To sing or not to sing?: Using songs in the English classroom

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I have always found the subject of using songs in the classroom a controversial one. Many teachers I have worked with wouldn’t touch them. Others took their guitars into class with them on a regular basis.

Below is my take on the matter, with some lesson ideas and useful websites to inspire other teachers to at least give it a shot.

How can they help?

  • Listening practice: why not? It makes a change from your traditional listening activities.
  • Introducing a language point.
  • Eliciting vocabulary.
  • Lifting the atmosphere of the class and creating rapport between the teacher and students, and between the students themselves.
  • Pronunciation: in most cases. This all of course depends on accents, tone and diction (see considerations below).

Considerations for song choice

  • Students’ musical taste – old vs. new songs: Just because you like ABBA, doesn’t mean your students will. (Though I have used “Money Money Money” in the classroom several times, with great success.)
  • Uplifting vs. sombre songs: What kind of mood are you trying to create? The chances are that students will be more responsive to songs that elicit positive emotions.
  • Culture and context: How old are the students? Where are they from? Is the song really suitable for academic / business English?
  • Features of the song: Is the singer’s diction clear? How fast are they singing? How complex is the language of the lyrics?

Lesson ideas

Here are some extracts from song lessons, with the student’s answers completed. The aim of each is highlighted below the exercise in italics:

  1. Fill in the gaps:

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction

Vocabulary: suffixes / word families

  1. Fill in the gaps:

Here’s a little song I wrote
You might want to sing it note for note
Don’t worry, be happy
In every life we have some trouble
But when you worry you make it double
Don’t worry, be happy

Pronunciation: highlighting vowel sounds with the same spelling

  1. Choose the word you hear:

See how I leave / live with every piece of you

Don’t underestimate the thinks / things that I will do.

Pronunciation: minimal pairs / words which are often confused

  1. Complete the gaps:

Working nine to five
What a way to make a living
Barely getting by
It’s all taking and no giving
They just use your mind
And they never give you credit
It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it

Vocabulary: collocations

  1. Correct the mistakes:

If I would be king,                           could

Even for a day

I might take you as my queen,         would

I will have it no other way.                  would

Grammar: eliciting / reinforcing the 2nd conditional form

Other ideas:

  • Cut up the lines of a short song (Beatles songs are good for this) and pairs listen and order the lines correctly.
  • If you have an interactive whiteboard, get students to watch the video as the gist listening. If it’s a video with a ‘story’, get them to chat about what’s happening.
  • Another idea for gist is to select a few words from the song (say, 6-8) and think of words which sound similar / contain minimal pair sounds. Write these up on the board in pairs and get students to tick the one they hear in the song.

e.g.         father √                  bear √

farther                   beer

  • At higher levels, and with suitable songs, ask them to listen for the ‘message’ of the song: give them three options and have them listen and discuss which they think is the correct option with a partner / group.
  • For follow-up questions, with all levels you could get them to look at the more complex vocabulary in the song (if there is any); idioms, collocations etc.

Useful websites:

www.songfacts.com – good for finding topic-based songs (e.g. ‘songs about animals’), but no lesson plans.

http://busyteacher.org/classroom_activities-listening/songs_and_lyrics/ – needs subscription.

http://www.esl-lounge.com/songstop.php – no lesson plans but a great A-Z of songs with their relevance to lessons.

http://tefltunes.com/grammarsongs.aspx – ideas for which songs to use for different grammar points, but you have to subscribe and pay if you want to use the lesson plans.

http://www.isabelperez.com/songs.htm – some good songs (some maybe a little inappropriate in certain contexts / classes) and lots of lesson plan ideas.

(Extra note:I’m not personally a fan of the song lessons which are available in certain English Language course books, but they are already prepared, therefore timesavers.)

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