Using songs

Songs can be a very interesting and motivating source of real life material for your students and one that particularly reaches into 'their' world.

There are lots of useful exercise that can be built around them to help develop your learners' English.

Choosing songs
The best songs to choose are ones that are:

  • Suited to classroom acoustics and learners’ ears: Not too much background noise or loud instrumentals and a clear singing voice ( give preference to a solo artist) Always try to play the song in the room you will be using before the lesson. What does it sound like from the back?
  • Simple and linear: Repetitious songs with a simple story build or tale are preferable to ‘abstract’ musings. Something that could be ordered if jumbled up or with a basic verb form reused in each verse.
  • In plain English: Avoid songs with lots of slang or cultural references that need explaining. You will get bogged down in explaining meanings and lose the class.
  • Suited to actions: Especially important for young learners who are helped by being physically involved with the music e.g. heads, shoulders, knees and toes.
  • Not too long (max 2-3 verses): You will need to break up a long song and will need to replay the song quite a few times.

Activities to do with songs

  • Song building  -Write the lyrics in couplets or line by line on strips of paper (photocopied for a large group). Students have 5 minutes to learn their strip. Students in groups then try to ‘put together’ the song, one student may be secretary and write out their lyrics. Listen and check then sing! You can do this with very simple songs too.
  • Oral Song project - oral presentations
    Students in pairs/small groups choose a singer, group or musical genre. They prepare an oral presentation, including extracts from songs, a biography of the group and description of the instruments used. Follow up with a song from the group/singer next lesson with a worksheet prepared by you. Very motivating and gives a few weeks of student-centred learning!
  • Contrasting two styles or themes
    Pick two songs covering a similar theme to compare and contrast. For example: 'You’ve got a friend' By Carole King and 'You’re my best friend' By Queen.  Students are split into 2 groups and each listen to a different song and prepare a presentation of the song to the other group. After presentations, follow up with a general discussion on the same theme.
  • Ear training and pronunciation
    Remove all the rhyming words from a popular song. Give the students those words mixed up on a piece of paper or on the board.
    Match the words which rhyme. Then try to guess what the song might be about.
    Listen to the song and put the rhyming ending words in order as they hear them. Then give out a lyrics sheet and they insert the missing rhymes. This is good for vowel contrasts and practice of key vowels or consonants.

Manual links

Using songs in the classroom Unit 8

Weblinks British Council LearnEnglish Kids site with lots of songs for young learners - Some tips from TeachingEnglish about how to use songs in the classroom - ideas for focusing on pronunciation using songs

By Clare Lavery

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