Music Can Build Vocabulary for all students, including for English Language Learners

By ABC Music & Me

An edited excerpt from The Impact of Music on Language and Literacy

Many educational researchers promote music as a way to enhance vocabulary acquisition and comprehension, and emphasize music’s ability to engage children in instruction (Fountas & Pinnell, 1999; Miller & Coen, 1994; Page, 1995; Smith, 2000; Wiggins, 2007).

According to educational researchers, there is substantial evidence that children acquire vocabulary incidentally by reading and listening to oral stories (Krashen, 1989). During the preschool years before children can read, children rely exclusively on the oral language they listen to in order to acquire language. Even as children attend elementary school, only a portion of the vocabulary words they learn are the result of explicit instruction (Nagy & Herman, 1987). Research shows that stories read aloud are an effective source of new vocabulary for young children (Beck & McKeown, 2001).

Researchers have suggested that song lyrics could provide a source of new vocabulary. Research support for the hypothesis that songs provide a source of incidental acquisition of vocabulary comes from the field of second language acquisition. Medina (1993) studied the effects of music upon the acquisition of English vocabulary in a group of 48 second-grade children with limited English proficiency. Vocabulary gain scores were consistently higher for the groups in which either music or illustrations were used, and highest for the group in which both were used.

Research also supports the use of direct vocabulary instruction, including the effectiveness of having young children learn academic words that are “robust” (Beck, McKeown & Kucan, 2002). Authors argue that young children develop “word consciousness” and a love of words through being playfully challenged with learning new word meanings.


Research into Practice: ABC Music & Me

In every unit of ABC Music & Me, children hear stories read aloud and sing songs that include new vocabulary words. Stories are accompanied by illustration. Research supports these practices as effective sources of implicit vocabulary acquisition. Explicit instruction in musical terms is included in each unit of the “Move & Groove” program for older children. Words essential to the unit’s theme are included on picture cards along with recommended instruction for English language learners (in the ELL Guides), expanding the possibilities for vocabulary acquisition.

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