Music in the Language Arts Classroom

-Leanne Hunter



It is suggested that people in general admit to music being their favorite and sometimes their only artistic interest (Long). This passion and drive towards the subject of music must be tapped into in our classrooms. Implementation of music into the language classroom creates great potential to not only engage musically minded learners, but all learners in general. There will be an obvious draw to the simple utilization of something new in your classroom, but also music provides opportunity for creativity, can relax as well as engage students, motivate learning and create an exciting learning environment. These concepts are outlined here: Music Benefits.The reality is that many students, across age groups, posses a passion for music. Proper facilitation of these desires towards music in our English classrooms can promote a love for English by pure association with music. There are different motivations towards the love of music at various age levels. I will outline why music should be implemented at each level, and how.

  • "The Elementary and middle school years need to be musically rich. Young children are more open to types of music--from classical to country...The teaching implication is to take advantage of this openness to musical diversity by providing experiences with an eclectic range of styles, types, periods and cultural music experience. Such variety sustains interest engenders a flexibility of attitude, and builds respect for the diverse expressions of people." (Cornett and Smirthrim)


Why Should We Introduce Music Into Language Arts?

  • The above video is a powerful representation of the result that is possible when creativity is fostered and explored. The artists in this video are not only talented musicians, but they approach a typical concept in a new and obscure way. The result is captivating. This same concept applies to our classrooms. There are many students with great abilities that are waiting for an opportunity to unleash their potential. Music is one way to fuel this activity.

  • It is very common for students of all ages to withhold a positive connection to music. Even while children are in the womb some parents have them listening to music. As children grow to toddlers they show great excitement to dance along to music. This is evident if you spend any time watching a children's television channel as you will be exposed to incessant catchy jingles which children adore ie) Dora the Explorer. The love of music that begins at a young age expands as children mature. Soon they develop musical preference. Younger and younger children are becoming owners of personal Ipods which rarely leave their person. Older students also begin to develop abilities to create their own music. Students find instruments and with age become passionately connected to these instruments. The positive and beautiful connection that students of all ages carry regarding music should be tapped into and explored in Language classes in order to cross their love over to English.


  • "As language arts teachers, we have a responsibility to integrate music with the language arts so that children make the connection between their spoken and written language and the language of music" (Tompkins, Gail & et. al.)

  • Margaret Barrett explores the idea of writing songs at all grade levels. Obviously in the younger, levels a great degree of scaffolding is necessary. However, in the older levels there would be much less required. Much of the Language Arts curriculum is about the ability to express feelings, this directly coincides with Barret's views on the benefits of song writing: "children use songwriting to share their views about what is important to them in life, from the joys of chocolate cake to the difficulties of wearing braces." In younger grade levels teachers have freedom in allowing students to express how they feel, yet with age this concept becomes more challenging. In all grade levels "the establishment of an environment in which students feel they have enough free choice for them to feel that the music is theirs" (Wiggins) is essential, however in the higher levels teachers can be placed in an awkward situation where their students' music tastes do not coincide with school philosophies and the teachers are require to make a difficult decision that "can positively or negatively impact students' feelings of ownership and agency. In these cases, talking with students instead of at them can can create a situation in which students can be brought into the teacher's (more mature) understanding of the situation" (Rogoff).

  • Music is also incredibly useful and valuable when teaching ESL students. Bob Lake says that, "there is strong evidence supporting the use of music in the ESL classroom. Language and music are tied together in brain processing by pitch, rhythm and by symmetrical phrasing. Music can help familiarize students with connections and provides a fun way to acquire English." There are a variety of online resources exploring this connection: ESL and Music Resource One, ESL and Music Resource Two, ESL and Music Resource Three, ESL and Music Resource Four and ESL and Music Resource Five. These sites and many other resources discuss the value in teaching a new language with music and the sources also give examples and activities.

How Can Music Be Integrated Into the Language Classroom?

