Tell Us All About It: More use of good lyrics

In a previous posting, I suggested using an a capella song with advanced students. In truth, so many songs have instructional potential. It’s a matter of selecting one for a given group of students. What’s their level? What skills or language points do you wish to target? Have you compiled a list of songs that have worked well in the context of one of your lessons? I have quite a long list, so I’ll share just a few.

  • Can’t Help Falling in Love with You (Elvis Presley) – The slow pace and high repetition of lyrics makes it a possible choice for lower level students. New vocabulary might equal half a dozen items: wise, fools, sin, flows, surely, darling. Students will also learn can’t help + (-ing), meant to be, and shall I…?  Discussion questions can include: What wise words do you have about love? What do fools do when they are in love? Do you know other words like “darling”? Do you use these kinds of words?
  • Grow Old with You (Adam Sandler) – This is a simple song with everyday vocabulary. For low intermediate students, it serves to contextualize when and if clauses (first conditional). In fact, students can be responsible for fleshing out the abbreviated grammar. For example, “Build you a fire if the furnace breaks” = I’ll build you a fire if the furnace breaks.
  • Tell Her About It (Billy Joel) – Upper intermediate students can be challenged to work with vocabulary by focusing on connotations. In this  song positive words and phrases include (got it all) under control and reassure. Negative words and phrases include slip away and insecure. List target vocabulary on the board and have them do the sorting (positive and negative). Also, you can ask students to find vocabulary with similar or opposite meanings, for instance, make mistakes = go wrong. Discussion can address why the singer is giving this advice and what exactly “it” refers to in the title of the song.
  • Piano Man (Billy Joel) – Yes, I’m a Billy Joel fan. He’s an intelligent songwriter with a true gift for music. Upper level students can appreciate the portrait this song creates. Ask them to recall who’s who: John, Bill, Paul, and Davy. Additional questions: What unites all the patrons? Is there any other kind of place that is similar to or could be an alternative to the bar in this song?

Additional tips:

  1. With any song, you can have students first work with a gapped text to practice their ability to listen for details.
  2. Lyrics are readily available on many sites (for educational purposes), and in many cases audio and video performances can be found online as well, which can be great for students who want to sing along at home for additional practice. 
  3. With more reserved students, you can at least get them to read aloud in class if not sing the lyrics.
  4.  A discussion of the theme and or the songwriter’s message aids in comprehending individual lines.

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