Music. Música. La musique. No matter how you say it, the word “music” will undoubtedly ignite emotions, memories, and connections in ways only possible by rhythm. Not only is there an emotional connection with music, but a strong cognitive one, too, that takes a stronghold in our memories. How many times have you heard a song from your childhood twenty years later and still remember almost every lyric? How is there so much power in music?
Studies show that the gray matter’s preference is aligned with your own. Different parts of the brain will light up based on your personal preferences. Music preferences trigger a circuit called the default mode network in the brain, which is involved in focused thought, empathy, and self-awareness. Interestingly enough, studies have shown that music memories do not fade, even in Alzheimer’s patients. Alzheimer’s patients in the late stages tend to be unresponsive except when it comes to music. When their favorite music is played, they come to life, and the effect can sometimes last up to ten minutes after the music is turned off. Music has consistently proven beneficial for health in a number of ways for all ages and all walks of life. (Image source: http://www.ucf.edu)
My point? Music is powerful. I think that is undeniable. Now, let’s take a look at how we can implement it into the classroom.
YouTube and then some…
Here are a number of activities you can do with an original video:
- My personal favorite: One student has their back to the screen, the other facing the screen. Play the video without sound the first time. The partner facing the screen describes the video in the target language or a blend of target language and English. After the first round, ask the listeners what they are envisioning at that moment! The entire class watches the video with sound the second time and allow time for further discussion.
- Provide students with a lyrics sheet that is missing words. I give a word bank to the lower levels and listen to the song at least twice before we review the missing lyrics.
- Compare original songs and their parodies. My favorite is to compare Ne me quitte pas (Jacques Brel) with Ne me quitte pas (Cirque du Soleil). (See below for Cirque video!)
- Teach grammar and vocabulary via song. Here are just a few:
- Check out this impressive Bringing Conjugations Back video (yes, based on the Justin Timberlake song) to explain verbs!
- French Alphabet Rap – This is the only ABCs video I use because it is so catchy!
- La chanson des squelettes (French)
- Comptine pour bébé (HeyKids) (French) – best playlist with quality videos for younger ages.
- Search “apprendre le français en chantant” (“learn French by singing”) in YouTube and a wealth of resources will appear.
- Music journals: Students were asked to discover a new artist each week and reflect in their journals, giving basic info about the musician. Create a playlist based on student interest to play in class.
- Impromptu presentations: I provide the class with a collaborative Google Doc that has a template of information they need to fill out in groups. Each group must choose a different artist and has ten minutes to prepare information about the artist, including name, brief biography, personal influences, how he or she influenced music, music genre, famous songs, and their opinion of the artist’s music.
- Music soundtracks: Create (or have your students create) a soundtrack for each unit.
- Have an end-of semester karaoke competition! Find the subtitled videos on YouTube.
- Learn the song then learn to dance! (Salsa, anyone?)
- Host an international day or week celebration with performances by classes or language clubs in addition to any outside talent.
- One Spanish teacher at my former school taught Christmas Carols and her students serenaded classes throughout the day.
- If you’re not already familiar with Señor Wooly (“¿Puedo ir al baño?”), check it out!
- Check out Songs for Teaching for more resources.
Spotify and Pandora
I have always loved music. It was the very first thing I would put on when I entered my college apartment (after taking out my earphones from the walk, of course). It gives a calm and peaceful background or can make you feel compelled to get up and do.
Apart from playing French artists in class, I regularly play film scores. They are my favorite. I receive quite a few odd stares at the beginning of the year (“Why is she playing Superman?”) but then the conversation turns into, “Wait, is this Superman?” “No, it’s Batman.” Students like to guess the score and complete their warm-ups, bopping their heads to the tune of Darth Vader’s Imperial March. While music tastes vary, there is a certain bond that happens when everyone at the table knows the tune of Indiana Jones swinging from his rope.
Another benefit? It is the signal that tells students to work. Even when the warm-up is on the board, you have explained it, and said “Go!” some students still don’t budge. I have found that when they hear the music, they know it is time to get down to business.
I have created playlists and follow some artists (for example, “This is Zaz” on Spotify). I exclusively speak French to my daughter and have created this playlist that may come in handy if you teach the younger levels: Pour les Petits (Spotify). At less than two years old, she was already clapping her hands and singing half the lyrics of some of the songs!
Yabla is a website with upgraded subscription plans to watch videos with a variety of options. You can choose from their full library or a limited selection if you are under the free version. You can slow down the speed of the audio, loop the video, and have subtitles in the target language, English, both, or none. In the bottom right corner, the blue “Games” button allows for vocabulary review, dictation, fill in the blank, multiple choice, and tracking scores. If you click on one of the subtitled words, target language-English dictionaries will appear on the righthand side. You can also bookmark a video in the top right or leave a comment about the video (subscribers only). Access to Yabla’s growing library containing over 1,950 videos costs $12.95 per month. Currently, Yabla offers videos in Spanish, French, Italian, Chinese, German, and English.
LyricsTraining is a website and mobile app that helps anyone learn languages through song. Their are currently thirteen available languages, ranging from English to Japanese. When you select a language and choose a video, you can choose your skill level within that video. This may be my favorite option with LyricsTraining, allowing for varying levels in the classroom and not having to find separate videos for beginner, intermediate, and advanced students.
Music is also separated by genre, allowing you or your students to even further personalize their experience. Game mode allows for multiple choice and fill in the missing lyrics, while the app also has a karaoke option. LyricsTraining can be completed as a class when projected on the screen – shout out answers or students write their answers on white boards – or individually if they are able to download the app. I personally love how it helps keep me up to date with the latest French music as LyricsTraining stays fresh and current.
To close, music is powerful. Music is timeless. Music has a huge place in our hearts and everyday lives so why not incorporate it into our classrooms? Many of us already do! There’s no such thing as too many great ideas. How do you use music in the (World Language) classroom? Email email@example.com to share your ideas!