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How to give literacy a boost with music

Written by Dr Anne Margaret Smith, Founder, ELT well
11 Jun 2020
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How to give literacy a boost with music

Many children have spent the last few months locked down after the school gates closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In September, as students filter back into school, there will be those who have taken a step backwards in their English language and literacy skills.  I thought this would be a good time to share some tips on how music can help to get these learners back on track in a fun and stress-free way.

It is well known that the patterns in rhymes and songs can help learners process sounds and words, as they develop the essential speech and communication skills they need to access the curriculum. This is particularly true for dyslexic learners and those using English as an additional language (EAL), who may need additional support. Incorporating more music and movement into the school day is a perfect way to make the first experience of learning as stress-free as possible in the new academic year.

Involve me, and I learn

There are some simple ways to introduce more movement into lessons by getting pupils marching or skipping while repeating sounds or words. The combination of rhythm and repetition is a great way to embed them firmly in the children’s memories.

Involving the children more by adding music and physical actions to your lessons helps the children to develop better concentration and memory. The saying is ‘you never forget how to ride a bike’, and that’s because fine motor skills develop through repetition, and the student can eventually do it without a second thought.

Do you remember moving back and forth to ‘’row row row the boat” when you were little?  Singing in this way is just one example of how musical activity endures, impacting on both early language development and memory. Repetition through learning is much less boring for pupils when it is part of a song or a dance and can help a child’s ability to develop the underpinning skills needed to develop literacy practices, such as processing and phonological memory.

Activities for a socially distant lesson

Incorporating rhythm and movement into lessons is enjoyable and boosts mental well-being.  Music is a great way to help children in what, for some, may have been a tough time, helping them reconnect with their classmates.

Here are my tips for songs and activities you could try in your school:

1. Communication through rhythm

Although children may need to stay physically apart, they can communicate using improvised instruments and a ‘call-and-response’ activity. For example, one child could make up a rhythm by tapping two pencils together, and the others in the group could respond by repeating it, knocking on the table. The role of the caller can be passed around the group so that everybody has a chance to lead. The children could then be encouraged to think about what the message might have been.  Listening to the number of beats, the rhythm, and even the volume and speed, can they work out whether it was a friendly ‘good morning’? Or an urgent message?

2. Create and perform

Ask the children to sing a song they know well (such as ‘Jack and Jill went up the hill’) and then ask them to think of different words that would fit into the same tune. Encourage children to write their own versions in small groups, and then perform them for the class.

3. Grab an instrument

Get the children singing a song and ask them to beat a drum or play an instrument when they hear a sound such as ‘ou’ or ‘ar’. Or they could stand still on the sound – like a twist on musical statues.

Practice makes progress, so with all new activities it might take a few attempts, but there’s no doubt that bringing music and activities together will put the fun back into learning for the children.

Dr Anne Margaret Smith is an English Language teacher and dyslexia assessor, founder of ELT well. She has taught English for 30 years in Kenya, Germany, Sweden, and the UK. To find out more please visit https://www.lexplore-analytics.co.uk/


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