Songs as Spice in Language Classes

People all around the world enjoy music and song every day. Because songs are universally enjoyed and often memorable, language teachers often use them to spice up their classes. But how can we use songs not just to fill up the time, but to provide students with valuable opportunities for meaningful input and output? Here are some suggestions.

  1. Use High Frequency Language. Choose songs that feature high frequency vocabulary and grammar, especially for lower levels. Find texts at the right difficulty level for students. Learn to profile the texts at: lextutor. Help students understand and use the high frequency language.
  2. Focus on Parts. If parts of the song are difficult, you can focus only on easier verses. Often it’s good if the students can understand the chorus because it’s usually the most memorable part.
  3. Make Meaningful Connections. Introduce the song with a little story, example, or a question that helps students make meaningful connections to the song. Don’t just start by saying, “Today we are going to listen to Let it Be by the Beatles.” Rather say something like, “Have you heard of the Beatles?” What songs do you know and like? How many records did they sell?” If you make meaningful connections when you start, the song will be more memorable.
  4. Make Song Activities Interactive. You can give the students a print with the lyrics, or you can give them a song activity template with blank lines for the song and a set pattern for dealing with songs. See the “Song Template.”
    1. To get the words for the song, students can do “running dictation,” writing the lyrics down in the bank lines on the sheet.
    2. Leave the title blank. Students guess the title or make up titles.
    3. Do fill in the blank activities with variations. From Let it Be: “in times of ______,” “in times of tro______,” or “in times of tro__ __ __ __.”
  5. Use Song Topics for Output. Songs often touch on interesting topics, and they often deal with universal human problems and experiences. You can use these topics for output activities in language classes.
    Do problem solvers that have clear outcomes, such as “list, rank, choose, suggest.” In response to Let it Be, pairs or groups do these tasks:

    1. (1) What worries or troubles do people often have? Make a LIST of 5. (2) RANK the troubles from easiest to hardest. (3) CHOOSE one trouble or worry. SUGGEST a solution. In other words, answer: “How can I help someone solve this trouble?”
    2. Dialogs. Make simple dialogs based on song topics, and have students practice them in pairs. From Let it Be:
      1. A: I’m really worried about the test.
        B: Did you study?
        A: Yes, I studied hard.
        B: Then relax. Just let it be.
  6. Limit Language-Focused Activities. Practice pronunciation, speaking and repeating lyrics with students. Students make word cards for the high frequency vocabulary in the songs. Quiz them on the vocabulary. Focus on grammar points with examples. From Let it Be: Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom. Santa came, bringing gifts. Mary arrived, wearing a beautiful dress.
    1. Don’t spend too much time on language-focus. It goes against the “natural reason” we listen to songs, and “teaching too much” doesn’t get results. Instead, help students “notice” grammar and language points as they enjoy the songs.
  7. Plan Spacing and Retrieval. Return to the song in later classes. Have students quiz each other by practicing retrieval of the lyrics or individual words with word cards. If appropriate, sing the song with students, eventually from memory.

The above talk was given on February 26, 2016 at the “Charlie Zemi” for MGU future teachers.