Making Soundscapes – The Rhythm of Learning English

The Language of Music

All teenagers love music – they may not all like the same genre of music but they they can all tap their foot to the rhythm of their favorite song!

Shake, Rattle and Roll

Using percussive instruments in the ESOL classroom can help students with pronunciation , intonation,  vocabulary, self-confidence and be a whole lot of fun! Such activities can help learners from children to adults develop a deeper grasp of listening and speaking skills. Whether it is a quick rhythm session using clapping at the beginning of a lesson or a longer piece creating a soundscape to accompany a project or essay – it is a brilliant way to bring a whole new element into the classroom! Students who find it difficult to express themselves verbally ( in their own language and in L2) find their voice by picking up a drum, a rattle or a rain stick. You can see them stand taller, become immersed in the word and idea they are trying to convey and work in a group where everyone feels equal.

Putting Percussion into Practice

I used this technique with  a group of 28 young learners who recently came on a  English language residential immersion course with us. They were from a school in Le Havre where a percentage of their teaching is in English – they were a mixed group with some bi-lingual speakers of French and English, some who had reached a good B2 level and others who were making their way to the bench mark of B2. Their theme for the week was The New Forest National Park ( as this is where we are located!). They were given some direction on what their final piece of work should be, authentic materials with which to do their research …….and a selection of percussive instruments!

While they were in the “research” part of their project, I walked around the room gently tipping the rain stick or softly tapping the buffalo drum…..using different rhythms as I walked through the group. You could feel the anticipation rising as they wondered why on earth I was gently waving a koshi chime around their heads! I could see a young man start to gently tap his fingers to  the same beat  that i was playing on the drum,

 another started to nod his head gently in rhythm. It was time to introduce them to wonders of using percussive instruments in their English class!

Music in Motion

I started to beat the syllables of each persons name as I stood by them asking them to repeat their names in time to the drum. I then asked them to close their eyes…not easy for a group of 11 and 12 years olds’! I conjured up a storm by using a thunder drum, rain stick and buffalo drum with a few shakers for added atmosphere.  Asking the group afterwards how they felt and what words  had  come to their mind brought about a whole new dimension to the lesson. I then  showed them a picture of the forest and one of a coastal area. Splitting the class into two, I tasked some of the group with  the challenge of making a “soundscape” to go with their picture, an audio representation of what they saw and the others to come up with words/ phrases to represent the picture  that they could say along with the soundscape.The buzz of excitement as they competed this task was a reward in itself! With this step over, I then informed the group that I would like them to make a soundscape to go with their New Forest projects, something that some of their team could play whilst the others were presenting their formal project…..well I am amazed at how many New Forest sounds were produced with a set of shaky eggs, a buffalo drum, a rain stick , an ocean drum and some coconut shells!

The best thing was that out of the 28 students, the three or four whose voices are rarely heard wrote me a very lovely thank you card which on it said:

Thank you for our interesting lessons and all the cool things we did that we have never done before  – Englihs lessons can be fun!”

Testament indeed.