Music is the soul of language. ~ Max Heindel

I am very interested in what motivates students to learn English. In conversations outside my classroom, I often ask language learners how and why they learned English. No matter what the age, I have found music to be a very powerful motivational tool for learning a language. For example, a friend of mine from Korea told me she learned English by studying the lyrics to her favorite English songs. This sounds like a more interesting and engaging way to learn a language than from a textbook. Teaching with music is also a great idea because it:

  • helps students learn language and even grammar in chunks
  • is all around us. I have traveled to 22 countries and all had English music playing in the shopping centers or the radio.
  • shows the vernacular. If students listen to popular music they can pick up slang phrases and idioms that are difficult to teach.
  • promotes movement, which is a healthy and effective way to learn a language.
  • is an effective way to teach about various cultures. We can learn about dances, traditions, costumes, instruments and more!

10+ Activity Ideas and Resources

It’s Music in Our Schools Month! I hope the following tips and resources will help you along your journey towards integrating music into your curriculum.

Modernize the Lyrics

Learners modernize the lyrics to a popular song from the past, then create a music video. Works best with old children’s songs, holiday music, or classics.

Teach Chunks of Grammar

Specific songs are great for pinpointing difficult grammar. You can have students highlight a specific grammar point by delineating movements for specific words or phrases. For example, the student can wave every time a verb is used in the past tense. Highlighting through movement helps learners listen to the lyrics carefully and pay specific attention to the language structure.

Create a Lip Dub

In a lip dub, students learn the lyrics to a song then record a video in which they mouth the words to the lyrics as the music plays. The students lip sync in the video. Acclaimed ELT author, Chuck Sandy, has the great guide, Lip Dub or Beginners, to get you started.

Drop the Lyrics

Getting your students to learn a song can often be difficult. You can make learning the lyrics into a game. Display the lyrics to the song on the board. Play the song once for students to get comfortable with the beat. Then play only the instrumental version of the song and together as a class sing the entire song. Round one begins where you instruct your students to sing the song but drop the last few words or lines of the song. Continue doing this as often as you like. Usually, teachers play this using the lyrics to Row, Row, Row Your Boat.

Dissect the Lyrics to My Favorite Song

Have your students bring in the lyrics and sound samples of their favorite songs. At the beginning of the class, give each student a different colored marker. Instruct each student to go to the board and write down one line of the song on the board. Then instruct the other students to each write down one idea that relates to that line under the lyric. The idea is not related to the song just that one lyric. When everyone finishes, the class can try to guess the song. Each student presents their song and discuss the meaning and whether the ideas under the lyric hint at the meaning.

Soundtrack

Have your students research the life of a famous person they admire. Then have them choose 3 to 5 songs that represent significant events in that person’s life. These events could include birth, death, a marriage, something that signifies why the person is famous, and so forth. The student presents this person’s autobiography by playing snippets of the song and explaining the song choice behind that event. Another idea is for students to create a short film about a book or short story they are reading. The students will just write a short summary or a storyboard of their film ideas. Along with this writing they should include a soundtrack. Alternatively, your students could choose 3 to 5 songs that represent the soundtrack of their lives. They could include this in a Glogster or WebDoc as a way to introduce themselves to other students.

A Personal Theme Song

Ask your students what personal theme song they would choose and why. They can create their own music videos using Animoto, Windows Movie Maker, Glogster, or other tools. Read this post and this post for more ideas of web 2.0 tools your students can use for this activity. Your students can also take this quiz which will tell them their personal theme song after they answer the questions. They can research the song lyrics and decide if they agree/disagree and why. The students can also make their own quizzes with more modern choices for their peers to take.

Have a Karaoke Day

Every Friday, my friend Greta’s 5th graders in Argentina would get to learn a new English song of their choice and sing it together. Once a week or month, designate a special day for your students to learn the lyrics of a song through Karaoke. Youtube has many Karaoke videos for most songs students would like to sing.

Make a Game Out of It

Several video games include learning the lyrics to a song. If you get access to a game consul, your students will love learning the lyrics to a song with a game like Guitar Hero, SingStar, or Dance, Dance, Revolution. Click on any of the links to see how these games are used to teach kids in the classroom!

More Resources

These websites have plenty of activities and videos for teaching English through songs.

What activities do you do with music? You can also tweet your ideas, and follow the tag #MIOSM (Music in Our Schools Month).

If you want to receive more of Shelly’s tips for online resources for teaching English, then subscribe!

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Shelly Terrell

Shelly Sanchez Terrell is a teacher trainer, instructional designer, and author. She has been recognized by various entities, such as the ELTon Awards, The New York Times, and Microsoft’s Heroes for Education as a leader, innovator, and visionary in the movement of teacher driven professional development, education technology, elearning, and mobile learning. She is the co-founder of #Edchat, the Reform Symposium Web Conference, and The 30 Goals Challenge for Educators. She has trained teachers and taught learners in 100+ countries and has consulted with organizations such as UNESCO Bangkok, The European Union aPLaNet Project, Cultura Iglesa of Brazil, the British Council in Tel Aviv, IATEFL Slovenia, HUPE Croatia, and the British Council in South East Asia. She is the host of American TESOL’s Free Friday Webinars and shares regularly via TeacherRebootCamp.com, Twitter (@ShellTerrell), Facebook.com/shellyterrell, and Google.com/+ShellySanchezTerrell. She’s the author of Learning To Go, Byte-sized Potential, and The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers published by Routledge. Recently, she was named Woman of the Year 2014 by the National Association of Professional Women and awarded a Bammy Award for #Edchat.   Website: http://teacherbootcamp.edublogs.org/   Twitter: @ShellTerrell