Using songs in the EFL/ESL classroom – #ELTchat summary 12/01/2011

A PLN for ELT Professionals

Using songs in the EFL/ESL classroom – #ELTchat summary 12/01/2011

Here is an additional summary for the songs topic contributed by @fionamau – you may enjoy reading this one as she has included the IDs of those who suggested ideas or commented, so this one is a much more personal account! Many thanks for this!

Using songs in the EFL/ESL classroom, or

Rockband as a Foreign Language

(subtitle courtesy of @harrisonmike)

Songs have long been favourites in the English classroom, whether as a valid teaching complement to ‘serious teaching’ or, typically, as the ‘keep-em-happy’ Friday activity, but when songs were proposed as the topic for debate on #eltchat on a chilly Wednesday GMT evening in early January 2011, it prompted the weaving of a long, multicoloured, snaking scarf of a conversation which was much enjoyed by all those knitting it and will probably outlast most other Christmas presents in its usefulness.

For the sake of ease, rather than summarise the chat in chronological order, I am taking the questions asked by various participants then other comments (threads and activities) that were then discussed as the basis for this summary. As others have drawn up complete lists of the links to songs etc proposed, they will be added at the end, by way of a ps.

Part One: The questions

There were in fact only twelve questions asked, but six of them drew a significant number of responses. Here are those six with the ensuing discussions, in chronological order.

1 @TyKendall asked: Can i ask why teachers like or dislike using songs in the classroom?

Answers were as follows:
@sandymillin said she liked songs because they’re a connection to real English, though some of her students don’t like singing…something @hoprea echoed and a whole conversation thread on singing ran through the hour and is summarised below.
@Marisa_C said she uses songs because she loves them, and her students do too. Others agreed
@cioccas said that some Students can hear their pronunciation problems disappear while singing, so it gives them hope they’ll get there in the end
@JoeMcVeigh said that songs and music get students’ attention. They stop and listen and focus better with the music added to the words. Others agreed.
@Marisa_C  suggested that songs enable bottom-up/top-down processing simultaneously..that’s got be something! And many agreed with her.
@hoprea said that songs are useful for working on suprasegmental aspects of language and @harrisonmike added that songs (and poems) a great way to look at words that share the same sounds, giving Shakira’s Fool as one good example. @steve_kirk added to this aspect by saying that songs provide multiple routes to language retention: rhythm, melody, metre. It all helps SS hang onto the lang. Several people agreed. On the other hand @billpelowe said he’d found that Japanese students really don’t get the idea of rhyme in songs unless it is explicitly taught to them.
@TyKendall gave his personal answer saying that he has found that songs are a great way to access slang and to move beyond the sometimes colourless textbook language. The whole area of slang was later discussed entensively.

@EleniPat moved away from language reasons, and towards ‘soft skills’ related ones, saying she likes working on songs because her students feel relaxed and participate more  @smaragdav also cited ‘human’ reasons, saying songs help boost students with learning difficulties’ self confidence because you don’t need to spell or read once you learn the song

@janetbianchini mentioned singing, saying students love singing songs, plus as an activity singing provides great pronunciation practice (echoing opinions above), vocab extension, vocab themes and it’s great fun! Marisa added that songs are great for pronunciation practice, especially sound linking and reduction.

@steve_kirk and vickysaumell mentioned poetry. Steve said that he liked looking at songs as poetry: Form, metaphor, emotion. He added that working extensively with lyrics post-listening can be very powerful. Vicky said that, whenever teaching teens poetry, she starts with a song to make it more accessible.
Finally, @TEFL said that at his/her kids’ school, music is used for exercise. D.P.A. Daily Physical Activity. Kids and teachers dance to hip hop every day – which sounds a lot of fun!

BUT not all the answers to Ty’s initial question were keen ‘yeah, songs are brill’ answers.

Some words of caution were also offered:

@derekspalla pointed out that one challenge is finding or creating songs…the process is time consuming for both @cioccas agreed that the choice of song can sometimes be very difficult, especially in classes with ages 18-80 and from 15-20 different cultural backgrounds and @Marisa_C added that often the teacher’s taste is very different because of the generation gap with some students. She said that she’d spotted glazed eyes at eg Beatles songs in classes. In response to this, @gret said that he/she loves using songs to encourage discussions in literature classes, eg when discussing Animal Farm, Revolution by The Beatles is good.  In response to Marisa, @TyKendall pointed out that we can still get learners to generate language even if they don’t like the song; they can talk about their dislikes and @marekandrews agreed, saying that it’s good to milk a song for all the cultural connections, and you can take it to unusual places.  @billpelowe suggested just discussing a song in general, ‘natural’ terms eg if they’ve heard it before, do they like it etc,
@SueannaN  said that the value of songs really depends on what you do with them in the classroom. Just because it’s music doesn’t mean it’ll suit everyone, and this is particularly true with teens. Others agreed with her. @BethCagnol said that teens do find some songs boring unless they’re tied to their favourite shows (e.g. theme from How I Met Your Mother)
@monicamalpas77 mentioned that sometimes it’s hard to choose a popular song because students like different kinds of music and the lyrics might have taboo words  @Shaunwilden asked if that meant teachers should alter the lyrics or censor songs? This thread was also discussed in some depth and is summarised below.

