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Songs in the ClassroomOn my first day as an english teacher in france
, my students asked me what I had done during college. When I told them that I had sung in a gospel choir for three years, I opened the door to a fun and creative activity for all of my classes. While it is commonly found in preschool and elementary classes, I believe singing in the classroom works well with any age or level.
Music is a language that is universally understood. It's also usually something that everyone is interested in. At the very least, they have an opinion on certain genres. When I sang for my high school students the first time, they jumped to their feet and clapped even though they didn't understand a lot of the words. It really excited them. They started bringing me song lyrics and asking if we could sing them. It actually became a pretty comprehensive lesson format. I would bring in a simple song (gospel, along with many other genres) with copies of the lyrics, we would go over the meaning of the words, and I would teach them the tune. In doing so, we hit the major language points. They had to read and understand the lyrics, plus they had to listen and then say the words back to me.
It was also a great way to introduce discussions on American music, history, and culture. With gospel, we talked about black history and the role that gospel music played in the civil rights era. I also related my own personal experiences from singing in the choir, in particular, the vehement racism that still exists in parts of the deep South. We also discussed the impact of rock n' roll and folk music on American society and the messages those songs send. Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and The Doors were very popular. This became a great way to compare American music with their own music scene, with french artists like Calogero, Diam, and Christophe Mae. We even hit some of the classic artists like Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel. I would require them to explain the song to me in english just like I did with the english language songs.
Obviously, choose your songs wisely. Match songs with classes once you get to know them. With my beginners, I stuck with simple and repetitive songs. It reinforces the language and builds their confidence. As the language competence level increases, the songs can get more complicated. It was an interesting progress marker since I was able to show them what kind of songs they started with and what they ended with. I also never forced anyone to sing if they didn't want to. That never ends well. Some people's fear of public speaking definitely extends to singing with their peers. They did have to participate in everything else.
From these personal experiences, I believe that songs should be a vital part of an english language curriculum. They provide a total package experience of language, history, and culture. It's something different from the normal routine that students enjoy and want to get involved in. Songs combine the important aspects of language into a fun activity that makes students challenge themselves to learn on their own.