Teaching English through Songs

One of the most challenging problems we all face, whether teaching English to children or adults, is maintaining learners’ interest throughout our lessons. As a consequence, we often have to be very creative in the methods we use. What makes music such a great teaching tool is its universal appeal, being able to connect all cultures and languages. This makes it one of the best and most motivating resources in the classroom, regardless of the age or background of the learner. If we as teachers choose the right songs, we can create a fun and memorable learning experience for our students in our English classes.

Personally, I have found that the students’ motivation levels are the determining factors in whether or not a song will work with them. If the students really love the song and the artist, they become determined to understand. If you choose the task carefully even lower levels will be able to get something out of working with tricky songs where the language is way above their level of English.

The process of choosing a song is one of the most difficult aspects of using music in a lesson. Here are some steps for making a song the focus of your class.

A. Pre-listening activities

Many students are fearful of listening, and can be disheartened when they listen to something but feel they understand very little. It is also harder to concentrate on listening if you have little interest in a topic or situation. Pre-listening tasks aim to deal with all of these issues: to generate interest, build confidence and to facilitate comprehension.

B. While-listening activities

1. Listen to the song
That’s it – start things off by just listening. It’s important to remember that this is supposed to be a fun activity; don’t make it too serious or boring. As an alternative, you can show a video clip if you have one – in fact, I strongly recommend it, as it will cater to more learners’ needs in terms of learning styles (visual and audible). Ask learners if they’ve heard it before, and don’t overload them with tasks at this point; simply let them enjoy the music.

2. Ask some questions about the title
Here are a few examples of the types of questions you can ask:
For Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World”
a. What is the message of the song?
b. What does “heal the world” mean?
c. Do you think it is an optimistic song? Why (not)?

3. Listen to the song again, this time with lyrics
This time, you should give learners the chance to read the lyrics to the song. At this point you might do one or more of the following activities:
• Gap fill : you can make a lyric worksheet as a gap fill; students fill in the gaps as they listen. You can also  make cut-out strips of selected missing words and again make a lyric worksheet as a gap fill; this time learners match the word strips to the gaps as they listen.
• Order the lines : with low levels this is a very simple activity. Chop up the lyrics of the song by verse and give a small group of students the jumbled verses. As they listen they put them in order.
• Spot the mistakes: Change some of the words in the lyrics and as students listen they have to spot and correct the mistakes.
• Circle the correct word: give students two words with a similar pronunciation and they have to choose the appropriate one while listening to the song.
• Running dictation – each line of the lyrics is stuck on the wall round the class. In pairs; pupil A comes up to the wall, try to memorize the words, runs back and dictates them to student B who writes it down. After some time or after some part of the song they swap – student B dictates, student A writes. Both  try to write down the whole song as fast as possible. Then they listen and sing the song.

C. Post-listening activities

The post-listening stage is where the teacher can determine how well the students have understood what they listened to, but it is important to design the tasks well: multiple-choice questions, answering questions, dictogloss.
Language teachers can and should use songs as part of their classroom teaching repertoire. Songs contain authentic language, are easily obtainable, provide vocabulary, grammar and cultural aspects and are fun for the students.

“Heal the World” (Worksheet)

LISTENING 1
Watch the video and listen to the song. The try to answer the following questions:

1. What is the message of the song?
2. What does “heal the world” mean?
3. Do you think it is an optimistic song? Why?

LISTENING 2
Fill in the missing words in the lines:

There’s …………………………….
And I know ………………………….
And this ………………………………………
Brighter…………………………………
And if ………………………………..
You’ll find there’s………………………………….
In …………………………………….
There’s no hurt………………………
There are……………………………..
If you ……………………………………………
Make a …………………………………….

LISTENING 3
Order the lines of the chorus:

…..For you and for me and the entire human race
…..You and for me
…..Heal the world
….. Make a better place for
….. If you care enough for the living
….There are people dying
……. Make it a better place

LISTENING 4
Identify missing words and fill in the gaps:

If you………….. to know why
There’s a ……….. that cannot ……………
Love is …………….
It only ……………for joyful giving.
If we …………… we shall …………
In this …………….. we cannot feel
…………….. or dread
We stop existing and start living
Then it ……………… that ………….
Love’s enough for us growing .
Make a …………….. world, make a…………………….. world.

 

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