Teaching and Learning English at Primary Level. Songs and Rhymes as Support for Vocabulary Acquisition

Term Paper, 2015

15 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Vocabulary Teaching
2.1 The Importance of Teaching Vocabulary in Teaching English
2.2 How to Teach Vocabulary

3 Songs and Rhymes
3.1 The Importance of Songs and Rhymes in Teaching English
3.2 How to Teach Songs and Rhymes
3.3 Example

4 Vocabulary Learning with Songs and Rhymes

5 Conclusion


Remember little m.

Remember little e.

Put the two together,

And remember little me.

1 Introduction

Looking back, many adults remember school not only as a place and time of friendships and personal development but also as a time of boredom, restrictions and even fear. It does not take today’s neurobiological knowledge of the brain to guess that a boring and fearful atmosphere is not the best learning environment. Instead, children[1] should be taught in a way that is inspiring, fun and caring.

A good opportunity for providing this type of teaching is through language classes in primary school. Some years ago, the governments of the German federal states decided to establish English as a first foreign language to be taught from as early as first grade. This enables English teachers to introduce children to the English language in a playful and natural way. Games, art activities, outdoor action and other activities can be combined with learning English. In addition, songs and rhymes can be used as age-appropriate teaching modules.

This paper examines how songs and rhymes in primary school English classes support learning and focuses on vocabulary learning: Why and how is vocabulary taught? What is the role of songs and rhymes in teaching English? These two aspects will then lead to the main research question: How do songs and rhymes support vocabulary learning?

The approach is to examine relevant literature on primary school education and English lessons with a focus on vocabulary learning and on songs and rhymes. According to the research concern, the paper first gives insight into vocabulary teaching (chapter 2). Next, it explores why and how songs and rhymes can be part of teaching English. Chapter 4 then examines songs and rhymes as a means of teaching vocabulary. The conclusion summarizes the findings concerning the research question. Should the paper arrive at the result that songs and rhymes are a motivating and inspiring way of learning vocabulary, it could be an encouraging message for teachers to apply that method.

2 Vocabulary Teaching

2.1 The Importance of Teaching Vocabulary in Teaching English

“[...] without grammar very little can be conveyed, without vocabulary nothing can be conveyed” (Wilkins 1972, pp. 111-112)

What is vocabulary? The response of a student could be that it has something to do with the words of a language. It is correct because vocabulary deals with words but it is much more than just single words. Youngest vocabulary studies are based on an understanding of lexis, which in English “refers to all the words in language, the entire vocabulary of a language” (Barcroft, Sunderman, Schmitt 2011, p. 571). Learning vocabulary also includes lexical chunks and phrases of two or more words, for example Good evening or Nice to meet you. These word chains, also called formulaic sequences, are central to English vocabulary learning. So vocabulary can be defined as the words of language, including single items and phrases or chunks of several words with a certain meaning.

An important goal of teaching English in elementary school is to create a basic vocabulary that consists of single words and short sentences. Table 1 illustrates the various goals of language teaching. Children whose mother tongue is not English must learn English as a second language. Therefore, they will learn its vocabulary in a different way than that of their first language. While we usually learn our mother tongue easily, learning a new language takes more effort and some support from an outside source, for example from a teacher. Therefore, teaching vocabulary is a necessary part of teaching English. Teaching vocabulary means to enable children to passively understand certain words and to use them actively (Ehlers, 2011, p.268). For that, they need to know how to pronounce a word, how to spell it and what it actually means. Words are needed to create meaning to speak sentences. For that, the learner needs to have a certain number of words stored in his or her memory, needs to recall them when they are needed and use them in the correct context (Thornbury, 2002, p. 2).

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Table x: Goals for learning language

(based on: Nation, 2008, p. 1)

One of the reasons for teaching vocabulary is that children want to learn it. Children “have a huge learning potential, and the foreign language classroom does them a disservice if we do not exploit that potential” (Cameron, 2012, p. xii). Based on Jean Piaget’s theories of development, one can call children sense-makers whose sense-making is, however, restricted by what they have experienced so far (Cameron, 2012, p. 4). Accordingly, it is not only important to teach vocabulary but to also teach a broad vocabulary. This enables children to use the language quickly and to actually be able to communicate in the language. Lev Vygotsky’s saw the child as a social being who needs people to develop. Therefore, it is obvious that a child needs others – possibly adults, like teachers – to be able to learn (enough) (Cameron, 2012, p. 5). This also goes for vocabulary; it must be taught; it does not come on its own.