@Chaoukiboss said that it doesn’t matter whether Ts like songs or not. Songs can achieve the goals only when learners like them, and others agreed. @monicamalpas77 said she reduced the chances of choosing a duff song by asking for suggestions for bands, singers,etc before choosing the song and @iVenus echoed this by suggesting getting students to help choose songs by giving five suggestions and asking them to vote for the top 3. @BethCagnol told everyone that she had  actually had a student who was music-phobic and hated it! This had really made classes…interesting

2 @sandymillin Do you use songs with videos or just audio?
Answers were as follows:
@iVenus thought that the fact that we can watch videos as well as listen to songs really enhances student experience, an opinion echoed by @cioccas
@hoprea was more cautious, saying that he finds that even though it makes songs more interesting, video can also be very distracting. @JoeMcVeigh agreeds but @esolcourses, while agreeing video can be distracting, said that sometimes you can utilise the visuals to teach a language point.

@Shaunwilden was the first to mention using youtube, and @iVenus mentioned the karaoke versions of songs on YouTube. He/She has an occasional sing off w/ students! Karaoke was one of the buzzwords of the chat and was cited as a very popular activity especially for class bonding and end of term.
@harrisonmike mentioned that videos are great for mixing up the words and visuals of a song and gave us a link to an activity
@sandymillin warned of the dangers of not preparing your video class beforehand, mentioning a teacher who had prepared activities for Lady Gaga’s Telephone, then watched video last minute and found it wasn’t suitable  @monicamalpas77 agreed that it’s really important to watch the videos before playing them but said you can just use other pictures instead while listening.

@JoeMcVeigh  Videos as writing prompts. Students watch, then retell or answer questions. e.g. Michael Bublé video Just haven’t met you yet

3 link slang and taboo words to here @hoprea What about songs with taboo or swear words? Would you use them in class? For instance, teens asking for hit songs with such words.
The answers were:
@cioccas suggested using to teach those words and discuss why they are taboo, an idea that seemed to appeal to @hoprea. @cioccas then pointed out that students need to be aware of these words when they live in English-speaking countries and hear swearing around them. @marekandrews agreed with this take, saying that appropriate groups discussing “inappropriate” lyrics might be very productive.

On the other hand, @harrisonmike finds that, even though he teaches adults, he wouldn’t use a song with loads of swearwords because some of his learners aren’t particularly mature.

@JenniWellsted suggested finding the radio edit ie the one with the beeped words or modified lyrics (eg “Forget” you by Cee-Lo)  @derekspalla echoed this, saying you can usually find “clean” versions of student songs that have offensive lyrics or themes. However, @hoprea pointed out that students are likely to already know the song and will tend to sing it using the dirty words. “Not after they learn the “new” version you teach them,” said @derekspalla. “It will get stuck in their head I promise “
@TyKendall suggested that appropriacy is always an issue when dealing with authentic material, songs are no different, and teachers should use their judgement. @esolcourses added to this pointing out that the context you are teaching in, the age group, and whether lyrics may cause offence to some students are all relevant considerations. As @marekandrews said, it always comes down to the sensitivity of the teacher.

