Get into the Groove! Motivating Students to Practice English with Rhythm and Rhyme

in Teaching

Rhythm and rhyme is a learning resource that – contrary to popular opinion – is suitable for students of all ages and backgrounds. Find out why it works so well and how to tap into it to get your learners into the groove.

Most of us would agree that piano, basketball, or dance practice involves repeating movements to develop a skill. However, if you ask an English teacher or learner what English practice is, they’re likely to say “It’s using what you’ve learned out in the real world.”

But is that really true?

No one studies dance and expects to dance. Yet, many students study English and expect to communicate.

Communication outside the classroom isn’t practice but rather a demonstration of what a student knows, what they can retrieve from memory. A business meeting at a café or a presentation at a company is the piano recital, the basketball game, or the dance competition. The more you’ve practiced, the better you perform.

What’s the best way to practice then?

Meaningful practice and spaced repetition

Effective English practice is meaningful practice. It’s engaging in an activity that is natural to repeat, such as watching (and re-watching) a short video, reading a poem, rehearsing a script, playing a game, or listening to a song and singing along. Music is particularly suited to meaningful practice.

Rhyme and rhythm organize language into chunks that create predictable patterns. This makes it easier for our brains to encode language in memory. Reading lyrics while listening to music helps us decode sound-spelling relationships and understand reduced and connected speech.

And, of course, when we enjoy a song we play it again. Even better, we usually play it at intervals during the day, weeks, and months. This spaced repetition helps us remember language for longer periods of time.

What if my learners have no business singing in class?

Can we get business English learners to do more meaningful practice with music? Does it have to be through songs? What if they’re not comfortable singing in class? What if you’re not comfortable singing in class?

If you enjoy working with rhythm and rhyme, you can create simple activities and apply techniques in class that will encourage your business English students to practice outside of class. As a result, they’ll find it easier to remember target language and be more motivated to use it during your lessons. You do not have to work with pop songs or spend time singing songs in class.

Create your own materials with rhythm and rhyme

Here’s a step-by-step guide to create materials that you can use with business English learners (or any type of English learner):

Step 1: Do a needs analysis

What vocabulary, grammar, and functional language do your students most need to learn? Do the materials you’re using address these needs?

Step 2: Create a word bank

Write down collocations, key phrases, and sentences that your students need to retrieve during communicative activities. Organize this language into word banks (according to parts of speech, topics, functions, etc).

Note: Steps 3-5 can be done by you alone or together with your students.

Step 3: Find rhymes

Identify words from your word banks that rhyme, nearly rhyme, or are easy to find rhymes for, e.g.,

  • walk/talk
  • few/do
  • business/what is this

Use an online rhyming dictionary to help you. A good one is rhymezone.com.
Also, consider words with similar syllable stress (e.g., collaboration/organization).

Step 4: Create your own phrases

Create phrases and short sentences that rhyme or nearly rhyme. Mark the syllable stress and sentence stress. For example:

Let’s find a way to finish today.
Or: How long have you been working here? – I’ve been here for three years.

Step 5: Write your own poetry

Try creating rhyming couplets. For example:

Our manager said to finish our project today. – I know! It’s so stressful. We need to find a way.
Or: It’s my first day on the job. How long have you
been here? – I started in 2019 so it’s been three years.

Here are rhyming couplets I created from a word bank of common business English idioms:

Let’s get the ball rolling and get this project off the ground.
We need to get down to business and stop messing around.

We’re not sure of our next move. It’s still up in the air.
Keep your eye on the ball. Stick with it. We’re almost there.

They’ve got a new game plan. I can tell they’re on a mission
to stay ahead of the curve and beat the competition.

Note: Your phrases, sentences, and couplets do not need to form a complete song. They do not have to be sung; they do not require music. They can simply be spoken or chanted, as conversation or poetry.

Step 6: Make a recording

Record yourself (or an advanced student) reading or chanting your rhymes. Share the recording and lyrics with your students. Here’s a sample of a recording with background music.

Lyrics: How about you

Step 7: Create some sparky activities

Create activities your students can do at home to practice, such as a word scramble or gap fill. Encourage them to pause, repeat, and speak/chant whenever it feels natural to do so.
Here’s an example of a word scramble with the business idiom couplets. Students listen and try to put the words in the correct order:

air not sure our next in move. It’s of We’re still up the.

eye your on We’re the. Stick ball with. Keep almost it there.

And here’s another example of a gap fill. Students listen and try to write in the missing words:

They’ve got a new game _____. I can _____ they’re on a _____to stay _____ of the curve and _____ the competition.

Your students might also think of ideas for activities. Some of them may become motivated to write longer chants, poems, or songs about work situations, such as job interviews, meetings, or presentations.

If you want to put your lyrics to music, you can find royalty-free instrumentals here (or you may have a student who wants to create a beat).

Whatever you decide to do with rhythm and rhyme, please keep this in mind:

What you learn with pleasure, you never forget.
The more you practice, the better you get.
The better you get, the further you’ll go.
Relax, repeat, remember and you’ll find your flow.

***

Hey hey! Just before you leave, we have a little challenge for you:

If you found this article inspiring, how about writing some groovy rhyming couplets to share with the world? Just post your best rhymes in the comments section below. Jason and the journal team can’t wait to see what you’ll come up with!

Jason R. Levine (Fluency MC)

You can check out Jason’s work as Fluency MC on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. If you have any questions about writing couplets, poems, chants, or songs for your students, feel free to email him at fluencymc@gmail.com.

3 Comments

  1. I remember listening to German songs in Ireland long ago
    Noting down the words I heard, whether fast or slow
    Now I know how much it helped to understand the flow
    Of the language and its sounds and rhythms oh oh oh.

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