Bringing Music into the Classroom

Music is a powerful medium. Why not bring it into the classroom? While we shouldn’t attempt to turn an English grammar presentation into an aria, we can certainly use music to aid our instruction. For example, in a past entry I presented the activity Cinematic Collocations, in which students’ creativity is stimulated by an excerpt from a film soundtrack, and then in groups they use targeted vocabulary to write a film plot. Here are three additional ways to use music in the classroom:

  • Listening/ Pronunciation.  Choose a song that targets sounds or clusters of sounds you’ve practiced in class. The lyrics to Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel are full of words with /l/ and /r/, a common difficulty for Asian speakers in particular. As a class, listen once. Pass out the lyrics and review them. Listen again. Practice pronunciation. Listen a third time and encourage students to sing along. Need a slower and more clearly sung song? Try Elvis’s Can’t Help Falling in Love with You. There’s plenty of opportunity to practice /l/.
  • Listening/ Grammar. Songs illustrate meaningful use of grammar. Have you just covered modal verbs? Do students need more exposure to modals used in the past? Try listening to a song like Beverley Knight’s Woulda Coulda Shoulda. The lyrics are online, and the video is on YouTube.  Give students a copy of the lyrics with all the modal verbs omitted. Their task is to fill in the blanks. Let them work together and give them a chance to hear the song at least twice. When the lyrics are complete, listen a final time.
  • Listening/ Writing/ Conversation. From country ballads to Broadway hits, there are songs that tell powerful stories. Let your students listen to one and then have them write down a summary of what they heard. You can try Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car for this exercise. Ask: “Why is this song titled Fast Car? What is she singing about?” Once the summaries are written, students can compare their interpretations. Identify the main theme(s) of the song and discuss the problems the artist sings about.

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