As one of the key indicators of a child’s ability to read, fluency is very important to develop at a young age. The most common methods of teaching fluency often combine practice with letter sounds, syllabication and sight words. Lower elementary students spend time focusing on phonemes and blending, while upper elementary and middle school students begin to use their foundational skills in order to read longer texts fluently.
In comes song fluency. Song fluency works by playing a song and having lyrics to that song available for students to read (either projected or printed). While the song is playing, students sing along with the lyrics - requiring them to read with enough fluency to keep up with the music. You can think of the activity as a type of “student karaoke”. Once the song is over, the teacher will shift the focus from reading fluency to reading comprehension and have students engage in a deep discussion about the content found in the lyrics.
Not only does this activity practice multiple important skills, students LOVE it! After the first time I used song fluency in my class, I was pestered nonstop about when the next song fluency would happen. Before I knew it, we were beginning every day with song fluency, allowing me to start the day with an important message (based on my song choice) and my students to start the day engaged in an important activity.
Here’s what you need to consider when bringing song fluency to your class:
1. Select songs that are both lyrically appropriate and content appropriate!
Before you use a song in class, perform the song fluency yourself. Make sure that you won’t run into any trouble if you decide to use a particular song for fluency practice with your students.
2. Select songs that your students don’t have memorized!
Rather than always choosing the new radio hits and being the cool teacher, play a wide variety of songs that your students may not have heard before. This exposes them to different types of music and connects them with stories from different cultures and time periods. Plus, it does your students no good to play a song they already know - they won’t even be practicing fluency!
3. Play songs that have a meaningful message or theme - and discuss them.
Once the song is over, discuss the content of the song with your students. See if they can identify what the metaphors within the song mean. Have them work with a partner to determine the main theme of the song. Hold an open discussion as to why the songwriter wrote the song (author’s purpose). There’s no reason to stop with fluency! Lyrics are another form of text - have your student’s practice their reading comprehension skills with the song lyrics.
4. Pick songs with appropriate lyrical tempo (songs that don’t go too slow or too fast).
Having your students listen to a 4-minute song with only 30 words is just as pointless as having them practice fluency with a song that says 190 words in a 25 second span (I’m looking at you Eminem). The main point of song fluency is to practice reading fluency, so make sure you choose a song that gives them the opportunity to do that. Sometimes you may want to switch things up with a “challenge song” or an “easy song”, but make sure you pay attention to the lyrical tempo used in your song selections.
5. Have fun with song fluency - let your students dance or play air guitar.
I looped with many of my students for two consecutive years from 3rd-5th grade, and by their 5th grade year we had a class “air band” that played during every song fluency. The band still sang the lyrics during fluency, but their time to shine was during the solos. Our air guitarist became the 5th grade Hendrix when it was time for the guitar solo and a break in the lyrics, making the atmosphere a lot more fun. No matter what song you play, most of your class will end up dancing to the music - let them. It creates the best environment for the activity, and turns the activity into reading practice that all students look forward to.
6. Suggested Genres and Songs
Country, R&B, Soul and Pop songs often meet all the criteria described above, but make sure that you find a way to bring some of your favorite music into the mix! I always tried to throw in some Classic Rock and Hip-hop songs, with the sole purpose of sharing songs that I enjoy with my class. Students learn a lot about you if you’re willing to share more about your childhood or interests during song fluency.
Below, I’ve included 5 song starter kits for some of the different genres discussed. Feel free to try them out, or pick and choose which songs will work best in your class!
It’s a Great Day to be Alive - Travis Tritt
The Only Way I Know - Jason Aldean
The Road Less Traveled - George Strait
Live Like You Were Dying - Tim McGraw
Challenge Song: Something to be Proud Of - Montgomery Gentry
The World’s Greatest - R. Kelly
What’s Going On - Marvin Gaye
Love is the Answer - Aloe Blacc
[Sittin’ On] The Dock of the Bay - Otis Redding
Challenge Song: Where is the Love? - Black Eyed Peas
Keep Your Head Up - Andy Grammer
Dream Like New York - Tyrone Wells
What Would You Say - Trailer Choir
Imagine - John Lennon
Challenge Song: Man in the Mirror - Michael Jackson
What about you? What would your 5 song starter kit look like? Let me know in the comments!