Singing the Praises of Songs: Some Practical
Ideas for Using Music with your EFL Students
by Gabi Bonner
Students like the competitive factor to this activity, and the fact that you need to be quick and alert. A fun (and energetic!) variation is a board race:
1) Write the words on the board, put students into lines of three or four, and give the student at the front of each line a board pen.
2) Play the song, and the students at the front of the lines race to circle the word as they hear it.
3) They then quickly pass the pen to the next student and move to the back of the line. The team with the most circled words at the end of the song is the winner.
A word of caution though: make sure the song isn't too fast and that it's very loud, as all the moving around can make it difficult to hear. Make sure the words are spaced out in the song so that students have time to get the pen and be ready to leap forward. Also, I wouldn't recommend this board race with a large class, as you need lots of space. A follow-up activity for the word grab (or board race) is to give students the song lyrics with the 'word grab words' blanked out. Give them a few minutes to fill in the blanks, guessing where the words go if necessary, then play the song again and they can check if they were correct. The word grab works just as well with higher levels. What I tend to do first is give each group a set of words, tell them that the words fit together to make some kind of story, and then they use the words to make up a possible story. Then each group tells their story to the whole class and everyone votes on the best story. Then students can listen, do the word grab, then the cloze activity, and then discuss how close their 'speculative story' was to the real one.
An activity which works well with all levels is ordering pictures. For low levels, do the following:
1) Select some words from the song (about 7 or 8) and draw a picture to represent the meaning of each word.
2) Pre-teach the words using the pictures and drill pronunciation.
3) Play the song and students put the pictures in the order in which they hear the words.
As a variation, you could do a 'picture grab' in the same way as a word grab. This works especially well with young learners. With higher levels you can select a song which tells a story or evokes concrete or even abstract (if your students are creative!) images. Draw pictures to represent events, feelings, and ideas expressed in the song. Students then listen and put the pictures in the correct order. I used this activity with Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash, as the lyrics evoke clear images like 'I fell into a burning ring of fire', 'I went down down down and the flames went higher'.
Often students like to learn something about the singer or group before they listen to the song. You can do this in several ways: a reading, a listening, a quiz, a dictation, a video, or a combination of the above. In my Johnny Cash lesson I did the following:
1) I played twenty questions with my students to make them guess who I was thinking of.
2) We did a running dictation with a list of words taken from the reading about his life and music.
3) Students used the words to speculate what might have happened in his life, and we listened to each group tell their story and voted on the best one.
4) Students read the text and checked their ideas.
5) I gave them slips of paper with important events in his life which the students had to read again and put them in the correct order.
6) I gave students the pictures I'd drawn and they had to speculate on what the song might be about.
7) Students listened to the song and put the pictures in the correct order (they may need to listen twice in some cases).
8) We sang the song together.
As well as providing opportunities for intensive and extensive listening, songs can also be used to introduce, test, practise and revise grammatical structures. Here's what to do:
1) Choose a song that contains several examples of relevant structures or tenses.
2) Print out the lyrics and blank out all the examples of this structure or tense.
3) Give the lyrics to students and get them to try to fill in the gaps as best they can.
4) Listen to the song and check answers.
A variation on this is to type out the lyrics with mistakes relating to the target structure and get students to try to correct the mistakes before they listen. I often do this with prepositions and/or articles, as these are common areas of difficulty for my students. I've often seen my students refer back to the lyrics of a song we'd done in class if they're not sure which preposition or article to use in a certain context; Clear evidence that automaticity really can be enhanced through songs! I've used this activity with Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For by U2 to practise the present perfect, Way Back into Love by Hugh Grant (from the film 'Music and Lyrics') to practise present perfect continuous, It Must've Been love by Roxette to practise past modals (then you can get students to re-write the lyrics from a pessimist's point of view using 'can't have been', should've been etc). For higher levels you could also get students to change all the verbs and time markers from past to present or present to future or vice versa.
You can also use a cloze activity such as the one outlined above for rhyming words. Choose a song in which the final words of each line rhyme, blank out the last word of each line, if it's a low-level class you can give them the words in a random order and give them time to fill in as much as they can before listening. Suggestions of songs for this activity are The first, The Last, My Everything by Barry White and Way Back Into Love by Hugh Grant.
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