Tips for using songs and music in small classes

PIN IT
small-group

Using Songs With Small Groups

Many of us have learned the advantages in using songs to teach large classes. Large classes can be amazingly fun, right? In a large class, students benefit from the crowd effect, and the energetic ones pull the whole class into the excitement. Nearly everyone sings. Quieter students either temporarily join in or hide behind the others while soaking in the song.

But in a small class, everyone can hear and see what everyone else is doing! It’s harder to hide behind someone, and there is little or no crowd energy to pull everyone along. And when there’s only two of you? What do you do?

Can you still use music and songs in your lessons? Answer: Yes!

To sing? Or not to sing?

Some students and teachers are shy about singing in a small class, especially because it’s easier to notice that everyone is looking at them. You can’t force anyone to sing, and you shouldn’t insist on everyone singing at the same time.

Some students just need time to get used to the situation, and they go through a silent phase: they are listening and absorbing the songs and music but not yet actively singing along. With encouragement from you and when they’re ready, they will start to participate.

Keep in mind that your students will likely sing if you do, so feel free to belt it out!

But what if they still won’t sing?

Don’t abandon your plan to use music! Instead, find other ways to incorporate music into the lesson.

Have music playing when your students come in. This music sets the welcoming mood: upbeat music “wakes” everyone up, while quieter music calms people down.

As a simple warm up activity, pass a ball around to the beat of a lively song. You’re not forcing anyone to sing, but in a gentle way, you are using music to include everyone in the activity. You may find everyone starts to sing along naturally, and even if they don’t, they are still hearing and absorbing the song.

You can also play music quietly in the background while students are doing other activities such as coloring, making crafts, or reading to themselves. If you have a specific song you plan to introduce later, play it as unobtrusive background music first.

Transitions, the time between activities, are excellent times to use music. For example, when you want the students to come to you for story time, you can play a story time song. When it is time to clean up, have a clean up song ready to go. When it is time to go, have a good-bye song ready.

Establish a routine: be consistent in your songs until students are familiar with the patterns of your lessons. Then, slip in a new song. Students will notice this change!


It’s just you and me.

When you have only one student, this can be the toughest teaching situation in which to sing songs. There is no group energy, and there is no one to hide behind. Singing face to face can feel awkward for both the teacher and the learner.

You can make singing less awkward by singing while you are working on an activity sheet, or coloring, or playing catch with a toy…doing something where it’s not two people singing to each other, but two people singing side by side while doing something else. Or try singing with puppets! It’s amazing how introducing puppets can help young learners feel free to communicate (and sing) without feeling embarrassed.

You can also omit singing altogether if your student is shy or unwilling to do so. But as with the small groups, have music playing anyway, both as background music and as a transition tool. Remember that songs have tremendous value for improving listening, vocabulary, grammar, intonation, and more, whether you are singing or not. And remember that whether your student(s) sing or not, they will go home with the song in their heads and will likely sing it on their own.

So give it a try and then do share: what is your best advice for using music in small groups and one-to-one classes?