4 @nickkiley: Anyone ever encountered strong student resistence to songs in class?
Answers here fell under two headings: songs and singing
@Shaunwilden and @cioccas had experienced reluctance from students regarding using songs.
In Shaun’s case, the choice of song was the problem, “When trying to be trendy with teens. A few years ago, I had a class of mainly teen boys, they listened to rap etc so thought it would be a good idea”. They didn’t buy it. And the topic of rap was cause for some discussion. @TyKendall said he thinks teen pop culture is so hard to keep up with but he usually avoids rap simply because of the speed.  @cioccas said she had used some Australian hip hop, to encourage writing about ‘issues’, but that the listening is sometimes very difficult! @esolcourses felt that rap is really only for higher levels. However, said @cioccas, younger refugees from Africa also like hip hop. @billpelowe mentioned that one of his students’ graduation thesis is on rap (rhyme & content analysis, etc). He uses to understand lyrics. @TyKendall pointed out that rap can often be misogynistic and homophobic, so the teacher needs to choose carefully, although it is a good way of bringing those topics into the classroom.
@cioccas had had negative reactions from some more serious students who don’t think it’s real learning. @nickkiley asked if she dropped the songs in this case. @cioccas answered “No, I show them how singing leads to learning – how we use it for grammar, etc. It’s very hard with lower levels of course!” @marekandrews suggested that it’s good to get students to decide on a song together and work with it, then discuss how useful it was for whatever.
Singing linking singing in 1 to here
@smaragdav has encountered reluctance from shy students, as they are worried about singing. @nickkiley asked if there were any strategies to deal with this reaction. @sandymillin suggested getting the students to choose the song and @smaragdav answered that she tries to encourage the shy ones by smiling to them while she’s singing, but never pressures them.
@monicamalpas77 said that when students don’t want to sing, she replays the beginning of the song as many times as necessary til she sees ‘everyone’ singing – it doesn’t take long for them all to join in. They start laughing but then start singing. @nickkiley and @cioccas pointed out that some people really just hate singing, including teachers, and @grahamstanley agreed, saying you have to check that your students are ok with singing. Someone pointed out that singing alone is embarrassing but that singing in a group come overcome that, to which @Marisa_C added that singing together is, in fact, great for group bonding; “like at a football match” said @nickkiley.
A discussion on the merits of being a good or bad singer was then sparked off, the general consensus being it’s probably better not to be too great a singer yourself, as ‘good’ singing from the teacher can be off-putting for students!  @monicamalpas77 said that students always find it funny when she sings with them, “I sing badly!” she said “but as I don’t get embarrassed, they follow me”. @grahamstanley also claimed to a less than tuneful singer and mentioned that his singing can end in a potentially bemusing or amusing Name that tune game as students try to work out what he’s singing. @TyKendall also confessed to being unable to carry a tune, but this is no impediment to our diehards 😉
On a slightly different note, if you’ll pardon the pun, @vickysaumell said that she uses Black Eyes Peas´Where is the Love and she challenges her classes to sing it through from beginning to end for a good “grade”.
Slightly more sombrely, @Marisa_C said she had had no resistance but sometimes felt reluctant to make a class of impoverished refugees start singing……..

5 @JoeMcVeigh What do you think are the QUALITIES of a good song to use in the classroom? What do you consider when choosing songs?

Answers were as follows:
@harrisonmike – speed, and age suitability (eg 1 2 3 4 5 once I caught a fish alive is no good for 10yr-olds) Others agreed with this last point, particularly in the case of teenagers.
@sueleather – it should be a song students like
@smaragdav – students’ age, taste in music and teaching purpose

@grahamstanley and many others let students choose a lot of the time, to which @marek added that it is good to then get them to do presentations and projects on the bands they chose.
@vickysaumell asks students to choose a song about a global issue, they then sing along, and discuss the issue. She said that students feel empowered when they choose the song.. they can even gap the songs themselves.

6 @grahamstanley Does anyone have any ‘story songs’ to suggest (i.e. songs with stories in them)? – they are usually great to use in class
The answers were as follows:
@sandymillin Spanish Train or Patricia the Stripper (Chris de Burgh) might be good.
@Marisa_C She’s leaving home Beatles
@SueannaN  the album ‘The Boy Bands Have Won’ has some great story songs. Also Folk songs
@cioccas Paul Kelly may be good, may be too Australian
@fionamau Young Hearts Run Free Candi Staton or Kim Mazelle (give students some of the lyrics, ask them to devise video clip THEN play the song; the music is in stark contrast to the words). Also    Delilah – Tom Jones.
@harrisonmike  Stereophonics  I stopped to fill my car up
@JoeMcVeigh  Peter Paul & Mary ‘The Cruel War’  ‘Spanish is the loving tongue’ Michael Martin Murphey
@nickkiley always thought there might be a (long) lesson in Dylan’s Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts
@marekandrews once taught Girlfriend in a coma (The Smiths) to teach “I could have” pronunciation, and a girl started crying because her best friend had been in coma and died…..   So the moral is choose your story with care!

The other questions were (feel free to answer them in the comments section):

7 @billpelowe We believe that slow songs can help students learn intonation, elision etc., but does it really?
@BethCagnol thought that slower songs can confuse students due to their elongated vowels.

