No, this isn’t about all music, and all the ways music can be used in a CI classroom.

This episode of NCIS focuses on songs that Teach Something. Songs to help kids remember the verb endings, or the direct and indirect object pronouns, or the declensions, or whatever.

This one doesn’t get a take-down by the whole team. But it is a very slippery thing. Because songs are mnemonics — ways to help people remember things. And mnemonics only work when there is time to stop and think of them. So for acquisition, not so much. But it could have use for output when there is time to stop and think, such as during a writing assignment. If the student can relate the examples in the song to the different context he is trying to express, and if he knows the gender of the noun he’s working with, and…well, you get the picture.

Why Teachers Like It:

It focuses on the different forms related to one grammar point — something kids have to master anyway.

It’s so catchy! People remember song lyrics.

It has a story in the lyrics, so it’s memorable.

 

Why TPRS/CI Teachers should Be Wary:

It focuses on the different forms related to one grammar point. All at once. With minimal, unchanging context.

Without helping the student to encounter the forms in different, novel contexts, it is unlikely to help the majority to actually acquire the grammar point (use), though it may help memory (knowledge about the grammar point).

Thought it’s catchy, it takes time to “scroll through” the song in one’s head to get to the part that’s relevant to the language one wants to output in speech or writing. And that means it won’t work in place of acquisition.

 

Do This, Not That!

It’s fine to use mnemonics — they’re really useful for what they’re intended to do: help people remember things. Knowledge. Not to acquire language, except for memorized phrases coming directly out of the song lyrics. Memorized dialogues work the same way (ask me to parrot my “Nina is going to her singing lesson” dialogue from 1985. I can still do it perfectly, though I can’t speak Russian worth anything these days. Gosh, I have a nice accent, though.)

So use, don’t abuse, teaching songs like this one. Present them after the grammar point has been acquired, or is well on the way (lots of examples of it have been heard and read, and students are beginning to notice it). Remind students that it is a good check when writing, especially for points that are confusing and similar to students, like, oh, German noun declensions. (Never did get those in my pre-CI days.)

But don’t plan an entire lesson around “using” this kind of song. Present it casually, as a brain break, as background music as they’re coming in or going out, or in some other suitable little scrap of time. Let the students who will use it as a mnemonic benefit from it, and spend the time saved on real comprehensible input.