Link Learning With Singing

by Stephanie K.

Do you want to help your students learn and remember a new or difficult concept or topic? Sing a song about it. If no song exists, then write a song about it. Or, better yet, have your students write a song about it. Why? For starters, songs are usually catchy and fun. They also make it easier to make connections, learn, and memorize material. Raps, rhymes, and poems work, too! “Singing has long been used as an instructional strategy in literacy development. It supports and enhances personal expression, builds community, and connects reading and writing easily and naturally” (Bintz, 2010, p. 683). We can help our students learn better and have fun doing it. Better yet, singing can help support content area learning.

If you asked preschoolers or kindergarteners to speak the alphabet, would they be able to do it? Not likely. But, if you asked them to sing the alphabet, would they be able to do it? Very likely.  “As music educators, we are well attuned to the power of music to alter mood, provide motivation, and link learning. Yet, music often has been viewed in educational settings as a frivolous learning tool” (Cane, 2009). Well, if we, as music educators, can aid our students as they increase and improve learning in other content areas, then we show that music is, in fact, a valuable and important learning tool in both the music classroom and the regular education classroom. “Singing and songwriting have unlimited potential for teaching content area material, especially material that teachers find challenging to teach, like science” (Bintz, 2010, p. 686).

“Some music teachers refuse to endorse the use of music with other subjects out of fear that such an endeavor will compromise their art” (Cane, 2009). I am not one of those music teachers. I believe that integrating music across the curriculum and assimilating core subjects into the music curriculum can strengthen a student’s education. In fact, I believe that such integration “affords students a more thorough and enriched arts education” while enhancing learning in other disciplines (Cane, 2009). Helping our students master difficult material is just one way we can do this. “Research demonstrates that collaboration between music and other subjects provides solid links for learning” (Cane, 2009). It enriches the learning process. It “…also helps students recognize and use rhymes; memorize words, phrases, and sentences; and recognize predictable text, rhyme, and rhythm” (Bintz, 2010, p. 683-684).

At my school, students begin learning states and capitals in fourth grade. So, during a few of my fourth grade general music classes, we worked on the song “Fifty Nifty United States.” After just a couple of weeks of practice, I asked for volunteers to say or sing all fifty states in alphabetical order as we had been working on with the song. Of those student volunteers, those who chose to sing rather than speak the states in alphabetical order had a much higher chance of making it all the way to Wyoming. Music and song help make connections that we would not otherwise be able to make. In this situation, my students even took their new knowledge a step further by using a large map of the United States and pointing to each state as they sang it.

So, what if your students are struggling with a new or difficult concept or topic and you cannot find a clever tune for it already written? I suggest writing your own. If you have general music classes with junior high, middle school, or high school students, then challenge them to write their own. This gives them a chance to be creative while increasing the likelihood of learning and memorization. It makes learning more concrete. Start with a familiar tune such as “Old MacDonald,” “Twinkle, Twinkle,” or “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” Or, allow your students to use their favorite pop song from the radio. Have your students brainstorm and list the most important or hardest to remember aspects. Have them write a song about it. The possibilities are endless. The concept or topic can be anything from any subject. And, the creation of the song itself works to develop reading and writing skills.

“Integrating music with other academic subjects can yield many positive results for your students and for your school as a whole” (Cane, 2009). I believe that music is a valuable discipline. Unfortunately, not all people do. When music educators find ways to teach across the curriculum, they give validation to their music programs. It is one of the many ways we can advocate for our programs on a daily basis, and just one small way to show we care about giving our students the best education possible. “With the backing of current research, perhaps finally, our energy can shift from defending music in the schools to expanding our position as collaborative partner outside our classroom” (Cane, 2009). When we use singing to help teach hard and challenging material, we are supporting our students as they…”engage in meaningful learning experiences across the curriculum” (Bintz, 2010). Simply put, it is one of the many ways we justify music in education.

Bintz, W. P. (2010). Singing across the Curriculum. Reading Teacher, 63(8), 683-686.

Cane, S. (2009). Collaboration with Music: A Noteworthy Endeavor. Music Educators Journal, 96(1), 33-39.

Here are a couple examples:

The Continents (to the tune of Old MacDonald)

There are seven in the world.

Seven continents.

Can you name them one by one?

Seven continents.

You have Asia here and Europe there.

Africa, Australia, North and South America.

Way down low let’s not forget

It’s Antarctica.

The Vowel Song (to the tune of BINGO)

There are some letters you should know

And vowels are what we call them:

A-E-I-O-U, A-E-I-O-U, A-E-I-O-U,

Add Y, and you can sing them, too.

Here are the National Standards for Music Education you can fulfill by using this idea in your music classroom:

1. Singing, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music.

3. Improvising melodies, variations, and accompaniments.

4. Composing and arranging music within specified guidelines.

8. Understanding relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. amyfatek
    Nov 28, 2011 @ 19:04:26

    Stephanie,

    Thank you for these cute song examples! I was looking for a continent song so that really helps:) My kindergarten teachers at my school are so great because they give me their monthly topics and I am always looking for song that link learning. I like the vowel song for my first and second grade students also.

    Thanks!

    Stacie

    Reply

  2. Patti B.
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 02:44:22

    Stephanie,
    I am not one of those music teachers who is afraid of compromising our art either! I really appreciate the quote you cite by S. Cane. I think “colloborative partner” is an excellent synonym for music teachers. I think it should be our goal to have our school staff and our parents view us as such.

    Putting a tune to the facts we want to remember definitely works! For many years, I had to a song about the months to remember which months had 30 and 31 days! Your continent and vowel songs are great. My classroom teachers will love it when I use them. I have also used the “Fifty Nifty Song,” and it is always a “hit!” The extension of having the students find them on the map is a great one. I also recommend a song about meter for the students to remember what the top and bottom number mean. My 4th graders are experts because we set their knowledge to a tune. Character education is another great topic to use a song. We have a “boot camp chant” to remember the expectations in the hallway and in the restrooms. We can review the rules all year long while having fun and keeping rhythm.

    I enjoyed your post!
    Patti

    Reply

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