Tag Archives: #ELT #songs #music #songstoteach

Beyond Gap Fills. Using songs to learn a language. Why, how and which?

At the beginning of this year, I was surprised to find out that many of my students, especially adults, stated in the Needs Analysis that they wanted to use songs. I must admit that I’m used to using songs in the YL classroom all the time (especially clapping games –  my personal favourite!) but I didn’t pay too much attention to the importance of music in the teen / adult class.

Why should we use songs?

I think we all know why, but here’s a couple of reasons I’ve come up with.

  • They can be fun.
  • They generate interest in the target language culture.
  • Some are catchy and students keep singing them at home.
  • Students can feel motivated to learn on their own by googling more songs by the same artist / similar genre.
  • Some songs can be used to teach language points.
  • Karaoke is fun and useful to acquire pronunciation features.
  • You can deal with the physical aspect of pronunciation; singers tend to move their mouths a lot. They are thus, excellent awareness raisers.
  • You can study a wide range of varieties of English.
  • Learners can bring their own songs!

How? (and not just gap fills)

  • Fist thing that comes to our heads? Gap fills?… fortunately, they’re not the only thing we can do with songs.
  • Get learners to draw a song http://drawmeasong.com.Not only will the good drawers have fun with this, but you can also engage the whole class by encouraging them to use their computers, or even collage. The main advantage of this idea, is that learners are actually focusing on their own interpretation of the song, so unlike gap fills, this is not just listening for specific purposes.(see pictures of the Draw a Song Competition we’ve done at the school where I work). Another advantage of this one is that it is rather materials’ less in the sense that you are not bringing a worksheet. However, to scaffold it and get learners involved, you may want to start by showing really interesting models, so that they get really involved and want to create something meaningful. Monitoring is hugely important and getting learners to brain storm ideas before drawing is essential too.
  • Learners can also listen to a song and write down the words they think are the most important ones. As a follow up they should create their own Word Cloud. Finally, they can type the lyrics of the song into a Word Cloud generator and compare.
  • Another listening exercise, which is similar to gap fills is handing out a worksheet with some words in the song that have been changed. Learners have to listen, spot the words that have been changed and correct them. To make it easier, you can put the words in bold, and learners have to check whether the words in bold are correct or not. This one is particularly fun and as a follow students can change some words in the song to make it fun, sad, etc.
  • If you are a fan of gap fills, students can visit the site lyricstraining.com and fill in the blanks of their favourite songs. The advantage of this is that you can choose different levels and learners can try to beat their own record whilst learning the song by heart.
  • If your learners love apps like https://www.dubsmash.com, exploit this to teach them exactly how to move their mouths to sing and look like their favourite singers. I’m a huge believer in the fact that pronunciation is something physical and using this app can help your students to understand the physical aspect of pronunciation e.g. see where in the mouth they have to place their tongue, and whether their jaw drops or is relaxed, among other things. With dubsmuch they’re not necessarily singing, sometimes they’re just mouthing, but this one technique is amazing to pick up pronunciation features.
  • If your learners enjoy singing, they can download karaoke apps and practice singing their favourite tunes. This helps with connected speech because they have to sing at the same speed as their favourite artists. There are many free singing apps e.g. http://www.smule.com
  • As a fun game, you can get learners to mime their favourite songs, yes MIME! All you need is a phone / mp3 player and headphones. Of course, you may want to show them many examples first, so that they get inspired. Again, scaffolding plays a huge role. Check out this example. (you can play it mute, so that they have to guess the title of the song, which makes it really fun).

Which songs can I use to teach language point ?

Songs are an amazing tool, and I’m a big believer in the fact that they shouldn’t just be used to teach language, but here’s a very short list of songs I love using to revise certain language points:

All I want is you – Barry Louis Polisar – Juno Soundtrack (to teach 2nd conditional)

El Condor Pasa – Simon & Garfunkel (Would rather and hypothetical structures) 

Wish you were here – Pink Floyd (wishes)

I want to know what love is – Foreigner (indirect questions) you can compare it with direct questions in the song: What is love? – Haddaway 

La Isla Bonita – Madonna (different past aspects – talking about holidays)

Which other song activities would you recommend? Is there any other song you use with your students to teach different structures / vocab? I’d love it if we could create a list together, so please comment below!