Wednesday 28 May 2014


Songs are part of daily life for most people. Who does not enjoy music at home, while travelling or studying, or even at work? Language teachers can use songs to open or close their lessons, to illustrate themes and topics, to add variety or a change of pace, present new vocabulary or recycle known language. But how do songs actually benefit your students? There is strong practical evidence supporting the use of music in the English language classroom; there is also a growing body of research confirming that songs are a useful tool in language acquisition. In fact musical and language processing occur in the same area of the brain. (Medina, 1993)
There are many types of songs which can be used in the classroom, ranging from nursery rhymes to contemporary pop music. There is also a lot of music written specifically for English language teaching. A criticism of the latter is that they often lack originality and musical appeal but there are good examples to be found of stimulating, modern, ‘cool’ music, appealing to the real tastes of language learners. However, the lyrics may not always be suitable: they may, for instance, contain slang or offensive words, there may be grammatical mistakes and they may only marginally teach the language points you want to focus on.
Howard Gardner once said: “It’s not how intelligent you are, but how you are intelligent.” No two students learn in exactly the same way. In any classroom there will be a mix of learning styles, and one student may ‘use’ more than one style, depending on what the task or topic is. To appeal to these differences is a huge teaching challenge. Gardner distinguished eight styles of learning, and students in his ‘aural/musical’ category will have a lot of benefit from learning through songs. They are strong in singing, picking up sounds, remembering melodies and rhythms; they like to sing, hum, play instruments and listen to music. This is not to say that learners with other learning styles cannot benefit from songs. Of course they can, because in the activities we develop with songs we can dance and act (physical learning style), read, draw and do puzzles (spatial intelligence) tell stories, and write (verbal learning styles).
Songs are known to lower the “affective filter” or, in other words, to motivate learners to learn. So, what positive contributions to language learning can songs make?
Socio-emotional growth
Physical development
Cognitive training
Cultural literacy
Language learning
The sky is the limit! There are a few things to keep in mind: simple, repetitive songs often contain a recurrent grammatical pattern which is useful to teach (especially with younger children). More difficult songs often contain interesting vocabulary and idioms. Also there is often a message, a theme, or a story underlying a song which students can discuss, explain, debate, and write about at almost any level.
Focus it
Start with a focusing activity: anything that will get students thinking about the subject of the song. Have them think about the title of the song, in groups of pairs. Find a picture that relates to the subject of the song and have students make guesses about it.
Highlight it
Put a selection of important words from the song on your board. Have students ask each other what the words mean. Then, have students in groups write or tell a quick story that uses the words. You can also get students to circle, underline or highlight specific words or word categories.
Stop it
Again, write a selection of words on the board. Students must shout STOP any time they hear one of the new words. You could also stop the song before a word you want them to guess.
Lip sync it
Have students lip sync the song before a team of judges in a Class Idol show. This allows them to become familiar with the words, rhythm, stress and intonation before actually singing the words out loud.
Strip it
Cut the song into strips. Give each student one strip to memorize. Students put the strips in their pockets. They get up and tell each other their part of the song, without looking at their part or showing their part to anyone else. Students then organize themselves in the right order, speak the song and then listen and check. You can also have students put the strips on a table in order.
Question it
Have students ask each other questions about the song (about the words, about the topics or about characters in the song). For more advanced students you could choose two songs of a similar theme, and split the class into two teams. Have each group listen to their song and draw up a list of (open or True/False) questions. Pair each student with a member of the opposite team and have them take turns asking their questions.
Gap it
You can prepare a gapped version of the lyrics and let students complete them before listening and then check afterwards.
Write it
Have students write a letter to the main character or the singer, send an answer to a person referred to in the song, rewrite the song as a story, write a story which began before the story in the song and led to it, or write a story which will continue after the song.
Change it
Change words (adjectives, adverbs, nouns -names, places or feelings), and invent new lyrics for the melody. If you have karaoke versions of the songs you can then let students sing their own versions.
Draw it
Get students to draw or collage the song and compare the visualizations in class.

The possibilities are endless. Music and songs are fun, and most people enjoy them. 

Arti Kotak

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