamwesely). These teachers might do a series of scaffolded activities on the song itself, musicians, era, style, etc. of the song.

@klafrench likes to take a three-step approach to using songs in class: observation, lyrics and message. The steps scaffold and build on each other to grow students’ familiarity with the language and allow them to discuss the song with increasing knowledge and confidence.

Extending the Song

Many teachers work with a song over an extended period of time, rather than just one lesson. When doing so, make sure to have several activities to give students multiple exposures. Participants shared a wealth of activities they like to use to branch out with the language.

  • Have students read authentic texts about the singers (@karacjacobs).
  • Study the history or geography discussed in the song (@karacjacobs).
  • For a unit based on a song or video, have students listen to or watch the media, then come up with their own vocabulary lists (@karacjacobs).
  • Try having students compare and contrast two songs or videos and how they reflect a certain theme for a great interpretive assignment (@karacjacobs).
  • Try asking students to create a word cloud using the song lyrics (@spanishplans).
  • Students can read the lyrics to a song as if a poem for pronunciation (@spanishplans).
  • If you have some musically inclined kids, try having them create a song with lyrics at the end of a project. There are many free song-creation websites to choose from (@Joepark20).
  • Try contacting the author of the song directly and set up a mini-dialogue with the students (@ZJonesSpanish). Alternatively, have students create a fictional interview dialogue with the singer after researching his or her past (@DiegoOjeda66).
  • Have students draw different scenes from the song and place in chronological order throughout the classroom (@DiegoOjeda66).

Problems Using Songs in Class

As our question wording illustrates, one of the common problems of using songs in class is using them haphazardly. Songs have many advantages and can increase students’ engagement easily, so it’s tempting to just throw them into a class without much thought for how they complement your other instruction.

Another common issue regards the figurative aspect of much music. Songs are similar to poetry, and it’s sometimes difficult to translate them. How do we deal with student requests for literal translations? @ZJonesSpanish mentions stressing the difficulties translating and explaining the difference between translation and communication. @karacjacobs recommends relating songs to poetry and perhaps giving an example of a difficult-to-translate song.

Some participants asked what to do when students don’t want to sing along. In these instances, try to encourage them to participate in other ways. @SECottrell’s rule is students can watch and listen or watch and sing, but they can’t not watch.

Finally, while songs are generally welcomed by students, they may from time to time not understand why you’re listening to music in class. Be sure to let them see the teaching reason behind every song in class (@DiegoOjeda66). Also, be sure not to overwhelm students with lyrics or phrases that are too challenging. If you think this is likely, pre-teach the required vocabulary or grammar (@DiegoOjeda66).

Tips on Using Songs in Class

@esantacruz13 lets students decide which song they’d like to analyze and focus on — a great way to let students take ownership in the lesson. This also helps for classes of different tastes, as the song that appeals to the most students will be chosen.

If you are picking the songs, many participants suggest including songs that you may not personally like, as music hits everyone differently. Try different genres from time to time to give kids different experiences. On the other hand, show your enthusiasm at all times. @DiegoOjeda66 suggests using songs that you like, no matter the genre, so long as students can see that you love the music. He suggests compiling your favorite songs, letting students make a “Top 10” list and then working with that list throughout the year.

It’s also important to include more than just contemporary music. Traditional songs are an important element of culture and we should strive to find areas where we can include these songs as well.

For instrumental sections and with advanced students, try asking students for their emotions and thoughts when listening without words (@muranava). Also, if you have karaoke versions of a song with lyrics, try playing the music without the vocals before kids get to hear the lyrics.

Finding Songs

It can be a challenge to find songs and artists to use in class. Often the musicians you may know about or have studied in the past are a little dated in the target country. While your students might still love the experience, maybe you want to show them a more contemporary music scene. Where do you find new artists and songs?

  • @SECottrell recommends Pandora. This Internet radio app and website can be tailored to create a target-language radio station and will automatically suggest new artists and songs. You can’t limit Pandora by language, but you can choose an artist that you know that you like and Pandora will automatically suggest similar artists or genres. Use the “Dislike” button for any English songs that crop up.
  • @pamweseley suggests checking the “Top 50” list of artists in a target-language country. For French, check this site out. Also, try recording companies’ websites in the target language. For example, Universal Music France. For your own sites, try searching in target-language search engines.
  • @muranava suggests LyricsTraining for some lyrics and artist ideas.
  • @cadamsf1 recommends this Spanish site for a compilation of lessons on grammar using a song as its basis.
  • This is a useful resource compiled by @sraslb with over 600 songs searchable by topic, grammar, etc.
  • @klafrench likes using songs that have been translated into the target language for native speakers, for example Disney songs. It’s fun to compare and contrast with the original English.

Don’t forget music videos! These can really get kids motivated and interested in class, and the videos often have a theme that fits with the musicians’ message and voice.

Thanks!

Again, a big thank you to all our participants! We had an amazing #langchat and the summary couldn’t begin to do it justice. In particular, we had many specific song suggestions based on different units, for songs that participants have used successfully in the past. Please visit the archive of the chat if you’re trying to remember the link to one of the songs or videos referenced during the chat.

Take care, and we hope to see you next Thursday at 20:00 EST for our next #LangChat!

#LangChat is an independent group of world-language education professionals who come together every week via Twitter to share ideas and discuss pressing issues in the world of education. Check out the #LangChat wiki for more information about our goals and the team behind it all here. These weekly discussion summaries are sponsored by Calico Spanish as a service to the world-language community.

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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