2.2 How to Teach Vocabulary

Children who acquire their mother tongue do so without even realizing it. Can foreign language teaching incorporate some of their unconscious ‘techniques’? It probably can, by not just teaching words but rather through play and by making language learning fun. Therefore, it is useful to integrate vocabulary learning into everyday activities, if possible (Ehlers, 2011, p. 269). However, there are some differences between learning a mother tongue and teaching a foreign language. When a language such as English is taught in primary school, the school setting must be considered. There are traditional ways of teaching vocabulary that have proven useful and that can still serve their purpose. These methods include working with textbooks, memorizing words or testing pupils on their vocabulary. Apart from this, there are alternative ways of teaching vocabulary in an interesting way. Additionally, it is necessary to examine the way the brain works during vocabulary learning. New words will first be stored in the short term memory. After some time, they eventually move into the long term memory from where they can be retrieved when needed (Stork, 2003, p. 59).

Teaching styles that tend to be more exciting and more effective have been developed. This is good because children need some excitement to learn in a way that they can retain the contents of what they learn. Children develop a passion when looking for hidden meanings of things (Schirmer, 2010, p. 9). Therefore, they are fairly easy to excite, once a teacher attempts thinking the way that they do: Children feel that every minute holds an interesting new movement and every hour a new perspective on things (Hüther & Hauser, 2014, p. 10). Whenever children think of things they would like to be able to name, it is a good moment to teach that word. Vocabulary should be useful from the point of view of the children learning it. An 8-year-old might not even care to know what a rooster is, particularly. Rather, he or she might want to know how to say that she just had a new baby brother (Schmid-Schönbein, 2008, p. 60).

For example, if a group of pupils can go food shopping together or have breakfast, then they can use the opportunity to learn words that have something to do with food and eating. Furthermore, vocabulary learning can be incorporated into other school activities, such as drawing and art lessons. In addition, there are games that can be combined with learning vocabulary (Ehlers, 2011, pp. 278-279). Songs and rhymes are also ways of teaching vocabulary. The next chapter examines this.

3 Songs and Rhymes

3.1 The Importance of Songs and Rhymes in Teaching English

Music carries an important role in everyday life. It occurs in all phases of one´s life, so it also plays an important role in the learning process. Music is a great language package which bundles culture, vocabulary, listening, grammar and other language components in just a few rhymes. The use of music in language classes makes students more attentive and can increase their desire to learn a language.

Generally, school should be fun. Playing is therefore an important part of primary school classes. As many children enjoy songs and rhymes and consider them play rather than learning, they should be part of primary school language teaching (Schmid-Schönbein, 2008, p. 79). Songs help to achieve good learning results and improve pupils’ language performance. Additionally, songs create a pleasant atmosphere and simply sound nice. They also bring about emotions and moods (Roberts, 2003, pp. 60-61). Children can identify better with a new language by learning the songs and rhymes of that language (Schmitz, 2012, p. 30). Songs provide access to a world of experience that is beyond simply acquiring more cognitive knowledge. They help to introduce a certain culture and help to develop intercultural openness (Schmid-Schönbein, 2008, p. 76; Ehlers, 2003, p. 277).


[1] In fact, all learners need that type of learning surroundings – whether they are young or older children or even adults.

Excerpt out of 15 pages


Teaching and Learning English at Primary Level. Songs and Rhymes as Support for Vocabulary Acquisition
University of Koblenz-Landau
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Grundschulbildung, Lehramt, Grundschullehramt, Englisch, Vokablen, Lieder, Unterrichten, Grundschule
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Eva Zilles (Author), 2015, Teaching and Learning English at Primary Level. Songs and Rhymes as Support for Vocabulary Acquisition, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/311246


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