1 Teaching through Songs and Chants
TEACHING THROUGH SONGS AND CHANTSIntroductionThe use of songs and chants in language teaching has a long history. Extensive research has focused on how memory is affected by simultaneous activity in other parts of the brain. For example, you remember words that you have spoken better than words you have only read or heard. Music also aids memory because rhythm helps learners to remember otherwise unconnected words or ideas. Oral traditions and rules of folk wisdom from many cultures are often rhythmic, rhyming, or musical ("Red sky at night, sailor's delight ..." "A stitch in time saves nine." etc.) Rhythm speaks to a very basic part of our emotional selves, so musical or rhythmic content may enter memory with fewer distractions. Songs can be adapted for language teaching purposes from the most basic or elementary level to a much higher proficiency level based on either the content of the lyrics or how the words are put into practice or discussed afterward. Most teachers and adult students of language know the benefits of learning a language through songs. We even experience this in our first language. Consider how many songs (from your first language) you can sing along with when you hear them on the radio. There are probably hundreds. Embedding the language of our lessons into songs and chants can really strengthen language acquisition if teachers use communicatively appropriate songs. This unit will focus on some of the theory and research related to the use of songs and chants in teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL). We will then turn our attention to how to choose appropriate EFL songs or chants. We will also discover how to write our own language teaching songs and chants. We will follow up with a number of EFL song activities involving movement, drama, and fun. Finally we will turn our attention to activities that apply specifically to chants.
2 Teaching through Songs and Chants
Applicable Theories and ApproachesLet us revisit some of the major research about childhood learning and language acquisition, and see how these theories relate to presenting songs and chants in the classroom. In particular, we will discuss Howard Gardners Multiple Intelligences Theory, Experiential Learning Theory, the Direct Approach and Total Physical Response (TPR), the AuralOral Approach, Stephen Krashens and Tracy Terrells Natural Approach, and the Communicative Approach. Howard Gardner's research on Multiple Intelligences supports the use of songs and chants in the classroom. As is discussed in greater detail in the unit entitled Multiple Intelligences Theory, Gardner describes how people use a variety of mental processes while thinking. Therefore, the most successful classrooms provide different approaches to meet individual students areas of strength. For example, students who have a strong musical intelligence are sensitive to nonverbal sounds and are very much aware of tone, pitch, and timbre. Musically intelligent students have the ability to produce and appreciate music. These learners think in sounds, rhythms, and patterns. They often respond to music by tapping their feet, tapping a pencil, or complimenting or criticizing what they hear. Many of these learners are also extremely sensitive to environmental sounds (e.g., crickets, running water, bells, horns). Using rhythm, chanting, and songs with these students can increase their attention and interest while motivating them to learn. The musical intelligence is not the only one recognized by Gardner that can be appealed to by teaching through songs and chants. For example, focusing on the lyrics of a song can appeal to a childs linguistic intelligence. Incorporating choreographed movements that represent the meaning of the lyrics can help to appeal to the bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, and so on (Gardner, 1983).
Multiple Intelligences Theory ()
Experiential Learning Theory ()
Experiential Learning Theory also advocates the use of representative movements and drama when songs and chants are taught. Of course performing an EFL song or chant can already be considered learning by doing (Dewey, 1933), but adding an element
3 Teaching through Songs and Chants
Direct Approach ()
Total Physical Response (TPR) ()
of movement or drama can turn performing a song or chant into a physical experience. The Direct Approach would advocate having children manipulate realia or props to illustrate the lyrics they are singing or chanting. If such realia or props are unavailable, however, children can still manipulate imaginary objects as is sometimes done using James Ashers Total Physical Response (TPR) methods. In fact, both the Direct Approach and TPR give us a way to allow students to show they understand the meaning of a songs or chants lyrics (by doing physical actions that show the meaning as they hear the words) long before they are able to produce the language or perform the song or chant themselves. Songs and chants are even effective tools for teachers who choose to incorporate elements of the behaviorist AuralOral Approach (or AudioLingual Method) into their language lessons. Following this approach, children must somehow be motivated to repeat certain vocabulary, phrases, and sentence structures again and again, often chorally. Singing and chanting is a natural way to provide this motivation. Children are far more likely to sing a favorite song over and over, both within and outside the classroom, than they are to repeat a list of sentence patterns or a dialogue on their own volition. Also, songs and chants are often written with certain lines or a chorus that repeats often within a single performance. Many traditional childrens songs and EFL songs alike also repeat basic structures with single-slot or even double-slot vocabulary substitutions in the various verses. Practice with such vocabulary substitutions is another hallmark of the AuralOral Approach. The Input Hypothesis, which is discussed in the unit of this course on the Natural Approach, was proposed by Krashen and Terrell (1983) and detailed by Terrell, Rogers, Barnes, and Spielmann (1997) and can help us to choose or to write effective EFL songs and chants for our students. This part of the theory proposes that comprehension of a language (or in this case, the lyrics of a song) precedes production and that production emerges later. The researchers caution us, however, that in order for this to happen, the learners must be exposed to
Natural Approach ()
AuralOral Approach ()
4 Teaching through Songs and Chants
comprehensible input that is still slightly challenging for them (a concept that Krashen and Terrell expressed with the formula i + 1, where i represents the students current level of language proficiency and +1 represents one step up from that level). When students listen to a comprehensible song or chant several times, they begin to understand new words and internalize their meaning, even before they are able to say the words themselves or use them in context. Oral production of the words by the students will come later as the songs and other activities continue to recycle them. Unlike learning by rote memorization, allowing delayed production in this way facilitates true language acquisition, according to Krashen and Terrell.affective filter ()
Another hypothesis of the Natural Approach says that any strategy that can lower the students affective filter1, such as using music or song and chant games and activities in the classroom, is worthwhile. The affective filter refers to anything, such as boredom or difficult material that may become a mental barrier to a childs language learning. Music enables students to become more open to playing with the language because they feel more relaxed. That is, using songs and chants in the classroom can help to lower the affective filter. Finally, the Communicative Approach suggests teaching students language that they are likely to use in real life situations in their day-to-day lives. That is, only authentic language should be taught. Following this guideline, then, songs and chants that include a great deal of language that is not useful for true communication should be avoided, and the lyrics of the ideal EFL song or chant will be in dialogue form or in some other way represent realistic communicative events.
