12 keys to using songs to teach children English as a foreign language

Teaching English to children using songs

In response to a reader’s question about using songs to teach English to Italian children, I gave the following twelve quick tips. However, they are equally effective for children from any country, or of almost any age.

Are here:

1. You can use most songs for English language teaching, but students usually prefer songs that are currently popular. Both you and your students can collaborate on the selection of songs.

2. You should also select songs with easy to understand lyrics, absolutely NO profanity, violent, illegal or immoral topics like sex, drug use, prostitution, gang violence, killing your mother, suicide, etc. (It’s easier to fall into this trap than you think. Many popular song lyrics are horrible.)

3. To motivate children, bring a dozen children’s songs on cassette or CD with lyrics. Ask, borrow or steal a selection of popular children’s songs and you’re good to go. (Okay, don’t steal them, ask – politely, a million times until they say “yes”)

4. The most popular song lyrics are available online. You need to be very, very careful downloading from sites like these, as they are often FULL of viruses, trojans, worms, and God knows what else.

5. Walt Disney has a lot of great children’s songs. Use movies and electronic shorts directly or just a recording with visualization images for visual support.

6. In addition to the above keys, there are standard children’s favorite songs that any child or teacher can tell you. You can even use songs from your childhood, if you were ever a kid, that is.

7. Use interactive games and Total Physical Response (TPR) along with songs. Choreograph simple movements and actions to the rhythm of the song.

8. Keep a class fairly fast as children are easily bored and agitated due to their short attention spans. Change activities every 15 minutes or so, even LESS with little “Toddlers.”

9. Try to incorporate some simple “dance” moves into the songs as well for some added benefit. Make the “kids” ad lib, lip sync, pantomime, swing, rock, kick, jump, slide, slide, twist, spin, dip, step, jump, and wave. You understand me?

10. Use pictures to help teach key words in song lyrics. Clippings, posters, drawings, anything that provides positive visual support and reinforcement for lexical items, grammar, connected speech, pronunciation, or use in context is fair game in EFL classes for kids (and adults too, for that matter).

11. Practice a couple of songs and activities beforehand in front of a mirror on your own. (See how silly you look! That’s fine, so don’t worry. We can’t see you.)

12. Oh yeah, and make sure you have a lot of fun! Who said English and foreign language teachers can’t have fun too? (Certainly not me. Despite my academic appearance, I am sometimes crazy in EFL classes!)

So “Don’t worry, be happy.”

I hope this helps you with using songs to teach English to children. Be sure to check out my other posts like “9 Reasons Why You Should Use Songs to Teach English as a Foreign Language” on my blog for teaching English using songs.

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