Music and Song in the Classroom

The list of activities for use with music and songs is virtually inexhaustible - and you have probably used many of these before.

In order to prevent frustration due to lack of availability/accessibility of some music - and, of course, differences in personal taste - rather than provide a ream of songs and activities, we have found it preferable to provide teachers with a range of activities and ideas for use with songs, music and rhythmic spoken texts (nursery rhymes, jazz chants and raps) that may appeal to them as well as their classes.

Different varieties and styles of music often lend themselves better to certain types of activities - but it's up to the teacher to remain creative & flexible!

A) Using Song in the Classroom

    1. Jumbled lyrics: Put the lines of a song in the wrong order, or cut up each line or verse vertically and ask students to try to put the words/lines in the correct order, using contextual clues to help. Play the song for students to listen, rearrange & check their versions.

    2. Gap fills: Remove certain words from the lyrics e.g. verbs, (for students to put in the correct tenses)/ vocabulary (to encourage speculation about possible alternatives), idioms (for students to guess the meaning in context). A menu of possibilities can be listed in a box or at the side of the lyrics. Students listen to the song to check their answers.

    3. Bingo: Take a few words from the song and put them on the board. Ask the students to choose 4-6 words and put them on a grid. Listen to the song/part of the song. Students use counters or cross out a word when they hear it. This is good for introducing a song or topic & can guide students in focussing on certain vocabulary items.

    4. Information gap: Students A and B receive a set of lyrics with different words deleted A students and B students can work together in groups to formulate questions to get the missing information, before being cross-paired to ask their partners for the information to complete the text.

    5. Speculation on the story/topic

    6. Running dictation: Put copies of a song, or the first verse, around the walls of the classroom. One student is the messenger - memorizing as much as s/he can and then running back and repeating it to the scribe, until they have a complete copy of the text. Good to get them to swap half way through, so both get a chance to do the running/writing. An alternative is to have the wait lyrics written in phonemic script, which the scribe has to write into Roman texts - then, as ever, check by listening.

    7. Matching lines: Cut the song down the middle, leaving one side as original, but jumbling up the other side. Students draw lines to try to arrive at the correct version.

    8. Call My Bluff: Take a few more obscure words from a song, give a couple to each group of students. Students use a dictionary to find out the correct meanings, then make up two false definitions, and then do this as a quiz with the other groups, offering the correct definition as well as their own. Each group has to try to identify the correct definition - points for correct identification, point to the defining team if the others go for one of their fake definitions. They can then try to put the words in the text of the song, before listening to check.

    9. Comprehension: Write or get students to write comprehension questions which can be answered using the lyrics as text.

    10. As an introduction to/extension of a topic, theme or other material ...which is related to the song, e.g. about the artist or issues related to the lyrics.

    11. Prediction: If the song has a storyline, students can listen to the first verse to predict what happens in the next etc. This can also usefully be extended to what happened before or after the events in the song.

    12. Matching pictures: Students listen to the song and either match lyrics to pictures or put pictures in order.

    13. Writing: Character descriptions of people mentioned in the song/ write about the artist or subject of the song/ a letter from one of the characters in the song.

    14. Speaking: Lots of possibilities: interviewing the artist for radio/television: developing a role-play; acting out a scene suggested by the song.

    15. Presentation/consolidation/use of language structures: A context in which the structure is used/ gap-fill with target structures omitted/ as a pronunciation model (though care is needed with 'deviant' language/pron in songs - with advanced students, you can ask them to identify these, or even to transform song lyrics into grammatically standard forms).

    16. Changing the lyrics: Ss can change the lyrics e.g. adjectives to alter the mood/meaning of the song. or re-write the song in formal vs. colloquial English, change the tenses of the verbs.

    17. Sounds: Groups of students can be given a phonemic symbol and asked to identify matching words in the text and listen for them on tape.

    18. Rhyme: Many songs use rhyme as part of the internal structure of the lyric. Give students the text with one of the rhyming words missing, they speculate on what would fit, then listen to check.

