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by Erica Fischer on Sep 14, 2015

Sing it Loud & Clear ~ Music is a DO in the World Language Classroom!

Last week, #langchat was playing at full volume as participants met to chat about music in the language classroom. They discussed how to choose songs and what logistics help with effective music use. Langchatters also brainstormed tasks involving songs that can help increase learners’ proficiency level. They talked about how songs can complement target structures and also considered how songs that don’t align with particular targets can still have value in the classroom. From the first few minutes of the hour, it was clear that participants had much to say! @KrisClimer wrote, “[I’m feeling] the makings of a busy #langchat. Settle in, get your head on a swivel, and get ready to sing!”

Thank you so much to all of you who tuned in last week! We extend a special thank you to last Thursday’s moderators: Colleen (@CoLeeSensei), Kris (@KrisClimer), Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell), Laura (@SraSpanglish), and Cristy (@msfrenchteach)!

Question 1: How do you choose songs for class?

When it comes to selecting songs for the language class, instructors take many factors into account. Many mentioned the need for a connection to class themes and/or content. @MmeJCesario wrote, “If we’re going to study [a] song, connections to the curriculum, [in terms of the theme], topic, grammar, [or vocabulary are necessary].” Some instructors take student level into account when deciding whether to use songs to highlight grammar or complement themes. @rinaldivlgr said, “[For] lower levels [I select songs] by grammar. For upper [levels, I select them] by theme [and sometimes by grammar] … too.” @LisaShepard2 agreed, writing, “So far, I’ve just chosen songs that were related to the unit theme, [usually] just with the upper levels, who can understand.” @ProfeCochran commented, “I choose songs with themes and/or structures we are using. [It’s a bonus] if I can get both!” Additionally, instructors consider the status of certain songs as classics or current hits. @CatherineKU72 seeks to achieve a “[mixture] of modern, oldies, [and ‘younger’ songs],” adding, “[I look at the] top 20 charts from Francophone countries [and] listen to [the] radio.” @SECottrell also consults the charts: “Billboard’s Latino charts is a good source.” Others find music by frequently listening to YouTube or Pandora. @MlleSulewski wrote that she mostly finds songs “by listening to ones I like on YouTube and falling down the ‘Recommended’ rabbit hole.” Similarly, @SECottrell wrote, “[Honestly], my ‘aha’ songs almost all came from playing Pandora incessantly [and] catching a great tune [with] useful lyrics.” Aside from popularity, instructors search for tunes that will easily get stuck in students’ heads. @SraSpanglish commented, “[A song has to] be CATCHY! If it’s not impossible to remove from their heads, it’s not doing its job! [If] they can’t go around singing the song that’s stuck in their head, not much languaging [is] happening.” @MaCristinaRV added that this is important with younger learners: “At the elementary level, I choose simple, catchy songs that are connected with theme [and] teaching objectives. Sing, play, repeat!”

Question 2: What logistics help you effectively use music?

Before you blast some tunes in the target language, you may want to consider some important logistics. Langchatters encouraged fellow instructors to keep music organized, block advertisements, download music instead of streaming songs, and establish designated music days.

  • Get your tunes in order! @CatherineKU72 suggested organizing songs by theme: “[Try always] creating playlists for the songs [and/or] videos in thematic groups. Several hundred videos need organization for both [students and teachers].” @SrLaBoone wrote in favor of making these playlists available to students long after class has ended: “@SraSpanglish, I love ([and] copied) your idea of the YouTube playlist. [Students] can go back and listen to their [favorites]!” As an alternative to YouTube, @SECottrell suggested curating music on @Delicious: “I’m a broken record. Use @Delicious to curate everything.” She also recognized the benefit of organizing playlists for specific levels: “I need to do this! [I saw that] @SraSpanglish has leveled [playlists] and thought ‘why didn’t I ever do that?!’”
  • Block the ads: Some instructors advised blocking advertisements when playing music videos online. @Emily_Bach wrote, “I use Viewpure when showing a music video [or] playing [a] song so that I don’t get any unexpected ads that might not be kid-friendly.” @SrLaBoone also wrote in favor of this site: “Yes! Viewpure is great!”
  • Download; don’t stream: Some instructors prefer not to stream music on the Internet. For example, @rinaldivlgr said, “[I] have to be able to download [music] to [a] computer. [The] Internet is too shaky!” @CoLeeSensei added, “[You can] find many ways to download off [YouTube, including KeepVid.] I never stream live!”
  • Establish a music day: Many instructors set aside a specific day each week for music. @TiptonAn1 wrote, “[Maybe have] a specific music day to go listen to songs with [specific] vocabulary words from the chapter!” @SrLaBoone suggested Wednesday an ideal music day: “As far as when, I like ‘miércoles musical’- not every Wednesday, but many. [It breaks] up the week nicely.” Another instructor likes starting the week off with a song: “Music Monday has been happening in my classroom since last January … I save the [videos] to my [YouTube] playlists.”

Question 3: What tasks can students do with songs to push their proficiency level?

