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Music in the ESL Classroom

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The use of music in the classroom can make the entire learning process more enjoyable and can stimulate "right" brain learning. Six years ago researchers reported that people scored better on a standard IQ test after listening to Mozart. Other tests soon followed: Rats raised on Mozart run through mazes faster and more accurately. People with Alzheimer's disease function more normally if they listen to Mozart and the music even reduces the severity of epileptic seizures.

Just think of all the times you have used music to help you study for tests, think clearly about something, relax from daily stress, etc. If you think about it, using music in the ESL EFL classroom is a pretty logical thing to do considering how helpful it can be to the learning process. Setting the scene Musically

Using music to introduce an exercise is a great way to activate vocabulary and get students thinking in the right direction. Take a piece of music or song which you associate with a certain activity or place ("New York, New York" sung by Frank Sinatra) and play the first 30 seconds of the piece. You will be surprised at how quickly associations come to students' minds - many more than if you introduced the lesson by saying, "Today we are going to talk about New York City".

A wonderful example of this can be found in any broadcast of "Morning Edition" by National Public Radio. Each story is ended with a selection of music which in some way relates to that story. This music is repeated after a commercial and before the next story. In this way, listeners are subtly encouraged to reflect on the story they have just heard.

"Headway Intermediate", a popular EFL student's book published by Oxford Press, gives another great example of setting the scene musically. Every extended listening is preceded and followed by a short snippet of related music - usually the beginning bars and the final tones of a given piece. These little touches do wonders to add atmosphere to an otherwise familiar classroom setting. Using Music Selectively To Enhance Concentration

The most important point to remember when using music to accompany learning is that it be an aid to learning and not a distraction. Let me give an example, if your class is doing a grammar exercise and you want to use some music in the background to help students concentrate, choose music which employs regular periods (repeated phrases and patterns) - something like Hayden or Mozart, maybe Bach. Choosing abrasive, disharmonic music will distract students while their brains try to make sense of the disharmony. Choosing something melodic which employs musical patterns will not distract. Not only will this type of music not distract, the regular patterns of the music also help to underline the repetetive nature of grammar.

Another example of using music selectively would be written descriptive exercises in which students need to use their imaginations. You can set the scene musically which will help stimulate their imagination. Let's say students need to describe their life as young children. Ravel's "Mother Goose Suite" playing softly in the background will help them return to those simpler times through its sweet harmonies and simple structures. Listening to Shostokovitch, on the other hand, would put them right off!

Here are some suggestions for appropriate music for different activities:

  • Grammar - Mozart, Haydn, Bach, Handel, Vivaldi
  • Imagination exercises (descriptive writing, speaking) - Ravel, Debussy, Satie
  • Current Situation, News in the World - Rap (for inner cities and their problems), Ethnic Music from the discussed countries (you would be surprised at how many people quickly associate the type of music with a part of the world)
  • Making Future Plans - Fun upbeat jazz ("Take Five" by Dave Brubeck)
  • Discussing "Serious" issues - the "serious" Germans: Beethoven, Brahms - even Mahler if you are adventurous!

Use your imagination and you will quickly find that your students will be using their imaginations to improve their English - usually without being aware of it.

More "Whole Brain" Techniques and Activities

The Brain: An overview
A visual explanation of the different parts of the brain, how they work and an example ESL EFL exercise employing the specific area.

Helpful Drawing Hints
"A picture paints a thousand words" - Easy techniques to make quick sketches that will help any artistically challenged teacher - like myself! - use drawings on the board to encourage and stimulate class discussions.

Using Colored Pens
The use of colored pens to help the right brain remember patterns. Each time you use the pen it reinforces the learning process.

Brain Gym
The brain is an organ and can be physically stimulated to improve learning. Use these simple exercises to help your students concentrate better and improve their learning abilities.

Suggestopedia: Lesson Plan
Introduction and lesson plan to a "concert" using the suggestopedia approach to effective/affective learning.

 

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