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Using Songs in the ESL Classroom
When Teacher Joe was in France, he learned many songs. One song was especially fast and quite challenging for
Joe's level of French, but he liked it very much, so he listened to it often. When he reached the point where he could
follow the song smoothly, he discovered something surprising. His spoken French was also much smoother! Listening
to songs and singing along can dramatically help students improve their speaking ability.
Many teachers teach songs by giving the students lyrics with some key words missing. As students listen, they must
write the missing words. This focuses students' attention quite effectively, at least on the missing words. Teacher Joe
prefers to remove whole phrases, because it focuses students' attention not only on words, but also on
English rhythm, which is so important for pronunciation.
Besides this "cloze" method, you can try a more direct approach. Give students the lyrics, explain the meaning, and listen as many times as you think necessary. Try to get students to sing aloud, even if they just move their lips without using their voice. Make the tape available, in the language lab if you have one, so that students can borrow it and listen after school. Then, a few days or a week later, give them a test. (Announce this test ahead of time, so that they will be sure to listen on their own time.) Provide students with the first half of sentences from the song. They must complete the sentences. It's amazing how much students can remember. That's the power of music!
For advanced students, it's not always necessary to give the lyrics. Let the students listen without the text and ask them what they think the song is about. You might also have them make a list of key words, compare their list with other students in small groups, then write the ten most important words (in their judgement) on the blackboard. Teacher Joe always gives the lyrics after the lesson so students can learn the whole song on their own.
After students know a few songs, they're ready for a big event: a Karaoke Contest! Put the students in small groups, give them a few days or a week to practice together, then have them sing in front of the class. The students and teacher will work together to judge each group and small prizes can be given to students in the winning group.