Using Songs in a Classroom
Have you ever tried using songs in your English classroom?
If you have, you will know that it is a sure way of increasing your student’s motivation and interest.
There are hundreds of English songs out there and countless creative ways you can use a song in your English language classroom. Songs can be used as a short activity or as the basis of your whole English lesson.
Whatever your language or grammar focus, the level and age of your students or the topic of your lesson there is a perfect song you can incorporate in your English lessons.
I find that the hardest part of using a song in my English class is choosing which song to use.
Here are the 3 Ls that I use to help me choose an appropriate song for my class:
Learning outcome of the class
What do you want your learners to learn in this lesson? What language point, skills do you want to concentrate on? Do you want to work on pronunciation, reading, build vocabulary, consolidate a verb tense or use the song to explore a particular topic?
Whatever your learning objective, remember that this doesn’t limit you on what you can do with the song. For example you might want to use the song to look at the past simple but this doesn’t stop you from then looking at the idioms used in the song or moving on to discuss the topic and theme of the particular song.
What is the age of your students?
Songs suitable for young learners such as, “Let it go” from the movie Frozen would not be appropriate for an adult class. Young learners need easy-to-understand, repetitive songs. I tend to use songs from movies such as “The Bare Necessities ” from The Jungle Book or “Happy” from Despicable Me.
Teenagers can be tricky. I find the best thing to do is to ask them what is ‘cool’ and to find out what kind of music and musicians they like to listen to. Using songs that are contemporary or fairly recent pop songs is usually the safest option. When choosing a song to use with teenagers, especially if you are looking to use it as a springboard for a discussion lesson, bear in mind their maturity.
Adult learners are far easier to choose for and tend to be open to most genres.
If you are teaching a multi-cultural class then you should also take into consideration any cultural issues that might cause offence or awkwardness amongst your students.
Once you have taken into consideration the age of your students you should then assess the language level of the class. Any language activities you create and use with the song must reflect your students’ level.
Are the lyrics, tempo appropriate for their level? Can the singer be clearly understood?
A fast-paced song will frustrate lower level learners and a repetitive song will bore advanced students.
If you are dealing with a multi-level class then be sure to differentiate your teaching material.
You could easily amend your teaching resources and material to reflect your students’ level.
For example, if you have created a cloze-gap activity, for lower level students add the words your students need to listen out for,at the top of the worksheet. For more advanced students omit the words and let them listen out for them.
Listed below are a number of ways you could use the song Lazarus, by David Bowie.
Due to the subject matter of the song we would recommend you use this lesson plan with teens, young adults and adults.
Download the lyrics for Lazarus by David Bowie.
Write the title of the song, Lazarus on the board.
Ask your students:
- Do you know who Lazarus is?
This is a song title.
- What do you think the song is about?
- Do you think this will be a slow paced song or a fast paced song?
- Do you think it will be a sad or a happy song?
- Have you heard the song before?
If they have, find out what the know about the song.
- Who wrote it?
- Do you know anything about David Bowie?
To increase interaction, this activity can be done in pairs or in small groups, then then as a class.
Elicit any words that they think would be included in the song.
Listening for Gist
The students will now listen to the song ; ask them to listen out to the tone and mood of the song. Stress that this is supposed to be fun and that at this stage you only want them to listen and enjoy the music.
Once they have listened to the song, Lazarus, ask them if their predictions were right?
Did they hear any particular vocabulary? Are any of the words that they heard written on the board?
Pre-teach any English vocabulary that you think your students might find difficult.
Listening for Scanning
Now it is time to listen to the song again and this time with the lyrics. You might need to play the song more than once for your students to complete the task given.
There are a number of activities you can choose to use at this stage. Here are a few ideas:
- You can use the lyric worksheet and create a gap fill exercise. Learners can fill in the gaps as they listen.
- Mix up the lyrics; the students have to put them in the right order.
- Insert the wrong words in the text and ask your students to first identify the wrong words, then insert the correct ones.
Once all your students have completed the task ask them to check their answers in pairs or small groups then check their answers as a group.
Extended English Language focus
- Grammar focus
Depending on the level or the length of your class, use the song to focus on the verb tenses used.
What tenses does David Bowie use in Lazarus?
Ask the students to underline all examples of whatever verb tense you would like to concentrate on, for example the Present perfect. Ask your students to explain why that particular tense is used.
You can do this for any other verb tense
- Focus on vocabulary, idioms and expressionsWhat do you think David Bowie means by:
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen
I’m so high, it makes my brain whirl
You know I’ll be free just like that bluebird
Free Speaking Activity
Facilitate a discussion revolving around one or a number of topics such as death, fame and music . Choose which topic to go with depending on the age and level of your students. Download the discussion questions.
- Encourage your students to sing along to the song.
- Create a quiz, a presentation or a webquest on David Bowie or their favourite musician.
- Write alternative lyrics to the tune or write an additional verse to the song
- In groups or pairs, ask your students to think about the music video accompanying Lazarus by David Bowie, you could even show the music video to your students and ask them to think about an alternative setting.
Here is the link to David Bowie’s official website.
Alternative lesson plan
Do not give the students the title or any information about the song. You could pre-teach any vocabulary that you think your students might struggle with.
Give your students the lyrics of the song, Lazarus and ask them to read it.
What do you think the song is about? What do you think the message of the song is?
What do you think the title of this song is?
Discuss your ideas in groups then as a class.
- Ask your students to re-read the lyrics and to circle the most important 3 to 5 words in each verse.
- Discuss the words they have circled and discuss in small groups of 3 or in pairs, then as a class.
- Ask your students to predict what they think the song is going to sound like? Will Lazarus be a happy or sad song? Will it be fast-paced or slow-paced?
Listening for Gist
Ask your students to listen to the song. Then ask them if their predictions were right.
If you want to make David Bowie’s song the focus of your lesson, use any of the ideas highlighted above in the
- Extended English Language focus section
- Free Speaking Activity or the
- Extension activities
Scroll up for more information.
We hope you have enjoyed this blog piece and you will find the teaching ideas and resources helpful. If you have any suggestions or articles you have written or if you would like to find out more about how you could motivate and inject some fun in your lessons, please get in touch.
( noun) The words of a song.
(noun) The speed at which a song, or any passage of music, is or should be played.
Listening for Gist
Listening in order to understand the main idea of the song or text.
(noun) Statements about what you think will happen next.
(noun) an activity / lesson in which most of the information that students explore comes from the Internet.
(Adjective) available as another possibility or choice