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Ten Tips for Using Songs in English Lessons

Published: 09.03.2011, Updated: 04.03.2017
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Black Eyed PeasBlack Eyed Peas In addition, songs could of course offer thoughts on current or historical events in English-speaking countries. One could also argue that lyrics always have a personal touch, which in turn could make difficult topics more comprehensible for the students. Here follows a short list of tips for how to use songs in English lessons.

 

 

In order to access the links, you have to have Spotify installed on your computer. There is a free version of the program available on Spotify.  An alternative is the Norwegian program Wimp, which you can access free for a month.

  1. Vocabulary Training: Since most song lyrics are quite brief, it is possible for the students to translate the entire text into Norwegian, for instance. You could also give the students a copy of the lyrics but omit several words from it. The students would then have to listen carefully and try to fill in the gaps in the song. You can use almost any song for this purpose, for instance Sweet Home Alabama - Lynyrd Skynyrd    or Where Is the Love? Black Eyed Peas 
  2. Discussion: Choose a song where it is obvious that the listeners are supposed to Billie Joe Armstrong, Green DayBillie Joe Armstrong, Green Day  take a stand, and prepare questions for the students to discuss. The questions should include some vague hints about theme in order to get the students on the right track. Examples of such songs could be Sunday Bloody Sunday - U2  or Famine - Sinead O'Connor
  3. Musical Interlude: Listening to music together in class could be an interesting experience, even if you do not prepare an entire set of tasks and activities. Choose a song that you think the students are able to relate to even if it is the first time they hear it, and simply ask them afterwards if they liked it and if someone could comment on what they think is the theme of the song.  For instance, you could listen to The River - Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band  or Working Class Hero - John Lennon
  4. Introduction: When you are a starting a new   topic in class, you could find a suitable song to use as part of your introduction or presentation. Make sure it contains some references that you can comment on later. If you are going to work with American history (and patriotism), you can for instance use Ragged Old Flag - Johnny Cash  .  If you are going to work with Native American history, the song Indian Reservation - Paul Rever & the Raiders   could be used.
  5. Writing: In combination with factual texts about a topic, songs could be used as a basis for writing different kinds of texts, for instance articles. The tasks should be formed in a way that allows the students to combine their knowledge of the topic and at the same time include references to the songs they have listened to in class. There are many interesting songs about immigration to the United States that can be used in this connection, for instance  Across the Borderline - Willie Nelson  and Immigrant Eyes-2007 - Emmylou Harris .
  6. Research: A song about a historical topic, like for instance the conflict in Northern Ireland, There Were Roses - Tommy Sands   or the treatment of Aboriginal children in Australia, Took the Children Away - Archie Roach  could be followed by specific research tasks for the students. Their job could be to find evidence for the information given in the songs, or to find answers to specific questions about the historical events or issues that the song deals with.
  7. Analysis: Work with the lyrics in the same way you would approach a poem. Look at symbols, rhyming patterns, metaphors and other lyrical devices. Finally, the students could try to find and argue for what they think is the theme and message of the song. Example of a song that can be analyzed: In the Ghetto - Elvis Presley
  8. Interpretation: An alternative to a full literary analysis, is to focus solely on the theme U2U2 or message of the song. The students can for instance write texts about their understanding and interpretation of the song, and comment on whether they think the song is still relevant today. See for instance Man in Black - Johnny Cash        or American Idiot - Green Day .
  9. Compare different songs:  Listen to two or more songs about the same topic, but with slightly different angles. If you make the students analyze, interpret and compare these, it will be a good exercise to see different kinds of argument.
  10. Sing: If you choose to work with a song that the students have heard before, you can of course  sing it together in class. In addition to being an amusing break from the usual writing tasks, the students will practice pronunciation and intonation. An example you could use in this connection is Imagine - John Lennon .

Already Made

We have already made some tasks related to a song called “American Tune” by Paul Simon, where some of the tips listed above are illustrated. See American Tune.

If you need more examples of songs that can be used in the classroom, see the English Playlist on Spotify.

 

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