Using songs in the classroom

If you had been my student at around 2010 on of your complaints would have been that I never used songs in my lessons. Earlier in my career I used songs quite frequently, in that gap-fill let’s-kill-some-time kind of way. However, as I became more experienced, I realised that this kind of activity is not very useful. As I had no idea how to actually use songs appropriately I decided to simply stop using them.

Fast-forward to a few years later, when my colleagues and I had just come back from an ABCI conference in Rio de Janeiro. We had a workshop where teachers shared the best ideas they had seen and a couple of people had attended a presentation by Bruno Horta, I believe, from Cultura Inglesa in Belo Horizonte where he showed lots of creative activities to be done with songs.

Since then, I have used a lot of his ideas and have tried to develop some of my own. Before I get to those, though, let me go over some potential pitfalls of using songs.

As Machado (2014:03) points out ‘a utilização da música em sala de aula é geralmente deixada para segundo plano, basicamente no intuito de mostrar um determinado tipo de vocabulário ou
gramática que foi mostrada anteriormente em sala de aula’. A lot of what I see is songs used in such a way that causes adult students to think they are not really studying. The reason for that is twofold: firstly, songs are often not thought with a communication in mind. This means they end up being nothing more than a glorified gap-fill activity. Secondly, and I supposed this is related to the first point, songs are often not planned with pre-, while- and post-listening activities.

With these in mind, and also considering an article about songs by Paulo Torres, here’s an activity for adults that requires no handouts and can be used with B1 students and above.

[Pre-listening]

Get students into groups and have them discuss these two questions.

  • What kinds of relationship problems can people have at work?
  • What kinds of prejudice can they suffer from?

Get feedback from the whole class and board their ideas.

[While-listening]

Tell students to watch the video of the song and check if any of their ideas will show up. Play the song up to 3:12 and ask students to compare answers.

In new pairs or trios, ask students to discuss these two questions.

  • What advice would you give the man in the video?
  • What do you think is going to happen at the end of the story? Why?

Play the rest of the song and let students check their guesses.

[Post-listening]

As a follow-up, get students in bigger groups to discuss the following question.

  • How important is it a good environment at work?
  • What can companies do promote that?

After a few minutes open the discussion up to the whole group.

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If you want to extend this activity, you could use chunks to give advice during the while-watching stage or work with the lyrics and focus on features of pronunciation.

Finally, if you want to read more about the use of songs in the classroom, besides Fernanda Machado’s work, I recommend KEvind Schoepp’s (2001) article too.

Thanks for reading

 

References

Machado, F. C da S. (2014) O uso da música como material autêntico no ensino da Língua Inglesa: uma abordagem comunicativa. Trabalho de Pós-graduação. Universidade Estácio de Sá. Available from: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B8k6X8ymZ-APOTdTcVVLM2hmVkE/view  [6 December 2016]

Schoepp, K. (2001) Reasons for Using Songs in the ESL/EFL Classroom. The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. VII, No. 2. Available from: http://iteslj.org/Articles/Schoepp-Songs.html. [6 December 2016]

Ricardo Barros

Ricardo Barros is a CELTA tutor and freelance teacher trainer based in Jundiaí–SP. He has taught English since 2003, working as a teacher, teacher trainer, academic coordinator and Cambridge examiner. He holds the DELTA, CELTA and a BA in History from Unicamp. He is a moderator for the BrELT facebook group and advisory council member for BRAZ-TESOL. He also blogs at ricardobarroselt.wordpress.com

2 thoughts on “Using songs in the classroom

  1. It’s only natural to treat songs that way (as a text in a skills lesson), since they were meant to be listened to in the first place. When I finally realized this, the way I use songs in class changed completely – for the better, of course. I believe all teachers, experienced or not, can relate to what you’ve said in the beginning of your article: we all have used songs in a way to kill time at some point in our careers (mea culpa?). However, I’m still skeptical about using them in a listening activity. Doesn’t singing change everything about the way one says something? How fair would it be to ask your learners to get the meaning out of a song they’ll only listen to twice (if that) in a lesson? I’ve yet to see how that would work, but for now I’m going to continue using a song’s lyrics rather than its spoken version in my lessons… Not the most natural way to work with songs, I know, but it’s still better than those language-based exercises you see out there.

  2. Dear Ricardo,
    I found this a very relevant way of using songs, namely, as listening material and opportunity to engage in authentic language practice. Everything we use in class has to be used meaningfully, with a clear pedagogical purpose, not just to kill time or because students want it. Thanks for the idea!

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