TESOL: Using Songs with Adult Learners

Teaching English with SongsWhy teach English with songs? Songs are an excellent tool for learning English while having fun. They can be used to learn or practice the target language in a motivating and enjoyable way.

Many teachers think that using songs in the classroom is only for young learners, or as a means for motivating teens. While it is true that children learn most by doing and singing, and teens love learning the lyrics of their favourite singers or bands, songs work equally well with adult learners.

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Linguistic Purpose – Teaching English with Songs

When you plan to use a song with your class, make sure that it has a linguistic purpose, that is, a reason for learning something about the English language, whether it be vocabulary, a grammar topic, pronunciation, or simply integrating any of the four skills of the language: listening, speaking, reading or writing. In other words, do not play the song to just have the students read or sing it along. Give the song a linguistic purpose. When you focus the listening activity on certain information, you are helping your students improve their listening skill in a very measurable way.

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Advantages – Teaching English with Songs

Using songs in the classroom have some advantages. Songs

  • improve student motivation;
  • reinforce grammatical structures;
  • enhance pronunciation and vocabulary;
  • help memorize patterns making learning easier;
  • build fluency.

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Disadvantages – Teaching English with Songs

There are some potential problems with songs. They can

  • be very fast for ESL learners;
  • contain slang or ungrammatical sentences (he don´t…);
  • have difficult vocabulary that even upper intermediate students will not understand.

How to solve these problems?

If the students find it difficult to complete the listening tasks because of the speed of a song, play the song  at least three times and stop it at different verses to give them time to complete the activity. Another solution to this is sing the song at a lower speed before checking the answers.

Always explain that songs may not have correct grammar or pronunciation. You can get them to listen to the song and find the ungrammatical structures or mistakes and correct them in Standard English.

For problems related to vocabulary, you can prepare them by pre-teaching the new vocabulary, and get the students to make sentences or create a story using the new words, which could also be a way of speculating on the theme of the song.

 

Activities – Teaching English with Songs

Here are some ideas on how to use songs with your classes. For most of the activities you have to rewrite part of the lyrics, add words or phrases, or create questions.

The most commonly used activity is “Fill in The Gaps”. It is a good activity providing you do not overuse it; your students may get tired of doing the same activity with every song they listen to. Also, make sure that you choose the right word to leave out for them to complete the gap. If the song contains a repetitive pattern such as conditionals, and you have chosen the song to review said grammar topic, then delete the verbs in the main clause or the if-clause, so that the focus is the conditional structure. If you are teaching a beginner class, you will want to leave out fewer words or put the words in a box from which they can choose.

Other ways of exploiting songs are the following

Listen and…

  • put the verse in the right order;
  • put the verbs in brackets in the correct tense/or, form of the verb (for example, gerund or infinitive);
  • identify the past tenses in the song (or, any other tense or grammar topic, for  example, conditionals, modal verbs, reported speech…);
  • put the underline words under the right column according to … (pronunciation, vocabulary related to any specific category, or a grammatical pattern);
  • complete the blanks with the words in the box;
  • choose the right word;
  • answer the questions;
  • match the verses;
  • check the words that you hear;
  • reorder the verses;
  • reorder the letters;
  • correct the words/mistake;
  • question on the theme, the message or meaning of the song to encourage discussion;
  • write to the protagonist and (give advice, or tell him what you think);
  • write the story in the song.

There are many other ways of exploiting songs. Have fun and be creative!

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Related reading:

Using Authentic Material with Beginners

Using Radio or Podcasts

Are You Teaching or Testing Listening Skills?