This section will include various illustrative examples on implementation of music into the Language classroom

Division 1 (Grades 1-3)

GLO's/ SLO's (1.1.2., 2.1.3.,2.2.1., 4.1.2., 4.1.3.,5.2.1.)
In division 1 students could write lyrics for songs they already know the melody to. In early grades the class could collaborate to create the song. The teacher would facilitate the discussion. The teacher could scaffold by saying "Twinkle Twinkle little (what?)" The students could then discuss what they want the subject of their song to be. If they chose a pig, then the teacher could go back and discuss which words should describe the pig. The first line of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star could become "stinky dirty ugly pig." At the higher levels of division 1, the teacher would scaffold the kids by showing an of a song they already know that is turned into something different. Students would be encouraged to write their new song about something they are feeling that day, something that happened that week etc. Students could also use a known melody and create a mnemonic devise by changing the lyrics to coincide with subject matter from science. ie.) In the tune of Row Row Row Your Boat, "These, these, these are the planets..."

Division 2 (Grades 4-6)

GLO's/ SLO's (1.1.1., 1.1.2., 1.2.2., 2.1.1., 2.1.2., 2.1.3., 2.2.1., 2.2.2., 2.3.3., 4.1.2., 5.1.2.)
By this age, students are beginning to have preference to certain musical genres and have favorite songs. During poetry a poetry student, students could pick one of their favorite songs and closely read the lyrics to find various poetic elements. The teacher would discuss major elements that they want students to look for ie) similes, metaphors, alliteration, onomatopoeia etc. The activity could take place over a few classes. They could take part in Think, Pair, Share activities. The students would personally look at their song choice and find poetic elements. Then in pairs they could share their songs and poetic elements, they may even notice some poetic elements in their partners song that their partner did not. Finally the students would have an opportunity to play a clip of their song in front of the class, discuss why it is their favorite song (what feelings they have when they listen to it, why they feel that way etc), and finally list some of the poetic elements they discovered.


Division 3 (Grades 7-9)

GLO's/SLO's (1.1.1., 1.1.2., 1.2.1., 1.2.2., 2.1.1., 2.1.2., 2.1.3., 2.1.4., 2.2.1., 2.2.2., 4.1.2., 4.1.3., 4.2.1., 4.2.3., 5.1.1., 5.1.2.)
At this level students could look at the bigger picture of multiple songs. After reviewing poetic elements a teacher could assign a project where students have to create a playlist of songs that they would use to describe their relationship with a certain individual, and how poetic elements in the songs help articulate their point of view. They could be creating a play list for their mother, father, best friend, boy/girlfriend etc. The songs would represent their relationship with a certain individual. A comprehensive analysis of the songs could be used to supplement the activity. This activity could be further developed by discussing characters in books read in class and what songs they would chose to represent their emotions towards other characters in the books.


Division 4 (Grades 10-12)

GLO's/ SLO's (1.1.1., 1.1.2., 1.2.1., 1.2.2., 2.1.3., 2.2.1., 2.2.2., 2.3.1., 2.3.3., 3.1.1., 4.1.2., 4.1.3., 4.2.1., 4.2.4., 5.1.1.)
By high school, a great degree of freedom would be essential to music in the language arts classroom. Students could experiment with language and create music to interpret their emotions about a certain issue. Students could write their own lyrics or poetry. Those who are able and willing could even link their lyrics to music with an instrument that they excel at. Those who do not excel could use the melody of another song and plug in their lyrics. Their poetic lyrics would include poetic elements and explore their representation on an issue discussed in class from their perspective or maybe a completely alternative perspective. They could take the point of view of a antagonist in a novel and write a song about how that individual would feel at a certain point in the book. Later they would present their works to the class, or to small groups.



Cornett and Smithrim in Tompkins, Gail, et al. Language Arts Content and Teaching Strategies. 5th ed. Toronto: Pearson. 2011. Print.

Long, Noel. Music in English Education. London: Faber and Faber. 1959. Print.

Rogoff (1991) in Wiggins, Jackie. "When The Music is Theirs: Scaffolding Young Songwriters." A Cultural Psychology of Music Education. Ed. Margaret Barrett. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. 100-104. Print.

Sullivan, Timothy and Willingham, Lee. Creativity and Music Education. Edmonton: Canadian Music Educators' Association. 2002. Print.

Tompkins, Gail, et al. Language Arts Content and Teaching Strategies. 5th ed. Toronto: Pearson. 2011. Print.

Wiggins, Jackie. "When The Music is Theirs: Scaffolding Young Songwriters." A Cultural Psychology of Music Education. Ed. Margaret Barrett. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. 100-104. Print.