Using songs to teach vocabulary

Using songs to teach vocabulary

By Justin Hill, Johns Hopkins University

A recent study published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly by Jessica Lawson-Adams and colleagues explores the value of sung songs and rhythmically spoken songs in teaching vocabulary to preschool students. The researchers used a within-subjects design with a total of 56 students from 4 classrooms within a district. The intervention was administered 3 times to each class over the course of 2 weeks, with each intervention lasting approximately 15 minutes. Each intervention consisted of 3 activities: a picture-card only activity, a picture-card plus sung song activity, and a picture-card plus rhythmically spoken song activity. Each activity consisted of 6 targeted vocabulary words that were spoken by the teacher 4 times each during the activity. For the song activities, each word was spoken twice and then appeared in the song twice, while in the picture-card only activity each word was spoken 4 times. The students took pre-tests and post-tests on 24 vocabulary words, with 18 of the words coming from the 3 activities and another 6 control words that were not targeted during the intervention. The tests evaluated the students’ receptive knowledge of the words as well as their productive knowledge, which was evaluated by asking them to share what they knew about the word.

All 3 activities demonstrated significant (p < .001) effects compared to the control for receptive knowledge (ES = +0.49 for picture-card only, ES = +0.32 for sung song, and ES = +0.50 for rhythmically spoken song) and for productive knowledge (ES = +0.63 for picture-card only, ES = +0.86 for sung song, and ES = +1.07 for rhythmically spoken song). There was no statistically significant difference between the effects for the 3 activities on receptive knowledge. However, the effects for productive knowledge show significant differences between sung songs and picture-card only (ES = +0.23, p = .04) and between rhythmically spoken songs and picture-card only (ES = +0.40, p = .001). This study provides evidence that songs help improve young students’ productive knowledge of vocabulary when compared to learning with picture cards. This productive knowledge is associated with a greater depth of knowledge than vocabulary recall and therefore these findings should be considered when designing learning activities for young students.

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