ERIC Identifier: ED459634
Publication Date: 2001-12-00
Author: Lems, Kristen
Source: National Clearinghouse for ESL Literacy Education Washington DC.
Using Music in the Adult ESL Classroom. ERIC Digest.
Music can be used in the adult English as a second language (ESL) classroom to create a learning environment; to build listening comprehension, speaking, reading, and writing skills; to increase vocabulary; and to expand cultural knowledge. This digest looks briefly at research and offers strategies for using music in the adult ESL classroom.
Adult learners in South Africa, exposed to instrumental music during an intensive English course, showed benefits in language learning (Puhl, 1989). Many educators report success using instrumental music as a warm up and relaxation tool, as a background for other activities, and as the inspiration for writing activities (Eken, 1996).
USING SONGS IN INSTRUCTION
LISTENING AND ORAL ACTIVITIES
Students may summarize orally the action or theme of a song or give oral presentations about a song or musician, playing musical selections for the class. To involve the whole class, students can fill out response sheets about each presentation, answering questions about the featured topic, something new they learned, and something they enjoyed.
READING AND WRITING ACTIVITIES
One popular activity is to cut the lyrics into lines and have students put them in the correct order as they listen to the song. This can be done individually or in small groups. It may be necessary to play the song several times. After the lines of the song have been put in order, the song can be played once more as students read or sing along. Alternatively, the class can be divided into teams with identical sets of strips and compete to see which group can put the strips in the correct order first.
For short songs, students can work in small groups to write the words of a song. The process of putting the lyrics together as a group involves making decisions about word order, verb tense, and parts of speech. It also builds the teamwork skills so important to the workplace and community. When the lyric sheet is handed out, the groups can compare what they heard and wrote with the actual words.
Adult students enjoy writing responses to songs, either in class or at home. Possible responses include topics comparing music in the students' homeland with music in the United States. This assignment draws upon the knowledge and experiences that adult ESL learners bring to language learning and provides a known context for comparing and contrasting, often a difficult skill for beginning writers.
Many songs tell a story, and these stories can be rewritten or retold to practice narrative or summarizing skills or direct and reported speech. Students can also complete a writing prompt or answer a question from the point of view of the narrator or other characters in a song. For example, the Nancy Wilson song, "Guess Who I Saw Today" (1960) is sung by a wife catching her husband having a romantic lunch with another woman. The prompt could require the students to respond to the accusations in writing, saying what the husband might say.
VOCABULARY BUILDING ACTIVITIES
However, the songs may also have idioms in them that might be difficult to explain, depending on the level of the students. For example, Cat Stevens' rendition of "Morning Has Broken" (1975) may appear initially to be a solid intermediate-level song that practices the present perfect tense. On closer examination, the expression "morning has broken" can be confusing to English language learners and may need to be discussed prior to listening to the song.
CULTURAL KNOWLEDGE ACTIVITIES
1. Song lyrics should be clear and loud, not submerged in the instrumental music.
2. The vocabulary load for the song should be appropriate to the proficiency level. For example, Led Zepplin's "Stairway to Heaven" (1971)-with its vivid imagery and possibilities for multiple interpretations-might be successful with an advanced-level class. With other learners, however, its fast pace, obscure references, and lack of repetition could prove troublesome, as could the word inversion in lines such as, "There walks a lady we all know."
3. Songs should be pre-screened for potentially problematic content, such as explicit language, references to violent acts or sex, or inappropriate religious allusions.
Griffee (1990) recommends using short, slow songs for beginning-level students and discusses activities such as creating song word puzzles, drawing a song, or showing related pictures. With higher levels, he suggests using songs that tell stories, moving toward short, fast songs, and finally, longer, fast songs that have fewer high frequency vocabulary items.
Finding copies of song lyrics is not difficult. Many are available on the Internet, and many recordings contain lyric sheets. Beatles' songs such as "Yesterday" (1965) and "In My Life" (1966) have clear, direct lyrics and a timeless quality that make them appropriate with adult English language learners. Because teachers will show care and effort when presenting songs they are especially fond of, their favorites are also good. Finally, students are often strongly motivated to learn the lyrics of a new pop song or an old favorite they have heard and never understood, so their choices for classroom music should not be overlooked.
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