As #langchat participants made clear, activities with songs can go far beyond traditional fill-in-the-blank exercises. Participants had lots of suggestions about ways to use songs to boost student proficiency!

  • Give me another word! Langchatters suggested pushing students to provide synonyms or suggest other words that rhyme with particular lyrics. @CoLeeSensei said, “I like ‘another word for’- [Students] use the [target language] to find synonyms for [highlighted] words in [a] song.” @oowwoo suggested a similar activity, based not on similar meanings but on similar sound patterns: “If there are rhymes in the song, I have [students] identify the rhyming words [and] then think of other words they know that rhyme.” Additionally, @oowwoo recommended working with small chunks of text at a time: “I learned at a [professional development workshop] this summer that just focusing on one part of the song is the best way for students to retain it.”
  • Make a remix! Let students creatively “[write] or remix their own [version]”
    of a song presented in class (@TiptonAn1). @SECottrell said, “[It took] me time to figure this out. I learned to focus on small bits [and] get kids to change words and sing them out.” @BreeStillings echoed these suggestions: “[Have] them make their own version highlighting key [vocabulary] and phrases.”
  • Summarize and analyze with words or visuals! @SraHeebsh said, “I’ve done a [five] word summary of the song in the [target language]. Fun!” @MmeLohse added, “[Having students summarize a] song in their own words or reflecting on meaning alone or in pairs can be valuable, [either in a] written or spoken [format].” @profesorM commented that summaries could also be visual: “Maybe turn the song into a cartoon!” In addition to summarizing lyrics, @SenoraLauraCG suggested guiding students in deeper analysis of lyrics: “[Have students] share their opinion and why using examples from the song. Ask follow-up [questions] to [have them] explain their position.”

Question 4: How do you use songs to complement your target structures and vocabulary?

As @KrisClimer noted, songs naturally complement language learning: “Advertisers have known it for years: music embeds phrases, ideas, syntax, emotions.” He added, “[Look for songs] that have [vocabulary, structures, cultural elements or ideas being covered in class]. Then when it’s time to ‘learn’ it, [students] magically already ‘know’ it.” Instructors agreed that songs can help to reinforce particular material in context. @SrLaBoone wrote, “I think things like direct [or] indirect object pronouns are much easier when [students] have heard [or] seen them in countless songs before.” For this reason, @SraHeebsh tries to find songs that highlight structures being studied in class: “I try to pick something for [students] to listen to so they can hear it in context. [For example] ‘Tú’ [by] Carlos Baute. Have [students find] the ‘tú’s [in the lyrics].” @MlleSulewski commented that songs show students that particular structures have real-world applications: “It was funny to watch [students] last year when we listened to song [with] lots of subjunctive. [They] realized I wasn’t just making it all up.” @CoLeeSensei added that structures found in the chorus provide repeated exposure: “[Complement your target structures by focusing] on the chorus – [It’ll] hit the target over and over in [one] listen.”

Question 5: How do you use songs that don’t align with particular targets?

Not sure that a great song you’ve found aligns with particular learning targets? Not to fear! As Langchatters acknowledged, music can serve other purposes in the language classroom.

  • Background music: @CoLeeSensei wrote, “[I love] to have ambient music playing in [the background. This avoids a] ‘silent’ room [and] makes [it feel] safe for [students] to talk [and take risks].” @BreeStillings also encouraged use of background music: “[Just] play [music] while they are doing group work. Worst case scenario: [They] love [a song] and randomly add [it] to their own iTunes and listen?” @senorajtaylor pointed out that exposure to music offers additional input: “I use it as simple background music! The input is still there though subconsciously.” For this reason, as @TiptonAn1 noted, music can help “to keep up with fluency!”
  • Fun time: @CoLeeSensei wrote, “[To] quote @KrisClimer: [Listen] to something for fun!!!! [Just] because!” @Emily_Bach added, “Use songs as [a] warm-up or as a ‘fun time’ … reward. Even if it doesn’t line up with [a] target, songs still help with SLA!” @oowwoo agreed that music can be used “[as] a reward for hard work.” @Shannon_LTS noted that the promise of some fun music can serve as a useful motivator for young learners: “In primary school music was a great [management] tool. [The] promise of a [three-minute music] clip at the end of productive lessons [worked] like [magic].”


If you’re looking to bring more music into your language classroom, #langchat has a wealth of tips to offer! Participants shared advice on how best to select music and discussed logistics for efficient use of tunes. They also described some creative ways to use songs to increase student proficiency. Finally, participants suggested ways to use songs when they complement material covered in class—and when they don’t!

Thank You!

Thank you to all those who sang along to #langchat last week! Remember, now you can #langchat both Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET AND Saturday mornings at 10 a.m. ET! Also, don’t miss out on fresh, new #langchat gear! Order your t-shirt or sweatshirt by September 21!

Due to space limitations, many tweets had to be omitted from this summary. To view the entire conversation, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. As @CoLeeSensei reminded participants: “Got a topic to suggest? #langchat gets its ideas from teachers like you! [Yes,] you!” Send us your ideas for future #langchats so that our weekly discussions can become as relevant and inclusive as possible!

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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