I feel like driving one of those very expensive convertible cars, wearing sunglasses and listening to it [this song] at a nearly deafening volume. I forget my surroundings for a second and I focus on the beat, which makes me close my eyes and mentally go elsewhere” is my answer to an exercise Chad Fishwick proposes on his blogs when talking about songs in the classroom. In order to collect song activities from on-line users and turn them into a downloadable book, Chad asks teachers to open a word document and write a paragraph explaining why a certain song is good or meaningful to them. 

Much has already been said concerning the use of songs in the classroom and its advantages. I’ve had the chance to attend some workshops which dealt with this, let’s say, tool from more theoretical to more practical aspects. However, some other people believe that songs can be listened to at home and they waste precious class time, which I absolutely disagree with. But in a very short explanation, why should we make use of songs?

According to Harmer songs are a powerful stimulus for students’ engagement precisely because it speaks directly to our emotions while still allowing us to use our brains to analyse it and its effects if we so wish. A piece of music can change the atmosphere in a classroom or prepare students for a new activity. It can amuse and entertain, and it can make a satisfactory connection between the world of leisure and the world of learning in the classroom (2002:319). Besides, I’d personally add, based on my own experience as a teacher, that shy students tend to respond better and take a more active role in class when they have a song as a stimulus.

What songs do I use?
That seems to be the “big” question, doesn’t it? Especially if you don’t have the habit of listening to the radio or watching music channels such as MTV. Nevertheless, I do two things which help me a lot when I want to use songs in my classes.

01 – I constantly visit Billboard (a music award website) to see what’s “hot” at the moment. I select a few options and then I listen to them on YouTube to ensure the lyrics are understandable. I also pay attention to the language and its appropriacy (although I don’t think it’s a big deal, I do avoid bad words). Having gone through these stages, I start analyzing the song as a whole, in a more thorough way, to see what can be worked on.

02 – In some groups I ask students to collaborate and, as a matter of fact, this has proved to be the most efficient way. Every week or fortnight a different student is encouraged to bring in the name of two songs they would like to listen to and work on in class (of course I ask them to be reasonable). I listen to both options at home, choose one and then I prepare an activity. They do feel empowered when they get to choose the songs they want to listen to and it makes the whole thing more meaningful to them.

A song activity I’ve prepared
Despite the number of different activities we can do when dealing with songs (reading or listening comprehension, listen and discuss, song jumble, sing along, compose, match pictures, action movements, dictations, picture dictation, etc), I still prefer the fill-in-the-gap one in which students listen to a certain song and complete the lyrics with the missing words. Here’s an activity I’ve prepared for an upper-intermediate group I had in order to start the topic of sleep.

01 – I wrote “Her Morning Elegance” on the board and I got my students to ask me questions to find out what it was (this is something I do a lot in my groups, so they know what questions they should ask). They kept on asking me ‘is it a book?’, ‘is it a film?’, etc. until they found out it was a video-clip.

02 – Before watching the video-clip, in pairs and on a piece of paper, students made a list of fifteen things they thought they would see in the clip (here’s more or less what they got: coffee, bed, sun, sunlight, car, traffic, woman, girl, pyjamas, breakfast, etc).

03 – Students watched the video-clip and ticked the “things” they had written as they saw them on the clip (here I checked who the winners were and I played a lit bit with them).

04 – Students were given the lyrics of the song. It’s important to mention that I designed this activity in a way that students would have to work in pairs in the end to find out if their answers were correct. I had a worksheet for students A which was a little bit different from the one students B had (and here I could say how important I think information-gap is, but I’d rather not to as my post is already too long).

05 – Students listened to the song and, individually, filled in the blanks.

06 – They checked in pairs and I played the song again for them to get the words they hadn’t got the first time.

07 – After going through these stages, I told them that they would check their answers in pairs and they were paired up with students from the other group. For instance, Rebeca was A, so she would have to work with John, B, to check if her answers were correct.

08 – In pairs, students worked sitting back to back. They were not allowed to see each other’s sheet, but only speak. If they didn’t understand something, they had to ask for clarification and if they didn’t understand a word their colleague said, they would have to ask them to spell it.

09 – We had some discussion about the song, vocabulary and finally about sleep, then students opened their books and we worked on lexis related to the topic.

01 – Do you know any nice or maybe different activity to work with songs?
02 – Is there anything you would change in the activity above?
03 – Any general comments?

