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Singing in another language
If you use songs which have lyrics in another language (e.g. “Simama Kaa”, a popular Swahili song), make sure that you translate the meaning of the lyrics or explain what the song is about. As with all teaching, it is important to know the background of songs in languages that are not your own and to be sure they are appropriate for use in teaching situations and can be transferred from their cultural contexts. Your students may well speak a number of different languages themselves of course.
Learning a song can be great for cross-curricular learning and can fit in with lots of targets, including Speech and Language or Occupational Therapy targets.
Alternative Augmentative Communication (AAC) and inclusive music tech
Some children will not want to or might not be able to use their voices.
You can experiment with Alternative Augmentative Communication (AAC) so they can join in. They might already use a communication device such as a GoTalk or i-pad app to support their communication so perhaps you could look at expanding their vocab with musical options – e.g. high/low/loud/quiet.
BIGmac switches are great because you or the child’s peers can quickly and easily record a line of a song or sound into the device which they can then play with the other children. This can be really fun with call and response activities.
Using a microphone can be very helpful in encouraging children to sing. We have found that this gives a focus point for the children, even if it isn’t plugged in.
Experimenting with software that gives visual feedback such as Garage Band or Sing and See can offer the children more clues around what their voices ‘look’ like, whether it is representing the volume or the pitch. It can be really fun to explore this.
You could also try plugging in a speaker and letting them feel the vibrations.
Gesture or Sign
Not all children who have a hearing loss will sign. If this is the case, it can be very useful to use lots of natural gesture e.g. putting your hand to your mouth to indicate drinking. This means that if joining in with what they hear is hard at first, they can still join in with the gesture and you are giving them multiple levels to engage with.
If the children do sign, then by offering both signs and spoken language (if possible), they can join in with whatever modality is better for them.
Attention and listening could be very difficult for some of our children, especially in groups. Understanding what the activity is or what lyrics mean can be difficult and by using visuals, we can help to make sure all the children understand. E.g. using toys, objects, photos, symbols, pictures, videos to help describe and explain the song.
Call and Response is a great way to warm up to get ready to sing. It helps to gain attention and concentration, physically warms up their bodies and voices (especially if using movement as well as sounds) and can introduce them to some of the sounds/ signs that we will be learning in the main activity with an exploratory and fun approach.
In our experience, creating a ‘game-like’ quality of copying with a fast interaction back and forth can help to reduce any anxiety around singing. Even the children who are quite reluctant to ‘sing’ often join in with this. The more laughter and silliness the better!
Helps to tune in with active listening and develop memory
Get the children to copy gestures and/or sounds (If just copying gestures, it might be a good idea to do it to a musical track in the background if you don’t have other musicians who can support you). By using gesture as well, if the children don’t want to/ can’t use their voices, they can still join in with the activity.
Start with short musical patterns (2 counts) or just one sound and increase the length as the children get better at copying (4 or 8 counts). Some children might find remembering longer phrases more difficult.
Begin with simple rhythms and sounds and increase the complexity as the children develop.
Use a variety of different sounds and voice qualities to help them to explore. E.g. using a witch (nasal) or fairy (light and breathy) voice.
Use a variety of different pitches and volumes E.g. high / low voice and quiet / loud voice.
Use sounds that are familiar to them. E.g. animal sounds (baaahhhh), travel sounds (beep beep), or emotions (wow / wah wah).
You can introduce the sounds, words and gestures/ signs of the song they are going to be learning.
You can alternate with gesture, body percussion and vocal sounds.
Repetition is key in this activity. The more you repeat a sound/ sign or rhythm, the more confident they will be in responding. You can make small variations to keep it really exciting. E.g. using the same rhythm, but with a different sound. Using the same sound, but using different voice qualities and pitches.
Listen to how they are responding and adjust the complexity and length so that they are able to respond confidently and have fun!
This could be a very short activity of 2/3 minutes or longer when you are more confident.
The children can take it in turns being the leader, or choosing new sounds.
Tips to start
It might be good to plan 4 sounds and practice in the mirror alternating them and exploring the volume/ pitch/ rhythm/ voice quality with each sound.
Try to be clear (pointing/holding signs) showing the children when it's their go-to respond and when it is your turn. It can be really simple!