Music in the language classroom

What better way to introduce students to other cultures but through music? I love to use music to teach students about different genres and singers from different countries, while focusing on making the lyrics comprehensible so students actually understand the song!

Here are a few tips on how to incorporate music in your classroom!

Tip #1 Choose an appropriate song! 

This might be obvious, but it’s important to choose a song that is appropriate for your class! If you teach lower levels, you want to pick a song that is slower and easier to understand. Even if you teach upper level classes, you should choose songs that have appropriate lyrics and can be understood, especially if you are doing a cloze listening activity. I try to choose songs that I think my students will like, but that also have lyrics they will understand with a little assistance. Songs that provide lots of repetitions of vocabulary words or grammatical structures are great as well, as you can extend their application by focusing on them.

Tip #2 Explore the genre

This is a great way to teach culture in the classroom. Before I introduce a song (or before I even tell them what they are listening to), I introduce the genre. Students learn a little about the different rhythms, instruments and characteristics of salsa, bachata, merengue, flamenco, etc. and some information about the artist before they listen to a song. After students become familiar with different types of music, I put a song on for them to listen to without telling them the genre to see if they can guess. Many times they will easily guess the correct one!

Tip #3 Allow them to listen

I like to do pre-listening activities with songs where students can listen to the song without having to do anything the first time around. They listen, identify the instruments, identify any words they can hear and make guesses about what the song will be about. Having students create a quick mind map with this information is a helpful visual before they even get the lyrics.

Tip #3 Make it comprehensible

One of the biggest problems with introducing songs in the classroom is that sometimes the lyrics are too complex, especially for lower levels. I try to make input comprehensible at all times, so I focus on doing a lot of pre-teaching vocabulary before students listen to the song with the lyrics. You can provide a word list, do a couple of vocabulary activities or games, create images for each new word or do any other vocabulary teaching strategy that works before students hear the song with the lyrics.

Tip #4 Allow for meaningful repetition

After students hear the song and make their predictions and engage in some vocabulary development, it’s time to listen to the song with the lyrics! Of course, a traditional cloze activity is fine, but sometimes it’s nice to mix it up! You can do several of the following activities to allow for meaningful repetition of the song. (I would recommend dedicating 10-15 minutes a class period on the same song for a few days with different activities in order to allow students to really reap the benefits!).

  • Cloze listening activity: Have students fill in the blanks with the missing words from the word bank
  • Close reading activity: Why not use what those English teachers use in their literature classes? As students listen to the song, have them use the following symbols to mark up the song as they explore it for meaning. See these suggestions and modify as needed!Image result for close reading strategies
  • Draw the meaning: After students listen to the song, have them draw the meaning of specific parts. I allow my students to choose the most important phrases as if they were to tell the song to another partner, but you could give them the ones you want to do or go by section.
  • Act it out: Have students act out the meaning of the song together. They can turn the song into a dialogue. If it’s a love song, have one student act as the singer and one student act as the significant other they are singing to.

Tip #5 Check for comprehension and extend!

After students have heard the song multiple times, this is the perfect opportunity to check for comprehension and extend the activity! You can check for comprehension by having students:

  • Write a summary of the song
  • Answer true/false questions (or have them write their own for a partner)
  • Order the events from the song
  • Think-pair-share and talk about what they think the song is about

I like to have other follow up activities that focus on a specific grammar point or vocabulary words that we used in the song so students get some extra practice. Students can:

  • Write their own song using some of the vocabulary and/or language structures
  • Complete a “Find Someone Who” human bingo activity based on occurences from the song
  • Make a comic of the song and paraphrase the main events
  • Make a music video of their own version of the song

Check out some song activities I have developed in order to get more ideas!

La Tierra del Olvido – Carlos Vives – Present

Soy El Mismo – Prince Royce – Imperfect

Bachata en Fukuoka – Juan Luis Guerra – Preterite

Que Suenen Los Tambores – Victor Manuelle – Present Subjunctive

Donde Jugarán Los Niños – Future

Sería Feliz – Julieta Venegas – Imperfect Subjunctive and Conditional

Si La Ves – Franco de Vita – Present Perfect

Hermosa Ingrata – Juanes – Past Perfect Subjunctive

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