Using Songs in the Classroom

Using Songs in the Classroom

Listening gap-fills with songs were one of my favorite activities in Spanish class and now they’re one of my students’ favorite activities in the EFL classes I teach. They’re popular with both kids and adults. There are lots of ways to use them.

Sometimes I use songs as a way of introducing a grammar point. In a basic text-based approach to presenting the target language (TL), I use a gap-fill where the missing words are examples of the TL. I’ve done this with comparatives, superlatives, present continuous  and lots of others. “Lemon Tree” by Fool’s Garden is great for present continuous. Students first listen and fill in the gaps. Then after eliciting the similarity between the missing words, I continue with the language focus. The song provides a context for the focus on meaning, form and pronunciation. This is a lot of fun for students and makes the language focus a lot more engaging.

Songs are also a great way to focus on a specific vocabulary set. I love using Lenka’s “Everything at Once” for animals and Shania Twain’s “She’s Not Just a Pretty Face” for jobs. It’s a good way to start or end a vocabulary set. It’s also nice as a quick way to review in a later lesson.

Songs are perfect for highlighting features of connected speech. Students get to hear them in a song and then try to copy after listening. They get excited when they can understand the words and recognize them after focusing on it as a class.

If you haven’t used the website www.lyricstraining.com with your students, you have to check it out. You can pick from a wide range of songs linked to their music videos. It has gapped lyrics that have to be filled in as the song plays. It allows you to replay lines if needed or skip them. It doesn’t allow incorrect spellings, so it also helps with that. I usually use it once or twice in class as a filler. I have it projected on the IWB and get one student to type the missing words as other students shout them out. I usually use it as a filler or after a test and then get students to use it at home. They take a picture of their score and then compare scores in the next lesson to see who did the best.

Sometimes it can be nice to just have music playing in the background as students work on another task. I’ve noticed that it helps them work a bit quicker. Plus it’s extra exposure to English, which is always good.

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Giving students choices

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When I came up with the idea of a class magazine for a group of teens/pre-teens, I only hoped it would actually happen. I was worried that the students would find the idea silly and not give it 100%. My class was made up of mixed abilities and even more mixed interest levels. This made it a challenge but the fun personalities of the students made it a fun challenge. We had several writing sessions on various topics ranging from writing a short story about a time machine, writing a review and even writing a Facebook status.

During all of these activities, I tried to emphasize the choices the students had. They could also choose to work alone or with a group. They could choose what to review- a book, film, video game etc. I wanted this to be their magazine. I let them choose to submit things handwritten or take them home, type a draft and email it to me. When asked about length, pictures and topics, I always encouraged the students to ask each other. Their magazine, their choice.

When it came time to put the magazine together, my classroom was exactly what I’d always dreamed of it being. I had all of the students working with smiles on their faces, so intent on what they were doing that they didn’t even notice or mind me taking pictures. Even more rewarding was watching them share their final product with their school principal. They were so proud and rightfully so!

For anybody who is struggling with tweens/teens, give them choices. Let them take on a little responsibility. Give them a chance to shine.

The Power of Positive Feedback

Although I normally teach adult classes, I’ve been teaching a teen class over the last few months. The students come one day over the weekend and another day after school. It’s been an interesting and difficult experience for somebody who didn’t get teenagers even when I was one.

Last week, I decided to do a movie lesson using The Dead Poets Society. The overall English level in the class is quite high, so I knew they would be able to understand most of it. Before we started the movie, they had a few discussion questions about their past teachers- traditional? nontraditional? best? worst? why? When I asked about their best teacher, one student looked up at me and said “You, miss.” I was shocked.

This particular student belongs to a group in the class that isn’t exactly cooperative. However, the previous lesson this student did an amazing job during a listening activity. While others still looked unsure after a second listening, he was confident (and right) with his answers. Surprised, I turned to the rest of the class and said “A_____ is really great at listening! Did you guys know that?” Like a typical teenager, he got a little shy but he left that day with a big smile on his face.

Never underestimate the power of a little bit of positive feedback.