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Music and imagery as memory triggers.
How many times has a student asked you if they could listen to music in your lessons? The easy accessibility of music nowadays has made the current generations much more prone to be exposed to a variety of genres and styles. But how can we exploit this further in the languages classroom?
Well, this is one of the questions I have set out to explore over the last months. I started by carrying out some research on music and its link to improved memory. Think about the lyrics to your favourite tune – you can surely remember them well because of the music associated with them. Now look up the lyrics of a song you have never heard before, and try to memorise them. All of a sudden, it becomes quite a daunting task when music is not present.
Spotify grammar lists
I am sure many of you have shared your passion for certain songs in your foreign language of choice with your classes before, and I believe this can be taken even further. To this end, I have compiled a series of grammar-based lists on the popular website/app Spotify, which I actively share with my classes. Whether it is the present tense, preterite, imperfect or future, there are enough songs to keep students going, not just in the classroom but also at home. What better reward than hearing first hand form learners that they are tuning into your playlists?
The range of tracks available allows me to pick and choose appropriate songs when I want to make a point about a particular tense. Another idea is to embed these into your SoW where convenient, so that everyone can have access departmentally.
Cover songs vs authentic songs
I believe there is no winning argument in this case, as you can use either to serve various purposes in your lessons: gap-fills, dictations, pronunciation practice, phonics, creative writing. Rhyme can also be used in the latter – just point out these two sites to students, which will allow them to find rhyming words within particular grammar categories in both Spanish and French: https://buscapalabras.com.ar and http://www.rimessolides.com
With authentic songs, I tend to focus on the particular themes they are trying to cover, and use these to suit my lessons accordingly. For example, across KS4, students are exposed to songs that cover the wide range of topics we teach. Having a vast array of songs to choose from allows students to engage more effectively with particular modules that might not be of great interest to them. Likewise, in KS3, if you are following the traditional theme-based textbook, this can also be of help.
In an attempt to help my students to remember their verb endings in Spanish, I have designed a series of Powerpoint slides. Students start off by learning the pronouns, and the actions associated to them. To master the grammar endings, images are then used to trigger students’ memories. In this particular case, anything can be used as long as it is memorable enough. For example, an emoji conveying surprise with a wide-opened mouth in the shape of an ‘o’ makes me think of the 1st person singular for present tense verbs in Spanish (vivo, hablo, veo, etc). Likewise, an emoji conveying shock or fear, makes me think of ‘a’, thus I associate this with the 3rd person singular for ar verbs in the present tense (canta, estudia, mira, etc).
The second step is to add music. Once students have mastered their endings, it is time to dance! Introduce the idea of tenses with directions. I have employed the old-fashioned VHS remote as a basis for this, with the pause (present), rewind (past) and fast-forward (future) buttons used to let students know which tense they are working in. As the slides flick on, students move to the rhythm of the music and perform the subject pronoun actions. This is well illustrated on my website, MFL Music Mania.
It is fairly obvious that, on a daily basis, we encounter a variety of learners within the classroom for whom different methods might work well or not so well. By adding in not just visual and kinaesthetic aids, but also auditory ones, I am ensuring that I am not simply prioritising one type of learner over another.
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Combine languages, music and creativity and see your students take their learning to another level!
Be inspired, be creative, be innovative! Let music play an important part in your language lessons. Share with your colleagues and please do comment. It would be great to know whether my ideas have been of help to you and your students.