Like many ELT teachers, you may already use songs in class, perhaps as a fun way to end the lesson. But how often do you really exploit the lyrics in class in the way you would exploit any other piece of text? The obvious choice of activity with a song is the good old-fashioned gap fill, with students filling in the missing words as they listen along. But this is not the only possibility, and certainly not the most resourceful or productive. Here are some other ideas you can try.
1. Prediction by rhyme
Most English lyrics rhyme, which is a great way to get your learners thinking before they listen. Gap out the second word in each pair of rhymes, have the learners predict the missing word based on rhyme and meaning, then have them listen to check. They’ll listen much more attentively if they’re trying to check their own ideas, and they’ll also have a chance to focus on the text before hearing it. Here’s a silly made-up example (the answer is below):
Hip hop artists, when they sing / Often wear a tonne of ___________
2. Prediction by collocation
In a similar way, you can have learners predict the missing words in collocations and phrases. Another example:
You drive me __________ when you’re by my side / But when you’re gone I wanna hide / I don’t want to be alone / Tell me that you’re coming _________
3. Pre-writing the lyrics in Class
If the lyrics are in the present tense, prepare a version of them beforehand in the past simple. Learners change them back into the present tense, and then listen to check. The same can be done with 1st and 3rd person, for instance, or direct and indirect speech. Here’s an example of how it works:
I love you more than you’ll ever know / I’ll take you wherever you want to go
The version you give your learners to re-write:
He said he loved her more than she would ever know / He said he would take her wherever she wanted to go
4. Ordering the lines
Divide the learners into groups of three or four. Prepare one set of cut-up lyrics for each group, one line of the song per each strip of paper. Jumble the strips up and deal them out between the members of the group. As they listen, they have to line the strips up in the correct order. This is a good way to practice listening out for specific words or phrases, especially with songs whose choruses are slightly different each time. You can make it more challenging by sneaking in some invented lines.
Finally – and this is perhaps the most important point of all – don’t forget to prepare some comprehension questions that ensure learners have actually understood the song. Why is the singer of Yesterday so unhappy? Why does the singer of Daydream Believer tell Sleepy Jean to ‘cheer up’? Why are the couple arguing so fiercely in Fairy Tale of New York? You wouldn’t work on any other text in class without expecting learners to understand it. The same should be true of songs.
- crazy, home