8 @hoprea I guess the very first thing is defining why you’re playing a song in class. Is it just for fun or is there a clear learning goal?
@derekspalla said teachers should always have a clear learning goal, especially with older students, and @hoprea pointed out that sometimes fun and relaxation can be the goal.
@monicamalpas77  answered that she uses songs with teenagers to motivate them too. They know there’ll be a song and just can’t wait, but it also depends on your students.

9 @BethCagnol  Any of your students think they are “bad” in English because they don’t understand the lyrics of songs in English?
@Shaunwilden – and many others – struggles to understand some songs in English, let alone students. @BethCagnol said that the French seem to use this as a benchmark to their level of English.

10 @JoeMcVeigh Any success with songs from musicals?
@cioccas said that she knew a teacher who has done the whole of ‘Sound of Music’ and ‘Mary Poppins’ over a semester!

11 @steve_kirk Instrumental music can be a gr8 way to frame a guided visualisation. How else do you use music without words?
@Marisa_C  said that Suggestopedia type or adaptations thereof necessitate soft background music (at 60 megacycles
@sandymillin and @derekspalla ask students to draw while listening then compare pictures.
@fionamau  Elicit a class story from a song or piece of music (eg Duo de las flores by Delibes), by stopping and asking questions (where? Who? What are they doing?) to build story. Sts then write it, adding own details.

12 @nickkiley Anyone done any football songs in class?
@Marisa_C hasn’t, but she’s done the pub song Show me the way to go home
Someone else mentioned a friend who has made a whole short course on football for one of the WCs, inc terrace chants.

Part Two: Other threads

13 @derekspalla said he personally tries to “sing” all of the songs himself…my students get a kick out of it even when I do it badly   (see singing above)  @gret also does that a lot too. His/Her students used to sing in front of the class last year too. Some even wrote their own songs   @derekspalla said that having students write a song is a great idea too and he will be trying that, especially with his older ones @gret said that some students shared the songs on their blogs! Others shared the videos on the blogs and then sang in class. They even had a Skype call with @flourishingkids‘ class in California. “We sang for them and they sang for us! It was amazing”

14 @sandymillin often has background music to put students at ease when doing song tasks. And if she sings along (which she does) they laugh and relax    @Shaunwilden used to use background music, but his students preferred not to have it. @harrisonmike agreed that background music isn’t for everyone, and quoted @Harmerj as having told him he’d seen a teacher turn on background music for a speaking activity without asking students, which wasn’t good.  @sandymillin said it depends on if the class is quiet. She sometimes turns it off once they start speaking, but sometimes finds that background silence stops them talking. However, she also said that if @Harmerj says she shouldn’t, then she had better ask more. Some students had given her feedback that they like background music because it’s more relaxed.

15 @grahamstanley said that using an IWB means that he can also now prepare a song in 5 minutes to use with his young learners. @harrisonmike then pointed out that this is true if the internet connection and network are all good, with a wink and a smile. Others agreed with this. @grahamstanley also takes Play Station and plays karaoke using Singstar. Many others do this too, and it is generally a popular and successful activity. @grahamstanley then recommended using youtube and spotify for the music, and then copying and pasting the lyrics on the IWB. He said “It’s great to be able to use a song that my YLs are into that day, rather than wait until next class”. Spotify is also great for displaying songlists based on music genre or even the year a student was born (predict the songs)

Part Three: Other Comments and Activities (in brief)

@SueannaN  Chants are good for pronunciation exercises  @shaznosel sorry to say but teenagers find chants boring..too much like poetry..songs are for the teens.

@marekandrews good with new group to get ss to write down songs they like and for you as teacher to make sure everyone’s song is dealt with in some way

@Marisa_C asks sts to write additional verses

@hoprea  Play song once, ask students to write down as many words as they can, pair them up, and ask them to create a new song w/ the words (sort of dictogloss).

@Shaunwilden  An Idea I got from @cheimi10 was 2 use screen capture 2 take pics from a song video, they can then be used 4 ordering/ prediction

@iVenus The usual pre- ; while- and post- listening/viewing phases are something I use often. Covers mood, vocabulary and application

@harrisonmike  If there are different visuals to a music video, or advert using a song, it can be interesting to consider the differences.

@harrisonmike  Can be interesting to think about using and comparing cover versions w/originals (or same song in different languages) eg Halleluyah (L Cohen, R Wainwright, X Factor person…)

@janetbianchini get students to write words for the music.

@grahamstanley  Another idea with music videos is for them to play the song and ask them to design a concept for the video or design own video clip.

@SueannaN I  use mix of music from the countries of my students. They have 2 explain similarities & differences in the sentiments of the songs  @marekandrews national anthems good for this @smaragdav  Get YL to mime song , teens to act out a scene of what they think happened. Improvising this is fun

@marekandrews playing a song when sts are coming into class but not doing any activities w it can help create pos mood for class

@BethCagnol It’s also fun to show students websites that list “misheard” lyrics by native speakers. Funny stuff!

