Music and Movement for Young English Learners (by Kathleen Kampa and Charles Vilina)

 Matt Richelson makes some excellent points about the power of music in the EFL classroom in his recent article, “Teaching Young Learners With Songs.”  I use music and movement daily with young learners in the English classroom. Let me add a few more suggestions that can assist you in using these powerful tools to teach English to your students.

1. Choose a chant or song that matches your curriculum or lesson goals. There are many chants and songs written to teach specific vocabulary, everyday language, or even grammar concepts. I especially look for chants and songs with ample repetition or patterns that make them easy to learn. As Matt points out, a good chant or song will stick in a child’s heads (and yours!).

2. Believe in your students’ ability to learn the intended content. I was once asked to teach a song that I thought was beyond the ability of my students. I decided they would enjoy it just by listening to the CD and marching. Soon a few students started singing along!  I found myself able to sing it as well. As I taught it to other classes, my belief that they could learn the song made it easy for all to learn.

Give students opportunities to hear the music on the CD and move with it before expecting them to sing along. Learn small “chunks” of the song. If you believe they can learn it, soon every student will be able to sing the song with confidence.

3. Use your picture cards to reinforce the language in the song. Perhaps you are familiar with rebus books?  Pictures are used in place of words. To use this as a teaching strategy, organize the picture cards on the board to follow the chant or song you are using. Write the rest of the words (usually just a few) next to the pictures. For example, if you are teaching shapes you might sing, “I See A Star.”(from Magic Time 1).  Write out “I see a ____” and then place the picture card for “star” after the words. You can even write a period after the picture card. This strategy helps children who learn best through pictures. It can also help students visualize the patterns in a chant or song.

4. Use movement. Most young learners love to move. It’s a natural way for them to learn. They can make shapes with their fingers, arms, or whole bodies. They can create movements for verbs, or act out nouns or adjectives. Movement can be varied by moving in one place, with a partner, taking turns with a group, or even moving around the classroom. My secret to using movement has been to play the “Move and Stop” game early on. For this activity, students do the movement you select (such as “jump”) in one place until you call out “stop!” Praise those children who set a good example by stopping after the movement and remaining still.

5. Use repetition, but in varied ways. Children learn language in many ways, such as through picture cards, a chant or song, and movement. You can add more variation by changing the way you say the words. Practice words by saying them slowly, then quickly. Say them loudly, then quietly. Use character voices (a mouse, a giant)  — whatever your students may be interested in. You can add these variations to chants and songs, too. Children need a variety of strategies to get enough exposure to language. At first many children are just listening; later they are singing, moving, and speaking in English.

6. Now practice the target language through other activities such as games, role play, or individualized activities. Songs and chants give students ample opportunities to hear language and practice it as a group. When students play games or do role play, they now use the language individually and speak with natural intonation. Children can then personalize the language through artwork or small group activities.

7. Celebrate! The last thing I do in my classes is review the chant or song from the day’s lesson. Children have had time to process the language in many different ways. Now it’s easier for them to chant or sing. It’s a nice way for parents or teachers to see what the children have been working on.

Music and movement have proven to be very effective in the English language classroom. These seven strategies can turn your language lesson into a joyful and memorable experience for your students, while creating opportunities for real learning.

Note: This article by Kathleen Kampa and Charles Vilina originally appeared on Teaching Village, and is licensed under a Creative Commons, Attribution-Non Commercial, No Derivatives 3.0 License. If you wish to share it you must re-publish it “as is”, and retain any credits, acknowledgements, and hyperlinks within it.

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7 Responses

  1. Matt says:

    Hi Kathleen and Charles,

    I am flattered that you would mention me in your article, thank you!

    I like number 2. I agree that if you believe your students are capable of something difficult, it helps give them confidence to succeed. They may even surprise you!

    Thanks for the nice article,

    • Kathleen Kampa says:

      Hi Matt,

      Thanks for your kind response. Time and time again, my students have proven that they can tackle difficult material if we, as teachers, believe in their ability to succeed.
      Glad to know that “magic” happens in your classroom too!


  2. Barbara says:

    Thanks for these great tips! I always love reasons to celebrate in class 🙂

    Hope you get a good response to your survey request!

    • Kathleen Kampa says:

      Dear Barbara,
      Thanks for providing a venue for sharing teaching ideas for children.
      I appreciate your help with my survey too!

      Kathleen and Charles
      “Kathy and Chuck”

  3. Steve Cornwell says:

    Dear Kathy,
    Looking forward to having you at JALT2011 as a Featured Speaker! Could you send me your email address as there may be things I need to send you as the conference draws closer.
    Steve Cornwell
    Director of Program JALT

  1. May 13, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Barbara Sakamoto and Arjana Blazic, Anita Kwiatkowska. Anita Kwiatkowska said: RT @barbsaka: New guest post: Music and Movement for Young English Learners (Stuff All #EFL Teachers Should Know) #ja … […]

  2. May 30, 2010

    […] (We have added 4 additional guest voices to the Village since that post, so I guess I can at least include my thanks to them. Thank you Henrick Oprea, Melania Paduraru, Kathy Kampa Vilina and Chuck Vilina!) […]