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Harmony in the Classroom: Using Music and Poetry to Teach Language 

Badessi class group
Badessi class group
Omar Badessi’s Elementary Spanish students celebrated the end of a semester filled with Spanish culture, personal growth and lasting friendships.

In language education classrooms, innovative teaching methods are essential for engaging students and fostering a deep understanding of the language and culture. In Omar Badessi’s Spanish language classes, music and poetry are used to transform the educational experience, making it more enjoyable, interactive and effective.

Badessi, a doctoral candidate and language instructor in the Department of Hispanic Languages and Literature, is a musician and shares his own hobby with his students through activities like karaoke and poetry readings.

Music can be a powerful tool in language education. Songs provide a source of authentic language, exposing students to different accents, dialects, and cultural contexts, while the repetitive nature of lyrics aids in memorization and pronunciation practice, making it easier for students to internalize vocabulary and grammatical structures. Music also aids cultural understanding; through songs, students can explore the historical, social, and cultural backgrounds of the language they are learning, making the learning process more meaningful.

Omar badessi stony awards
Omar Badessi

“I like how music and the arts improves the retention of language because when students have fun doing something, they are more receptive to what they are learning,” said Badessi. “It also targets what they’re passionate about, so why not use that medium to promote learning? Karaoke is fun. Not only are they doing their assignments, but they are doing it in an enjoyable way, they are honing their pronunciation of the language and they are repeating the words with the tone, the vibration, and the pronunciation.”

During Karaoke Night, students competed to become Karaoke King and Queen (voted on by fellow students based on singing tone, accuracy and passion) while singing contemporary Spanish songs.

In the poetry event Whispers of Eloquence, Badessi’s students use poetry to deepen linguistic proficiency and foster appreciation for the lyrical beauty of language, while learning new ways of expressing ideas and emotions.

“Poetry targets the students’ most intimate thoughts in an inclusive way in which everyone feels welcome, celebrated and accepted,” Badessi said. “They share their anxieties, they share their hopes, they share their passions, through poetry in a foreign language. When they think in a foreign language, sometimes it’s more logical, but it’s interesting when they mix thinking logically about the structure with their emotions.” 

Badessi karaokeBadessi integrates numerous other imaginative tools in his language classrooms, including storyboards that students use to act out skits and a Shark Tank-inspired marketing pitch competition, in which students use their persuasive language skills to “sell” various classroom-based objects. “The goal is to be able to use the language in a variety of useful scenarios, and to do this in a fun, interactive way,” Badessi said.

Celebrating cultural backgrounds and differences is a top priority for Badessi, an Amazigh native from North Morocco. To achieve this, he created a newsletter called Amigos de Omar, where students can share information about their passions and cultures, and celebrate their successes, such as internships, job offers, prizes, and fellowships. Amigos de Omar serves as an inclusive platform that fosters a sense of belonging, promotes student success, and encourages cultural engagement.

Badessi was the inaugural winner of the President’s Award for Nurturing a Welcoming, Inclusive Campus Culture at the 2023 Stony Awards, and winner of the 2023 CELT Award for Excellence in Teaching an Online Course. Currently he is leading the Stony Brook Morocco Study Abroad program. He will join the faculty at Vassar College as an assistant professor of Spanish in Fall 2024.

— Beth Squire



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