I have a suggestions envelope in my classroom and this year the students have been asking for songs in class. (Thanks to Ruby, my former colleague at ELA Ubeda, who first introduced me to the suggestions envelope idea). I have mixed feelings about using songs in class. There are some important considerations
- I don’t want the use of songs in class to be aimless. It needs to have a clear language focus.
- The amount of time we have available. There are other things we need to do and it’s not always worthwhile listening to a complete song when perhaps only a little part of it is relevant.
- If I choose the song, chances are it wouldn’t be the same as their choice. For example, Rod Stewart has provided us with a great musical homage to the present continuous but do my students really want to hear it? Will they be exposed to it again in the future outside of the classroom? Probably not.
- A lot of the songs the students choose are full of language that is inappropriate. Even when the language is not explicit it may be of little relevance to our language aims.
Here are some of the things I’ve tried to deal with the issues listed above.
- Students can’t just request a song. I ask them to be specific (what song/what artist) because in the past I’ve spent a long time looking for music only for it to go down like a lead balloon. I then look at the songs they suggest and see what I can get out of it. I’d only use it once it passes the relevance/exploitable test.
- I prefer to use short extracts of the song so we can listen multiple times if necessary and work on language development or pronunciation depending on what the music offers. Paul Seligson gave an informative paper at the annual ACEIA conference in 2016 called Hooking English: Using famous song lines to build on existing knowledge. His talk convinced me that sometimes short sections, even lines of songs are the way to go and that the students’ existing knowledge here can be used to everyone’s advantage.
- I’ve found some great resources on Youtube where teachers have put together their own collection of song clips. I tried making my own. I use this website to cut the videos down to manageable segments, be selective and to avoid any inappropriate content slipping in. Hesetube.com (I think someone suggested this in a Tweet or post a few months ago- thank you!)
- Once I have my video clip, I download it. To merge a number of clips together, I used mergevideo.online
- I created a very simple worksheet cutting, pasting and adapting from the lyrics found online with a variety of exercises for my short clips. Here are the video clip selection and a (very basic) worksheet Songclips
Ok, so this isn’t a two-minute job, but I think it’s possible to do one short clip and activity in under 15 minutes once you get the hang of it. I’d been avoiding using songs because I’d often spend so long looking for something that I could use.
Of course, sometimes it is worth exploiting a full song. Here’s a link to a fabulous activity over at On the same page ELT. I love this extended listening practice which encourages accuracy- a great song to use as Christmas approaches.
Finally, Gianfranco Conti has written a must-read post for anyone who uses songs as part of their language teaching. As always, Conti puts the focus on ‘maximum exploitation’ and ‘full potential’.