A song that makes you remember a special moment. The song you chose to be the soundtrack of your graduation ceremony. Your favourite band’s latest album. The song you heard on the radio in the morning and that keeps repeating itself annoyingly in your head until night. Songs are everywhere, for all tastes, all ages, all times, and all purposes.
After earphones, ‘singing’ became easier, since ‘listening’ and ‘understanding’ turned out to be realistically doable owing to the high quality of the plugs. Without the interference of the outside world, the melody of songs was more pleasant to the ears and the same happened to lyrics. One is able to distinguish subtle nuances in pronunciation, rhythm and even accent. The words of practically every song can be found on the Internet, thus singing became way easier and accessible. People like singing, and when it comes to EFL students, the use of songs in the classroom may give your students that positive vibe you seek or that sensation of progress students need to feel to keep moving forward.
If songs are that good, use them in your classroom for learning purposes! I’ll describe a few activities – or uses – for songs that I’ve done myself, yielding very positive results with students.
Before I start, let me remind you to always find a song that has some sort of connection with your students. Your top ten songs may be the ones they hate the most…
You can use songs…
- To introduce a topic
- To illustrate a topic
- To teach vocabulary or structure
- To teach pronunciation
- To practice rhythm
- To revise grammar
- To calm students down
- To rev up students
- As background music for another activity
- To set the time limit for an activity (when the music ends, so does your time!)
- To tell a story
- …You name it…
Now, a few activities:
#1 – PUT THE LYRICS IN ORDER
Type the words of a song in big letters and cut them in paragraphs. Scatter them on the floor, make students stand and read the random paragraphs. Give them 2 minutes to talk in pairs and discuss a possible order for the paragraphs, based on some reason. You play the song, and pairs try and find the correct order. You play a second time, and this time, as the song plays, one pair at time, students pick up the correct paragraph from the floor and place it on the board, or a table, till the end of the song and all the words are laid out. In case you notice there’s a mistake, ask them to fix it. If there isn’t, ask them to explain why they did it that way. Finish off by handing students a copy of the lyrics and play the song a third time, this time with everyone singing.
This activity works well for WRITING AWARENESS – students join paragraphs based on a flow of ideas, conjunctions, dependent prepositions, sentence structure.
#2 – CHANGE THE LYRICS
Pick a song students know and like, and that contains in the lyrics words or expressions you want to revise. Rewrite the song substituting a few of these key words for words that rhyme with the original ones but totally change the meaning of the song. Students love it if you include absurd or funny words or rhymes. Working in pairs, students read the handout you give them with the altered words and try and find the ‘mistakes’. After a short time (keep iit short!), play the song – twice at most – and let students correct the lyrics.
After you finish and have the right lyrics, point out the word you are revising and do your job with them. To finish, have everyone sing together.
#3 – LISTEN AND DO SOMETHING
This is one of my favourites. I use it for listening purposes, to sensitise students to pronunciation or recognition of words or sounds. Active children groups like it best.
Choose a simple song adequate to the level you’re teaching and select some 6 – 8 items (words, expressions, sounds) you want to focus on and write them on the board. Tell students they’ll have to do something when they HEAR the item in the song. For example, if your words are fruit: Maria, you stand up when you hear ‘apple’; Fernando, you clap your hands when you hear ‘orange’; Jane, you jump when you hear ‘grapes’, and so on. Rehearse once or twice with 2 or 3 items. Play the song and let students have fun. As you hear the item you picked, prompt students with facial expressions and encouraging gestures. You’ll all have a good time and practise!
Let the music play in your classroom – classes will be lighter and students will feel more enthusiastic about the new language. After all, they can sing their fave songs in the original lyrics and will probably show off to friends and family. A song can even become a project for a certain group and parents can be invited to a presentation at the end of the term. Total success!