The Motivating Magic of Songs in the EFL Classroom

Writer(s): 
Gary J. Wolff, Meiji University

Quick Guide   

  • Keywords: Songs, motivation, EFL, lyrics, reductions
  • Learner English level: High-beginner and above
  • Learner maturity: High school and above
  • Preparation time: 15-20 minutes
  • Activity time: 30-40 minutes
  • Materials: English-language song, audio source for the song, lyrics, music video, textbook (optional), tablet PC with karaoke application (optional) 

The link between music and language acquisition has been established by scholars across academic fields. It quickly becomes clear that students are motivated to learn English by listening to and singing English-language songs, so it is no surprise EFL professionals have long made good use of music in their classrooms. Whether improving students’ listening or helping them to learn new vocabulary, grammar, idioms, or colloquial English, the pedagogical options for using music in the classroom are virtually limitless.

Preparation

Step 1: Choose easy, short, and well-known songs under 4 minutes. Ballads and movie themes work well, but be sure they are not too difficult for students to sing. As much as students love listening to A Whole New World from Aladdin, it is almost impossible for them to sing along.

Step 2: Print out lyrics, which can be found online, from the CD jacket, a songbook, or a textbook. Songlyrics.com probably contains every English song on the planet and features a pop-up audio player, allowing you to listen to the song while you sing or read along.

Step 3: Make a gap-fill exercise from the song lyrics. In some textbooks, there is a cloze exercise already provided for each song (see Appendix). For some songs, the first letter of the deleted words is given to assist lower-level students.

Step 4: In the previous class, assign the song on the class webpage as homework and ask students to become familiar with the lyrics and tune beforehand. 

Procedure

Step 1: Briefly discuss the artist’s background and history of the song.

Step 2: Play the song and ask students to listen only for the emotions and mood they feel. To maximize the emotive impact, I ask students to close their eyes and try not to listen to the lyrics yet, instead focusing on the melody, instruments, and singer’s voice.  

Step 3: Project the gap-fill exercise onto a screen or onto student monitors and ask students to write down the missing words as you play the song twice.

Step 4: Show the missing words and ask students to check their answers. 

Step 5: Briefly discuss the meaning of the lyrics and any difficult vocabulary or idioms. Explain reduced forms, such as gonna, wanna, doncha, and whaddaya, which are common in songs. 

Step 6: Read the lyrics aloud, pausing at the end of each line. Ask students to repeat after you in choral response. This is a good time to emphasize correct rhythm and stress patterns, as well as to focus on any words that are difficult to pronounce. 

Step 7: Everyone sings the song! Encourage students to try and match the singer’s tempo, rhythm, and intonation. Not everyone is crazy about singing. For less enthusiastic students, I suggest requesting that they simply say the words as the rest of us sing.

Step 8: Encourage students to sing the English songs they have learned in class the next time they sing karaoke with their family or friends.

Conclusion

Although more complex lesson plans can incorporate activities like dictation, sequencing lyric strips, musical bingo, and original lyrics rewriting, I have found that keeping musical lessons short and fun keeps students eagerly looking forward to learning through music. I have also observed that fun music lessons can also have a spill-over effect of increasing student interest in other classroom activities and motivation for learning English in general. Music has the added benefit of helping them learn about foreign culture as well.

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