    19. Rhythm: Songs frequently reflect the stress-timed nature of English in their phrasing. Ss can be asked to guess or choose possibilities from a list of alternatives to try to complete a gapped text.

    20. Using Music Videos: Tell Ss they are working for an advertising agency and will use the video/song to sell a product. They have to decide what product is to be sold, justify why the song will appeal to the 'right' buyers, what qualities it suggests for the product &c. (Lots of vocabulary potential!)

    21. Personalization: Ss can bring their own songs in/ music from their own countries, play them to the class, and the class make a top 10 chart, with discussion of why they like/dislike a song.

    22. Quizzes: A quiz can be devised from a song text - either by the teacher or Ss - and the class divided into teams to try to answer the quiz questions by listening to the song.

    23. Stylistic analysis: Ss can analyze songs as poems/literature (as many of them are) e.g. for use of metaphor, rhyme scheme, metre, alliteration, personification &c.

    24. Discourse analysis: For U-1/ Advanced students, song texts can be examined as cohesive texts - you could do some parallel writing out of this, too.

    25. Making a video to the lyrics of a song

    26. Pronunciation: Ss say or sing the lyrics to practise pronunciation & intonation, and, for songs with a natural speech rhythm - to practise rhythm & stress.

    27. 'Name that Song': Once you have used a number of songs, tape a line from each song. Ss have to name the title of the song from memory or from a choice of titles.

    28. Self-access: BBC English: Almost everywhere in the world, Ss can pick up BBC English classes on the World Service frequencies - two of their most popular programmes are "Pedagogical Pop" & "Pop Words". Find out the frequencies, if you're abroad, and get students to tune in one night for homework.

B) Using Music in the Classroom

    29. To set a mood: To relax or energize Ss - NB the "supermarket principle": slower music for more thoughtful, contemplative mood, faster for a change of pace & energy.

    30. Background music: Similar to the above, but you can actually use it with a particularly quiet i.e. soft-spoken class, to set a noise level above which they have to talk - can help Ss lose their inhibitions about speaking up, or speaking into a silent or whispering classroom. You can also use it as background (a la Suggestopedia) for a story-telling session.

    31. To explore moods/feelings/colours as they are suggested by the music - vocabulary, personalization

    32. As a warmer/energizer: Prepare a list of tasks for students to do, during pauses in a piece of music e.g. Find Someone Who... Nice activity with a new class is to get them to write their name on top of an A3 sheet of paper, stick these around the walls, play music and get everyone walking around the room. When the music stops, they talk to the person nearest to them and find out as much as they can. When the music starts again they find that person's name, write down the information they found out, then keep walking until the music stops &c. &c. Change the tape when you want the information stage to finish, and give them a chance to read each other's information.

    33. Writing stories: Use music to guide Ss through a story e.g. Where are you? What are you doing? What can you see? Where are you going? This can be used to practice different tenses, and can be followed by a discussion to compare stories.

    34. Write a story/poem to music that evokes a lot of mood changes

    35. Theme tune: Ss decide what kind of a film the music would go with, they have to set the scene, describe the main character, what will happen, how it could end &c. Nice with imaginative classes.

    36. Analyze music: Play music used for various adverts ( can turn the video round for this, if you have one, then 'reveal' ) - Ss decide why they think it was used, the effect it has, the power of music accompanying a message.

    37. Write lyrics to a piece of music

    38. Discuss reactions: Describe a person who might like the music/hate the music/ what-emotions does it arouse in you/ in what kind of place would you be most likely to hear it.

C) Using Nursery rhymes, jazz chants and raps in the Classroom:

These are an excellent aid for exploring and practicing rhythm, especially when they follow the natural rhythm of speech. Even when they are not completely natural, they are good for raising awareness and E & E (exaggeration & encouragement) for intonation. Here are a couple of ideas:

    39. Marking stress, weak forms, intonation and features of connected speech

    40. Beating out the rhythm

    41. Practising the pronunciation of phonological features

    42. Parallel writing - Ss create their own.

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