@SueannaN  Do a kind of Jukebox Jury with a handful of songs. Students have to vote for their favourite. Good TBL task

@janetbianchini Write key words on bits of coloured paper – hand out to ss – they have to stand up when they hear their word – usually great fun!

@sandymillin Inspired by @lclandfield – use – Ask SS to subtitle song. Then compare each other’s versions

@vickysaumell  Lyrics training great for autonomous work on the songs they like

@hooperchris  issues  Getting s to consider songs + singers re equal & diversity very good 4 + citizenship [&] positive role models

@SueannaN  Give students half the rhyme and get them to make up the other half- Can be hilarious (careful with teens)

@JoeMcVeigh Scrambled lyrics: give students lyrics but put lines out of order. Students reorder, then listen

@sandymillin  Get SS to make a playlist at then ask them to walk around class & find out who else’s they would listen 2

@harrisonmike  I got CAE students to punctuate In The Ghetto and Bang Bang My Baby Shot Me Down  – didn’t tell them they were songs at first.

@hoprea  Play bits of songs / soundtracks and ask students to write adjectives they think of on the board – no repetition allowed.

@sandymillin  Play a soundtrack and ask SS to guess the kind of film – good for slightly out-of-date so not too easy

@vickysaumell Grammar revision through song titles

@janetbianchini Do a wordle to predict the song theme- ss make up their own song based on wordle then compare with real song to see who is accurate. Also @grahamstanley A great warmer for a song is to stick the lyrics in Wordle or and ask learners to guess song from word cloud

PS The Recommendations

@harrisonmike  Love the juxtaposition of music and words in @Harmerj and Steve Bingham’s
@BethCagnol One of my FAVE songs to use is “Anything you can do I can do better” for the comparative
@TyKendall i like how Mark Andrews used Katy Perry’s firework to tackle a taboo subject (RT + harrisonmike That was cool!)
@grahamstanley  My favourite modals (for prediction) song is ‘The ballad of Billy Jo’ – there’s a version by Sinead O’Connor
@janetbianchini  Love doing Eternal Flame by the Bangles with Elems -great pres cont + miming actions +body vocab practice
@marekandrews comparing two versions of Candle in the Wind
@Marisa_C beginners (and teacher trainees) Don’t know much about… get them to write new verse
@gret Hello, Goodbye Beatles, extra verse
Take that / Robbie Williams
@JoeMcVeigh  Useful teacher resource book: Music and Song by Tim Murphey. (OUP) or (Amazon-US)
@Shaunwilden Remembered I had a blog post on using pencil full of lead (the vid is superb for an EFL class)
@hoprea I really like using songs to work on pronunciation. Activities as this one:
@smaragdav YL making video clip of Singing in the rain
A nice suggestion is getting Weird Al’s versions and comparing with originals. The videos are also a good idea
@janetbianchini To practise a grmmar point eg present perf cont this song by Foreigner is great Do A/B close gap activity
@SueannaN Musical lessons prepared for the English teacher
@esolcourses Some online song quizzes on my website, (Gap fills, multiple choice,etc) sorted by level:
@europeaantje Misheard lyrics
@smaragdav is a great site. Make a quiz on lyrics. Ss answer as they watch the video clip
@janetbianchini Tune into is a fab free resource to use with ss!!
@fionamau  In the ghetto 2 demo importance of working on yr pronunciation
@SueannaN  Billy Bragg, Bob Dylan for ‘issues’. ALSO Beatles for Taxman (ESHalvorsen – BE sts, comparative and gripes!)  Chumbawumba’s Add re internet safety

And an all-star cast including: Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Barenaked ladies, Glee, Dido, Alannis Morissette, Beatles (Hello, goodbye for extra verse, Taxman for comparative, Penny Lane for articles, She’s leaving home, Lucy in the sky for prepositions, Jealous Guy (OK, it’s J Lennon, not Beatles) for past cont and relationsips) …………..

@fionamau for, January 2011

3 Responses

  1. […] Mauchline –  @fionamau –  Using songs in the EFL/ESL classroom (posted on the #ELTchat […]

  2. […] Mauchline –  @fionamau –  Using songs in the EFL/ESL classroom (posted on the #ELTchat […]

  3. Carissa says:

    So many great idea here! I LOVE using songs and I enjoy seeing how other teachers use them. One thing I would note is not to fall in the trap of always using a song the same way. You can do SO much with songs. Check out some non-fill-in-the-gap activities here:

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