Singing the Praises of Songs: Some Practical
Ideas for Using Music with your EFL Students
by Gabi Bonner
I taught a successful lesson to my advanced class recently based on Hand In My Pocket by Alanis Morissette. The focus was adjectives describing personality, state, and physical appearance and present continuous verbs describing a temporary state; in the song there are pairs of adjectives/verbs which express a contrast. Examples are: broke and happy, poor and kind, high and grounded, etc. I did the following:
1) I gave each group of three students a set of cards with the adjectives/verbs, and they had to discuss the meaning and put them into pairs.
2) We listened to the song and students checked their answers.
3) I gave students the complete lyrics and we listened again, thinking about the meaning of the song.
4) We had a discussion about the singer's emotions and personality, why certain adjectives were paired up and the contrasts they expressed, and which adjectives students would use to describe themselves.
If you have a close-knit group who feel comfortable with each other, you can try singing the song as a follow-up activity to any of the ones mentioned above. Put the song on loudly so that students don't feel self-conscious about being heard, and just sing! I managed to get my class of middle-aged state school teachers belting out Hotel California by The Eagles and requesting to sing it again and again! If students are too shy to sing, you could have a lip-syncing competition as an alternative follow-up:
1) Put students into groups facing away from each other and play the song a few times so that they can practise and make up moves to accompany the song.
2) If you have enough time, each group can perform separately and then vote on the most realistic performance. If time is short then everyone can perform together. Tip: You might want to take some extra board pens to use as microphones.
A final word
As we've seen, songs really are an invaluable tool to aid language acquisition. They lower the affective filter, aid automaticity, and provide authentic examples of the target language with vocabulary and grammar in context. Songs can be exploited in the EFL classroom in terms of all four skills (reading, writing, listening, and speaking) as well as spelling, grammar and vocabulary, and it's an enjoyable and motivating experience for both teachers and learners. So, what are you waiting for? Good luck!
Gatbonton, E and Segalowitz, N. 1988. Creative Automatization: Principles for promoting fluency within a communicative framework. TESOL Quarterly, 22, 473-492.
Lalas, J and Lee, S. 2002. Language, Literacy and Academic Development. Pearson Educational Publishing.
Lo, R and Li, H.C. 1998. Songs enhance learner involvement. English Teaching Forum, 36, 8-11, 21.
Murphey, T. 2002. Music and Song. OUP.
Gabi Bonner has been teaching at Akcent International House in Prague since completing her CELTA there in 2006. She has an MA in Applied Linguistics from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and her current research interests lie in motivation in Second Language Acquisition, methodology and using songs and music in the EFL classroom.
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