Singing the Praises of Songs: Some Practical
Ideas for Using Music with your EFL Students
by Gabi Bonner
Where do I get the songs and lyrics from?
You may not have thought about it before, but chances are you already have tons of suitable songs on CD or on your iPod or MP3 player. It's just a question of finding out which ones your students know and like, or listening to your music from the point of view of 'how comprehensible would this song be to a learner of English?'. As I mentioned above, you can borrow music from your students, or free downloads such as Lime Wire give you access to millions of songs which you can either put on your iPod, MP3 or a CD. There are hundreds of websites that provide song lyrics. Some of the ones I use are: http://www.lyrics.com, http://www.songlyrics.com, http://www.lyricsfreak.com, http://www.lyricsdownload.com and http://www.thesonglyrics.com. A word of warning though: Please check the lyrics for spelling mistakes! The people who submit them are not English teachers and quite often can't spell to save themselves.
Now that I know which songs to use and where to get the lyrics, what on earth do I do with them?
Before listening to the song it's often a good idea to begin with a focusing activity which will get students thinking about the subject of the song. You could write the name of the song on the board and get students to speculate about the subject of the song, you could show students a picture of the singer/group and get them to guess what kind of songs they sing, or give students some vocabulary from the song and get them to make up a story using all the words.
After setting the scene, what you choose to do with a song will depend on the level of the students. I've used songs with absolute beginners, proficiency, and everything in between. One activity that works well with very low-level students is the following:
1) Choose a song in which the lyrics are clearly pronounced and not too fast; preferably a song in which the same words are repeated several times (in the chorus for example).
2) Pre-teach about seven or eight words from the song; preferably the ones that are repeated several times. I usually do this with pictures. Make sure to drill pronunciation.
3) Ask students to choose their favourite three words and write them down on a piece of paper.
4) Play the song and students stand up when they hear one of their words and then sit down when they hear another one (or the same one again). They keep doing this (standing up or sitting down) whenever they hear one of their words.
One advantage of this activity is that it's quite humanistic, in that no one knows which words each student has chosen, so if they get it wrong they don't feel embarrassed in front of their classmates or teacher. Also, if it's a big class it can look quite comical with people standing up and sitting down at different times, and students seem to really enjoy it. It shows low-level students that they can listen to a song in English and understand some words, so it's also quite motivating. I actually challenged a group of native speaker English teachers with this activity in a teacher development workshop, using an Italian song. My colleagues are living proof that it works with absolute beginners and can be a lot of fun. If the class is very low level you could give them a copy of the lyrics with all the pre-taught words blanked out; this way they can read along as they're listening and they know when one of the words is going to come up. A variation of this activity is to all stand in a circle and students step in or out of the circle when they hear one of their words. I've used this activity with You've Got a Friend by Carole King, Pretty Woman by Roy Orbison, and Homeward Bound by Simon and Garfunkel.
Another activity that works well for low-level students is a 'word grab'. Here's what to do:
1) Select a song in which the words are clearly pronounced. Type or write about ten words from the song on slips of paper, one word on each slip. And give one set of words to each group of three or four students.
2) Pre-teach the words if you need to; make sure to drill pronunciation.
3) Students spread the slips of paper out so that everyone in the group can see them. Play the song and when a student hears one of the words he/she grabs the slip of paper with that word on it. The student in each group with the most slips of paper at the end of the song is the winner.
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