Reader Response Journal

Get Up and Sing! Get Up and Move! Using Songs and Movement with Young Learners of English by Joan Kang Shin

This English Teaching Forum article provides an accessible overview of the ways that songs and gestures can be combined to teach English to young learners. This is a topic that I care very much about (my first conference presentation was on combining music and movement, although I included older learners as well), and Shin is quite prominent in the area. She’s known for pioneering the International Children’s Song Approach, which uses English versions of songs from around the world, instead of just traditional American and British children’s songs. In this article, she outlines some of the benefits of using music and movement for young learners (a term she doesn’t actually define in the piece), highlighting the innate connections between the two, and the benefits for both child development and language learning. These include the emotional and social benefits of music, the authenticity and culture embedded in the songs, as well as the ways singing enhances memory and comprehension. She also notes that according to Howard Gardner (1993), musical intelligence is the first of the multiple intelligences to emerge, which I had forgotten. After outlining the reasons to use music and movement, she lays out some guidelines for teachers, using very convenient checklists. She discusses types of songs that can be used, including traditional English songs, jazz chants and her own International Children’s Song Approach, and encourages teachers to consider whether the song they want to use is connected to the language they’re teaching, simple and repetitive both musically and linguistically, and easy to choose movements for or dramatize. She provides a step by step outline of how to present songs to children, starting with the topic and the vocabulary, followed by listening to the song and repeating line by line before singing it (starting with the refrain and then the verses). She provides some guidance on choosing gestures or other activities that students could do while singing, using specific examples paired with traditional English songs, like the Itsy Bisty Spider or Head Shoulders Knees and Toes. She also includes the lyrics to three classroom management songs she’s written for familiar tunes. Overall, it’s a very useful and teacher friendly article about both why music and movement have a place in the classroom, and some very specific ideas about how teachers can implement it.

I was really pleased to see this article, since I’ve been aware of Shin’s work for a while, but there hadn’t been an easily accessible journal article version of it for me to cite in my own work before this. While I use songs and movements with students of all ages, not just young ones, Shin’s work meshes with my approach, and there are pieces of the way I teach songs that she influenced (gleaned from earlier, less comprehensive sources, like her you tube videos). While her focus is on young learners, I would argue that many of these approaches can be adapted for older students as well, as I’ve done in my classes. Obviously, the attitude you take to singing in the class is different with 18 years, compared to 8 year olds, but many of the benefits she lists, especially the memory benefits, are absolutely transferable. All in all, an article I would recommend, and not just for teachers of young learners.

Gardner, H. (1993). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. 2nd ed. New York: Basic Books.

Shin, J. K. (2017). Get up and sing! Get up and move! Using songs and movement with young learners of English. English Teaching Forum, 55(2), 14-25.

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