Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Teaching English with Songs and Music

The hows and whys of teaching with songs and musics

Here are some great teaching tips for songs.

Some people have asked me for some of the activities I do with Music in class. Here are some of them:

Filling in the Blanks
There are many ways blanks can be used. I give students lyrics with some blanks (specially the parts that have to do with the subject we're covering in class). They listen to song once, at the second time they fill in the blanks - as much as possible. Finally, they listen to it another time to check if they got the blanks filled in correctly. This activity takes up to 20 mins.

Blanks can be very helpful when teaching subjects like Simple Past. Pick up a song that has may verbs in the past tense, blank them out and give in parenthesis the verbs in their base form. Have the students complete the song rewriting the past tense of each verb. This will help them memorize the past form of regular and irregular verbs. (can be used with any verb tense)
Teaching ESL in a non-English speaking country is a challenge. Even advanced students sometimes tend to go their mother-tongue in the classroom. So I found a way to keep them in touch with English even outside the classroom: I asked them to bring in a song they liked, a song of the moment. I put some blanks in the lyrics and they didn't get everything after the first time they listened to it. So I had them take the copies home and try to listen to that song anywhere possible (in the car, CDs, anywhere) and bring it in to me the in the following week with the blanks filled in. I also told them to try not to look for the lyrics anywhere else but try to listen to the song itself. It worked out pretty well.

Strips of Papers
Depending on the length of the song, you can cut the lyrics in strips of paper and have a contest. I always divide my classes in two groups. So the group that gets the lyrics with less mistakes after the second time (even after the first time, depending on the level of the class), gets a treat, or whatever you feel like rewarding them with.

I usually bring in some celtic, classic or just instrumental music on test days and put it on very low. I noticed that when this procedure was done, students relax more and feel more comfortable during the test(informal monthly test).

Guided fantasy
I usually do this procedure on a first-day class, to "break the ice". Nothing personal, but for this procedure I use ENYA (who sings a little bit of folk and celtic music). I prepare a text, very imaginative, something that can take many different points of view, and read it out loud while the song's being played. Students have their eyes closed and I ask them to imagine exactly what I'm reading and let their imagination flows along with the song. This is very relaxing!

Some factors to note are speed (fast or slow), the clarity of the vocalization, the amount of repetition, the vocabulary and metaphors. For a cloze task:
If the song has simple, repetitive lyrics, you can blank out more words;
If the song is more difficult, you will want to blank out fewer words;
An idea to try: blank out only the beginning or only the end of a phrase.

For a cloze task:
If the song is for beginning level class, you will want to blank out fewer words, but if it's for a more advances class you can blank out more words.


Simple, repetitive songs often contain grammatical patterns.
More difficult songs contain interesting vocabulary and idioms.
Look for homophones, homographs and homonyms, as well as typical fast speech pronunciation.
Look for conversation and writing topics. Is there a message, theme, or story that students can discuss, explain, debate, and write about?

Using music in the classroom is a great way to liven up listening activities.
I'd like to add a couple of steps that make the listening activities more effective.

1. Start with a focusing activity. A focusing activity is anything that will get students thinking about the subject of the song (listening.) These skills need to be learned in a new language, they don't come naturally. In addition, if the students have made guesses beforehand, it is much easier to get them involved in looking for the answers to their guesses.
Here are some examples of pre-listening focusing lessons.

A. Speculation: Put the title of the song on the board. Have students in pairs make guesses about what the song is about and write them down on a piece of paper. Then have students pass their papers a group to the left and have them read them. Students must guess if the other students guess is the same or different than theirs.

B. Pictures: Get a picture of the performers. Have students make up a story about them.(Or) get a picture that relates to the subject matter of the song. Students must guess about the song.

C. Take vocabulary from the song. Step 1: Put eight or ten words at random on your black/white board. Students get up and ask each other what the words mean. Step 2: Have students in groups of 3 or 4 write a quick story that uses the words. Step 3: Play the tape. Students must shout STOP any time they hear one of the new vocab words. First student to shout correctly gets a point for their team.

D. Cut the song into strips. Give each student one strip to memorize. Students put the strips in their pockets. Students get up and tell each other their part of the song, without looking at their part or showing their part to anyone else. Then you can do many things: you could have students listen to the tape and put down the names of their classmates in the order they hear the parts from before (pretty hard) to having the students take out their strips, listen to the song and then put them on a table in order as they hear their part of the song.

E. Write up a set of questions around the topic. Have students ask each other the questions. Or, more advanced, choose two songs of a similar theme(or first and second half of the song), split the class into two teams. Have each group listen to their part and make up questions. Trade tapes and students just listen to the other group's song. Finally pair each student with a member of the opposite team and have them take turns asking their questions.

Try this, you will definitely make a difference....

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