I will certainly not be mistaken if I say that all of us have used music in our classroom at least once. Music and songs are incorporated in our coursebooks, bring variety to the lessons, and, as scientists claim, can boost language learning.
However, there is such a thing as ‘I always skip music pages with my teens and adults, just can’t make them sing’. Making a teenager sing…I’d prefer a lion to tame.
Well, it’s time to remember all those exciting activities we can do with songs – apart from singing.
Hit the right note
With the help of a song, it’s simple to teach most aspects of grammar, any particular vocabulary, and even structures. This is too good an opportunity to miss, isn’t it? Among the activities to exploit are the following:
- good old gap-fills. You can vary a gap-fill task a bit if you arrange students in pairs and prepare two handouts with different word sets removed. In this case, they will practise not only their listening skills, but also peer feedback strategies. Also,I sometimes like shifting responsibility of creating gap-fills onto my teenage students. They seem to enjoy the process of choosing a song and taking away the trickiest pieces of language.
- spotting the mistakes. Deliberate mistakes made in texts develop both listening and attention skills.
- identifying the meaning of words/expressions used in the text. Vocabulary tasks never get old, right?
- ordering the jumbled sentences. If done as a pre-listening task, it trains prediction skills and the ability to see text structure and cohesion.
One of my most preferred resources is tuneintoenglish Here you will find tons of downloadable worksheets, with a different focus each, based on songs.
Atmosphere is everything
We sometimes underrate the effect of music used without any particular relation to grammar or vocabulary. For no good reason, though. Not only can background music set a mood, but also help your students with concentration on a task. You might even opt for an instrumental piece – it will be not in the least boring. That is what you can do with such a tune:
- Play some instrumental pieces while starting a unit on cultures or travelling and ask your students to guess the place. Traditional music of various countries will engage musical intelligence, awake your teens after a tiring school day, and generate a lot of interest.
- My favourite activity of all times is the one I’ve taken from my CELTA course. We usually do it while studying the topic of films and music. I tell students that they are going to be screenplay writers. All that they have is just the main song for their film. Now they have to think about the plot. The handouts for the task look like this:
You can adapt yours according to your needs and students’ level. After giving out the papers, I switch on any song which seems suitable and let them write. Extra 5-7 minutes are of great use when the song is over, as they help students develop their plots in a more detailed way. Then, learners work in pairs, telling each other about their films. Next, they change pairs so that they could talk to 2-3 people in the end. Finally, everyone has to tell the rest of the group about the best film they’ve heard about. Sometimes we also have a kind of ‘award ceremony’ when students vote for the best main character, the most compelling story, the most unexpected ending and so on. Everybody’s happy to get a paper Oscar 🙂
- Use songs to practise describing character and appearance. Play one and ask students to imagine someone who likes (or, possibly, hates) this song and, then, describe this person. You can develop this task in a number of ways. One option is to play a couple of tunes, one after another, and tell students A to describe the person who likes the first tune, while students B will think of the one who likes the second song. Then, they might briefly discuss their characters in pairs and make up a dialogue between them, or write a short story of what happens when the characters meet.
The whole thing
Do not forget that a song should not necessarily be a part of your class. You can easily build a whole lesson around it, including all sorts of grammar and vocabulary activities. Then, just round things off with a production activity. It might be interviewing the character of the song, writing a page of this character’s diary, roleplaying the situation…the list is endless.
One more way to spread a song over the whole lesson is to dig a bit deeper into its historical and social context. This way, you can bring into the classroom not just precious pieces of language, but also the instruments for relevant understanding and interpreting a song. Certain songs cannot but lead themselves to discussions. Have you ever heard of True Stories Behind the Songs by Sandra Heyer? Her website is definitely worth a visit as it will provide you with lesson plans and ideas as well as with carefully made handouts to download. I particularly like the way she develops this idea of ‘a story behind every song’. It’s very likely that you have teenagers who will be curious to know more about Paul McCartney’s life or one of Adele’s love stories.
Nietzsche once said that ‘without music, life would be a mistake’. I’m absolutely positive that if he had been a language teacher, we would know this quote now as ‘without music, teaching would be a mistake’. Are you still in two minds about pressing the ‘play’ button? Go ahead!
What music activities work for you? Would you like to read more on using songs for pronunciation practice?