Four Ways Art, Music, and PE Teachers Can Make Language Flourish

by Valentina Gonzalez

Many children count the minutes until their art, music, or physical education (PE) class period begins. This could be their time to shine, where they find inspiration or feel the safest. On the other hand, some students dread going to these same classes. They might feel insecure about their skills, shrink in the environment because they don’t understand, or feel as if they aren’t seen or valued.  

Dr. Brené Brown says, “Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging have the courage to be imperfect.”  Students need to know that it’s okay to make mistakes. Those mistakes are part of the process, both in language and in learning art, music, and PE. In fact, creating environments that immerse students in engaging conversations can promote a sense of belonging in art, music, and PE classrooms while building language and skills to succeed.

Two ingredients are essential for acquiring language: comprehensible input (Krashen, 2017) and multiple opportunities for low-stress output (Loewen & Sato, 2018). This means that students must understand what they hear or read and have opportunities to express themselves verbally or in writing in safe, risk-free environments. Art, music, and PE can be great places to provide these opportunities for students. The four ideas below bring comprehensible input and low-stress output into art, music, or PE. They will enhance language acquisition for English learners, but they are effective for all students too. 

1. Bring in Books

Consider the unit of study, and grab all the books available on that concept. Bring them into the classroom, and make them available to students. Try sharing one as a read-aloud at the beginning or the end of the class period. If it’s a long book, read an excerpt. Do a book talk on a given day. For example, on “Book Talk Tuesday,” select a book to tell students about. These techniques encourage reading and get students excited about the topic, too. The campus library media specialist is a great resource for books. Some teachers regularly collaborate with the campus library media specialist on finding books to complement the units of study.

2. Incorporate Group or Partner Talk

Make peer-to-peer interaction a priority. Intentionally plan opportunities for students to put their heads together and discuss a question, image, song, or topic. In this article, Nancy Motley shares how to “Target the Talk.” A good tip Motley offers for effective group or partner talk is setting clear criteria and modeling them before students begin. For instance, be sure students know who their group or partners are and what the speaking expectations are. Some teachers number students off and ask students to share numerically in groups. Another effective technique for structuring peer talk is QSSSA, which is similar to turn and talk but incorporates wait time, sentence stems, accountability, and more to deepen the conversational routine. 

3. Provide Sentence Stems

A sentence stem (also known as a sentence starter) is merely the beginning of an answer, provided to help students express a thought in a complete sentence. Sentence stems capitalize on what is known about the importance of verbalizing to internalize. When asking students to talk with partners in a group or answer a question verbally, sentence stems provide inertia to communicate the thought effectively. 

ArtMusicPE
The artist wanted to convey…
The image makes me think…
I think the mood is…
One message I see in this painting is…
A detail I notice in the artwork is…
This artwork makes me think…
The art I like most is…
The musician wants to convey…
The piece makes me think…
I think the mood is…
One message I hear in this piece is…
The instrument that is most significant to me is…because…
This music makes me think…
In my home, we listen to…
One important sport in my family is…
To be healthy, the body needs…
A healthy body needs…
In my home, we eat…
One way to stay active is…
An example of a team sport is…
Being a good team member means… 

Encourage students to add “because,” “however,” “furthermore,” or “in addition” to elaborate on their thoughts. 

  1. Put Up a Thematic, Interactive Word Wall

Interactive word walls that are unit-based, thematic, and visual help to link knowledge and make instruction more comprehensible. Word walls are not limited to reading, writing, math, and science classrooms. They are actually very powerful in any classroom. 

Image a gym where second-grade students are learning about the elements of movement. PE teachers have designated a section of the wall for a word wall titled “Movement with a Purpose.” Under the title are five columns: Balancing, Throwing, Skipping, Running, and Jumping. During the unit, students and teachers add pictures and words to the columns on the word wall. They also include sentence stems, such as, “Five types of movement are…”, “___ is a movement that helps me…” and “When I ___, I move my….” 

An overarching goal in education is to help students think and communicate effectively. Art, music, and PE classrooms that offer opportunities to develop language allow students to negotiate for meaning, talk to peers, and dig deep into ideas. Cultivating language in art, music, and PE classrooms helps all students build effective communication skills that they can apply in content classrooms and everyday life. 

Art, music, or PE teachers who would like to learn more about engaging instructional methods that increase participation while cultivating a language-rich classroom, can inquire about the 7 Steps to a Language-Rich, Interactive Classroom book and professional learning opportunities

References

​​Krashen, S. (2017). The case for comprehensible input. Language Magazine. Retrieved 2021, from https://www.languagemagazine.com/2017/07/17/case-for-comprehension/. 

Loewen, S. & Sato, M. (2018). Interaction and instructed second language acquisition. Language Teaching. 51. 285-329. 10.1017/S0261444818000125. 

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