Different types of music can be played at appropriate times during a lesson to motivate, calm, focus or relax students, with different tempos and genres being more suited to particular types of activity. A CD of TV and film theme tunes is a great investment for this. You could play ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ as the students arrive, the title theme from Chariots of Fire, the Rocky title track ‘Gonna Fly Now’ or the ‘Theme from Mission: Impossible’ during tough tasks, The Benny Hill Show theme tune when you want them to change activities or the Countdown clock music when you want them to answer spot questions.
Music also provides an aid to marking transitions between different lesson activities. Slowly turning the track off once all the students are at their desks gives a clear indication that the lesson is about to formally start and is far less abrasive than the usual,‘Quiet! Let’s make a start!’
A session of active learning, in which students are expected and encouraged to be moving freely around the room, could be accompanied by some lively dance music to keep the pace going, while a discussion would favour a slower, less intrusive tempo. Playing this new track at a lower volume would promote a more settled atmosphere while still providing some cover for those who are reluctant to speak out. It can be daunting for self-conscious students to have their say during discussions. Another tune could be brought in towards the end of the debate to signify the transition to the next activity or to bring the lesson to a close. At the end, some uplifting music would help to cement positive emotions as the students file out of the room – the title theme from The Great Escape perhaps.
Baroque music has been found to stimulate right-side brain activity and aid concentration, and can be an excellent accompaniment to small group discussions and cooperative work or as calming background music as your students enter the room.
Classical music can have a surprisingly positive effect on the classroom environment. Some of the most challenging pupils I have taught complained bitterly when I first introduced classics such as Ravel’s Boléro as background music to our lessons, swearing that the only sound they could possibly listen to was hardcore house. At first, predictably, we got nowhere – they would actually sit staring at me with fingers in ears saying repeatedly,‘We’re not lis- tenin’, it’s crap!’
Gradually, as they began to recognise melodies from various adverts and films, they became more tolerant and eventually started asking for certain pieces to be replayed. ‘O Fortuna’ from Carl Orff ’s Carmina Burana (used in the Old Spice adverts) and Delibes’ ‘Flower Duet’ from the opera Lakmé (used by British Airways) were both very popular, but so were many more. The response was actually quite amazing. Although I can provide no hard data to back this up, I believe there was a much calmer atmosphere and a marked decrease in behaviour problems when these pieces of music were played at a moderate volume throughout my lessons.
Music can act as a noise screen, masking out unwanted noises and dominant voices which would otherwise distract some workers. In addition, it can provide teachers with necessary privacy when giving feedback to individual learners or when challenging those who aren’t participating as they should be.
A stack of One Direction CDs is ideal for propping up a wonky table leg.
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