First of all, why use songs in the ESL classroom? When we consider that almost 100% of students enjoy listening to music and most of them also enjoy songs in English, we realize that songs in ESL classes can prove to be a very valuable resource. Thanks to the proliferation of digital media in the past two decades, music in English is popular all around the world and readily available through a number of sources. In fact, students often listen to music in English – and sometimes even sing along – without knowing the language yet. Another reason why it’s beneficial to teach English with songs is that they can set a better pace and a better mood for everyone in the class. Improving the overall atmosphere of the ESL class with songs can have long-lasting benefits for everyone involved. Last but not least, songs can be easily adapted to fit different goals or aims in a lesson. Once the song is chosen, the teacher can easily adapt it according to the level of the students, and the need of the lesson.
When to Include Songs in the ESL Lesson
Songs can be used with any lesson planning framework that follows the Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) method. If a teacher is using the Presentation-Practice-Production model, songs can be used mostly as part of the presentation and practice stages, and even the production stage if the students in the class are very creative. With a Test-Teach-Test model, songs can be used in any of the test stages and even the teach stage if the song talks about the language point being taught and practiced in class, or if the teacher can create a song about the rules of grammar. If a Task-Based approach is used for the lesson, songs can also fit in several stages during the class. They can be used as pre-tasks, as the main listening task, and even during the language focus stage if the song discusses the concepts necessary to understand the language point being taught and practiced.
Using Songs to Teach Different Skills in an ESL Lesson
Songs can be used to teach from anything from grammar cloze to debates. With popular songs, one of the typical ways of including them in the ESL classroom is to edit the lyrics and add blanks, making the song a cloze exercise for students to complete. For instance, some songs lend themselves well to be turned into exercises on verb tenses by just blanking the verbs and asking students to listen and complete.
If the English teacher decides to leave the base form of the verb in the lyrics between brackets, students can be asked to try to fill in the blanks before listening and use the listening portion of the exercise to check their answers. If the blanks do not include the verbs in base form, students would have to listen and complete the blanks and then take up answers with a classmate or as a whole class. Apart from tenses, more complex structures can be taught or practiced with the aid of songs. The fact that often phrases are repeated in songs becomes a somewhat natural way of drilling a structure students need to learn.
Furthermore, there are many songs that deal with interesting themes and topics that can spark great discussions in the class. These can be used for excellent lessons focusing on listening and speaking skills in which students can be encouraged to discuss their opinions. Current events are frequently the inspiration for popular songs, and these songs can spark great debates. When including controversial topics, it is important to avoid using a song that would be offensive.
Useful Website for Teaching English with Songs
The website lyricstraining.com is a great free online resource with a varied database of songs and videos for students to practice and work on either in class or at home. On this website, students can choose a song to work on and as it plays they have to fill in the blanks. The level of difficulty can be chosen and it is also interesting that each song includes the type of English it uses. As the song progresses students can complete the blanks. If students are running behind, the song is automatically paused and restarts when they complete the word or skip it by pressing the tab key.
Finally, the website runs on a timer and it keeps track of how many words were completed correctly in order to give students a score at the end of the exercise. This website can be used as part of a lesson in class or it can be assigned for students to do on their own at home to continue practicing.
Tips for Success
Firstly, there are certain things to bear in mind when deciding which song to use and how. Teachers need to do some detective work to find out what kind of songs their students like and what they don’t like at all. Of course, classes are not “a-la-carte”, but if we can cater to students’ interests the motivation factor will always create a more lasting memory and a better experience for everyone.
Secondly, the timing is also very important. Songs will change the pace of a lesson and the right type of song can be used to liven up a group of students who are slowly getting disengaged or to calm a rambunctious group down when it is needed. Having the right handout for the lesson is key as well because a handout with too many blanks can become frustrating for students. Once the handout is created the teacher should try to complete it or ask someone else to complete it before using it in the classroom in order to make sure it is neither too challenging nor too easy for the level of the students in this particular class.
Finally, it is also important to bear in mind the noise level in and around the classroom when working with a song. On the one hand, the volume of the song needs to be loud enough to be clear for all students, but not too loud to disturb other classes. The noise level outside the classroom should be taken into account because it can become a hindrance when working with a song. For example, if the lesson happens to coincide with a moment or a day when there is construction nearby, the teacher will have to change the lesson plan and save the song portion of the lesson, or maybe the whole lesson for another moment or another day.