Using Music to Improve Reading Fluency
- Grades: 1–2, 3–5
It’s a typical morning in my classroom, and as my students finish their bell work, they begin to beg me to let them practice their reading fluency. Before long, they are pulling out their lyrics notebooks, and I am popping in a CD or opening iTunes on my laptop. This happens several times a week for us. They know that even if it isn’t in my plans, I’ll most likely “give in” and they will “get” to practice for a few minutes!
Ten to fifteen minutes a week with this activity means many painless and enjoyable repeated readings!
My students are becoming much more fluent readers as they read and sing along with the lyrics for a variety of songs that I’ve carefully chosen for this activity. Their teacher is enjoying good music, which means she is in a great mood and ready to teach!
Choosing the Music
Look for songs on iTunes or CDs, or ask musical friends to help you find songs with the qualities you need.
Think about what you need the song to do for your lessons. Sometimes I'm looking for specific types of words or language, and other times I'm trying to match a theme or topic. If I'm lucky, a song has both!
Consider appropriateness first and make a point to LISTEN TO and READ the lyrics closely before introducing a song to students.
Make lyrics pages for each song in large, easy-to-read print and copy them for each student.
Introducing a Song
Read through the lyrics together, and then listen to the music. If it is in book form, put the CD on and enjoy it together that way first. Turn the music up and let your students be carried away by it. They fall in love with the music and then really enjoy singing with it over and over again.
Talk about the story behind the song and any history you know.
Highlight words or parts of the song that support the other learning that's happening in the class.
Use several songs frequently to avoid students' memorizing the words too fast. You want them READING instead of RECITING.
Deepen Learning — Pull That Song Out Again!
Besides giving students time for repeated reading, working with lyrics has other benefits.
Students find rhyming words and word structure by pulling out this already familiar text.
Vocabulary development helps comprehension in other types of reading.
Song lyrics are a natural springboard to studying themes.
Students use close reading strategies to boost comprehension skills.
Management Supplies and Suggestions
Give each student a three-ring notebook with page protectors to keep lyrics sheets where they are easily found.
Keep a collection of place-keepers such as plastic fingers, color strips, and bookmarks to help young readers keep their place and stay engaged. When they don't need them anymore, they will stop using them and track with their eyes.
Top Ten From Mrs. Edwards' Class (With Some Demos!):
1. “New York State of Mind” written and sung by Billy Joel
2. “Sentimental Journey” by Les Brown and Bud Green, sung by Renee Olstead
3. “Don’t Laugh at Me” by Allen Shamblin and Steve Seskin (children’s version from the book), sung by Peter Yarrow
4. “Shenandoah” by unknown (was first a sea chantey), sung by Daniel Rodriguez
5. “Coming to America,” written and sung by Neil Diamond
6. “Garden Song” by David Mallett, sung by John Denver
7. “The Marvelous Toy” by Tom Paxton, sung by Peter, Paul, and Mary
8. “Run, Rudolph, Run!” by Johnny Marks and Marvin Brodie, sung by Chuck Berry
9. “Caroling, Caroling” by Wihla Hutson, sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford
10. “Carol of the Bells” by Mykola Leontovych, sung by Celtic Women
For my reflections and the background behind the way I use music, visit Pondering Pedagogy.
Resources to Get You Started