HARMER, J. 2002. The Practice of English Language Teaching. Pearson Longman.

17 Responses so far.

  1. Hi Dudu, I've been really enjoying your posts here. Like you said, I also try to mingle their choice of songs and mine. What I've recently done with my undergrad students was to ask them to choose a song and, in groups, prepare themselves an activity to implement with their peers. It was great! They felt empowered and responsible for their and their classmates' learning. Cheers and keep writing!

  2. This is fantastic, Jana. I'd never thought about asking my students to come up with the activities themselves. I'm pretty sure they'll love it, though. That's the reason why I've been enjoying so much this sharing thing, you know? Thank you very much for the comment.

  3. Hi Eduardo,

    I like the communication gap aspect for checking the answers. However, not a lot of space for this!

    thanks for sharing and I hope you'll enter this in Eva's Blog Carnival about song lessons - link is here - http://evasimkesyan.com/2013/06/22/call-for-songs-for-the-33rd-elt-carnival/#comment-1166


  4. Du, I most loved the back-to-back part! Songs are always welcome. I had selected "12 best songs ever" with a Saturday group once. Every Saturday everyone actually came (cause they were very absentees...)we had one activity with one of OUR CD's song...Was awesome!

  5. David, I do see what you mean when you say there is not a lot of space for this. However, as the vocabulary which would be worked on in the same lesson was closely connected to the whole activity, I thought it was worthwhile. My students had a lot of fun and so did I. Unfortunately I didn't record the whole thing, but if I had, you'd be able to see them "playfully" shouting "no cheating" to their peers because they were looking at each other's worksheet.

    As for Eva's Blog, I'll definitely contact them and show what I've done. There a lot of links there with ideas and activities and I'm dying to see them. Thank you very much.

  6. Cris, so nice to see you here. Great idea this one you had. I know a teacher who's done something quite similar. She asked each student to choose a song which could represent their lives if their lives were to be made into a soundtrack. She collected all these songs and burnt a CD. At the end of the semester, she gave a copy to everybody. They loved it. Thank you very much for your comment.

  7. Super Du!
    How about drawing images according to the story in the song or even representing feelings?

  8. Eduardo, great post! By the way, great blog as well! I've never thought about such activity. I found it very interesting, once you can explore all of the students' skills. They've got to read, write, listen and speak. Like Cristina has written above, I loved the back-to-back part. :) I'll try this activity in one of my classes. As soon as I do it, I'll keep you posted.

  9. Du,

    I read something a long time ago which had a big effect on me using (or not using) music in class:

    "To take a song – that wonderful source of emotion and soul – and then put in some blanks for students to write the missing words is, to me, the equivalent of promising the learners an excursion to a new, unknown place and then plopping them down in a dentist’s office."

    I kind of wish I'd seen your post before reading that. Nice stuff!

  10. Sounds good, chefa. I've never done it although I was quite amazed to see what Léa did with her students a couple of semesters ago. Each pair was given a paragraph (?) of a song and they had to draw something representing those specific lines, then she put everything together like a book. I loved it. I'll try it this semester.

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  12. I like choosing songs based on the topic of the lesson. That way, sometimes we come across older, lesser known bands/singers.

    I haven't tended to use music so much (being one of the people you described in your post!) but will try to more. I've been interested in what Scott Thornbury says in "Grammar Uncovered" about enhancing input so that language can be explored- music can be such input.

    I like the dynamic of your activity- both the lead-in, and back to back element and therefore I'll use this idea for sure!


  13. This is a lovely lesson idea. Thanks for sharing.

  14. I am SO happy we just redesigned all the classrooms so they have rolling chairs with movable desks instead of flimsy chairs with one giant heavy desk! It makes activities like this where I can make students collaborate so much easier to do!

  15. Dear Eduardo,
    It's great to learn about your blog through 33rd Blog Carnival.
    I'm sure the students would enjoy all the activities especially the discussion in the end. By the way, sharing the video of your own class was another nice idea.
    Merve Oflaz

  16. Du,
    It's awesome the way you get an ordinary activity and tweak it!
    When opportunity comes I'll definitely use it with my students!

    Thanks for sharing!

  17. Hi, Eduardo! The lesson is already great as it is. Good song choice! The lesson was clearly written. I appreciated the arrangement. It's a different way of teaching with songs. This would certainly work with musically inclined students as well as the kinesthetic ones.

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