Communicative Approach ()
- - - - - -
Choosing Appropriate Songs and ChantsHere, we will consider what to look for when choosing a song, chant, or rhyme to teach to English as a foreign language students. We will also see examples of songs that should be avoided and discuss why. What are the main reasons for choosing to teach a particular song or chant? First, the song or chant should be relevant, meaningful, and
5 Teaching through Songs and Chants
interesting to the children. Second, it should tell a simple story and be comprehensible. Third, it should have a simple, memorable melody. Fourth, the song should build a base for future learning. Fifth, it should review past learning and practice language skills. Finally, it should be age appropriate (MacDonald, n.d.) In practice, it is very difficult to find any song that fulfills all six of these standards. This is especially true in an EFL context, since a large catalog of English music is not readily available in non-English speaking countries. Most importantly, then, when you select a song, chant, or rhyme to teach, choose one that provides comprehensible input and useful, conversational language. Consider the following English folk song, for example. Is the language in it comprehensible and useful to young learners who are new to English?London Bridge London Bridge is falling down, Falling down, falling down, London Bridge is falling down, My fair lady. Additional Verses: 2. 3. 4. 5. Take the key and lock her up ... Build it up with iron bars ... Iron bars will bend and break ... Build it up with silver and gold ...
Although this is a popular song for young children who are native speakers of English, it is neither comprehensible nor conversationally useful for limited English proficient (LEP) students. LEP learners cannot comprehend the meaning of the lyrics, and most EFL students will never need to use such expressions in their day-to-day lives. Besides, does any of the language in this song resemble the language they are learning in class? Learning this song is quite a challenge for young LEP learners because they have never seen most of the words before, nor are the words related directly to any of their lessons. Another example of a popular song for native English speaking
6 Teaching through Songs and Chants
children is The Itsy Bitsy Spider.The Itsy Bitsy Spider The itsy bitsy spider crawled up the waterspout. Down came the rain and washed the spider out. Out came the sun and dried up all the rain. The itsy bitsy spider went up the spout again.
This song is one of the most popular kindergarten and preschool songs for native speakers of English, and it has been exported to countries where children are learning English as a foreign language. Well-intentioned English teachers feel that since it is appropriate for native English speaking children, it would also be appropriate for LEP young learners. Sadly, not only does this song not build communicative competence, it could have a negative impact on students language learning experience. A song that is full of new words and grammar structures and that differs markedly from the language children are learning in their English class is a major challenge for them. To teach such a difficult song to young children weakens their newly emerging speaking confidence (or, as Krashen and Terrell would put it, it raises the learners affective filter). The song also includes inverted word order, which would not be used in conversational English. That is, native speakers of English rarely, if ever, say, Down came the rain. Rather, they would say, The rain came down, or simply, It rained. The same is true for, Out came the sun. A native speaker would almost always say, The sun came out. Some traditional songs and nursery rhymes are also full of archaic English or even nonsense English. Teaching these songs, chants, or rhymes may also prove damaging to an LEP learners progress. For example, native English speakers no longer use the phrase fair lady to mean a pretty woman as it is used in the song London Bridge. A good example of nonsense English can be seen in the popular traditional childrens song, This Old Man. Read the following lyrics to this song and pay attention to how much nonsense English is included:
7 Teaching through Songs and Chants
This Old Man This old man, he played one. He played knick-knack on my thumb, With a knick-knack paddywhack, give a dog a bone. This old man came rolling home. Additional Verses: 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. This old man, he played two. He played knick-knack on my shoe ... This old man, he played three. He played knick-knack on my knee ... This old man, he played four. He played knick-knack on my door ... This old man, he played five. He played knick-knack on my hive ... This old man, he played six. He played knick-knack on my sticks ... This old man, he played seven. He played knick-knack up in Heaven ... This old man, he played eight. He played knick-knack on my gate ... This old man, he played nine. He played knick-knack on my spine ... 10. This old man, he played ten. He played knick-knack once again ...
Now let us turn to the topic of choosing a good song or chant. The first key to using songs and chants successfully is to choose the right ones. Most modern EFL textbooks include appropriate songs written specifically for LEP learners and the target language of the course, but teachers may still want to use some traditional songs, chants, or rhymes. We want to choose tunes that are easy and catchy (that is, easily remembered and fun to sing), as well as songs that build our students confidence. Ideally, we also want to choose songs that enable our children to walk out of class with a few new useful words or expressions to use in the real world.
8 Teaching through Songs and Chants
There are numerous sources of traditional childrens songs. You will soon find, however, that the vast majority of them are unsuitable for EFL students due to the previously mentioned concerns. There are, however, a number of suitable, very simple ones. The simplest of these have the children sing vocabulary words to a tune. For example, practically every child who learns English, whether it is their native language or a second language, learns the alphabet song. This traditional childrens song is a valuable way to help true beginners to learn the alphabet. Another simple traditional childrens song is Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes. The song lyrics are as follows:Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes Head...