Steve Darn - ELT
MISSING HEADING > Curriculum Vitae > Writings > GME: A Song - More Than Just a Gap-Fill

GME: A Song - More Than Just a Gap-Fill

(with Funda Çetin)

Music, music, music

                    while we're shopping                            when relaxing at home

Music is very much part of our lives. We are often unaware that we are surrounded by music which has been selected to relax us, change our moods, or condition our consumer behaviour. We may choose to wake up to it, work to it, drive to it and go to sleep to it, let alone dance to it or sing along with it. It is in the supermarket and the lift, in the hospital and on the beach as well as in the bar and club. With the advent of mp3 and ipod technology, it is possible to carry our music wherever we go, while file-sharing programmes allow us to download, legally or illegally, the music we want but can’t afford to buy. It is only natural, then, for music to be in our classrooms, and for the language teacher and learner, songs offer not only their musicality, but the language of their lyrics. Nevertheless, songs tend to be under exploited and seen as a temporary diversion from routine classroom activity, light entertainment or a source of easy-to-produce gap-fill exercises.

                   while we're doing sports                                 in our cars

Cons and Pros
Not all teachers are in favour of the use of songs in the classroom, and there are drawbacks.

Many songs are not intelligible or express violence and sexism.

The phrases are so closely connected with their tune that it is not easy to ‘transpose’ them into normal speech. Students do not seem to absorb grammatical patterns or words they have learnt through songs into normal spoken or written discourse, whereas similar language learnt through spoken dialogues is comparatively readily adopted.

Some students get too excited or they just want to listen but not work.

Pop songs include poor vocabulary, too much slang, bad grammar, restricted/limited use of language and structures and language which does not correspond with what students are taught.

Interference of the melody; the sound of the music might interfere with the sound of the words

Difficulty of language. Linguistic content can be difficult especially for lower levels. It is difficult for the teacher to choose a song that suits the level.

Administrators, teachers and students do not take songs seriously.

Songs might be very good sources for introducing our students to the real world. The films they watch, the news they read already express these themes. Can you tell them that these things do not exist in real life?

Do these lines remind you of some songs?
- Hey teacher leave us kids alone....
- The show must go on......
- If I were a rich man.....
- One more cup of coffee .....
- If you go away.....
Is it impossible to adapt these for normal use?

Let them listen and enjoy the language in the song together with its melody. Give students a break at times.

If the tasks are manageable and carefully planned, the challenging parts of the song will turn into helpful clues for the students.

Nobody is going to ask our students to perform the song in a ‘Popstar’ contest remembering every word, so some interference is hardly problematic. There is interference of various sounds into our daily speech in real life, too. For example, the sound of traffic, or the sounds of other people in a restauran

There is more to songs than fill in the blanks. It is the teacher’s challenge to convince them that songs are useful and serious tools in language learning.

Some ‘sound’ advice

Not all songs lend themselves to classroom use for very basic reasons. The choice of song and recording are primary considerations:

· Are the lyrics clear?
· Is it a good quality recording?
· Does the song include some useful language or introduce an
interesting topic?
· Is the language at a suitable level (bear in mind the difficulty of the
· Are the language and the subject suitable?
· Are the students going to like the song?

Note also that most ‘written for ELT’ songs are unnatural in the same way as scripted listening and reading texts. Well-known songs in course materials are not usually the originals for copyright reasons.
If a song is going to provide the basis for language production, remember that the more input you give, the more output you will get. Apart from the song itself, an accompanying video, the lyrics and pictures provide stimuli. Listening to a song and doing a task involves several skills, so make sure the task is manageable.

Songs as listening texts
A song is a listening text and lessons based on songs often follow the standard pre-, while- and post-listening format.

Lead-in (often the most important stage)

 Introduce the singer (find a picture if you can).
•    Brainstorm/discuss the topic of the song.
•    Pre-teach some vocabulary/lexis.
•    Use the lyrics for dictionary work. Students can teach each other a few words from the song
•    Use the lyrics as a reading passage before listening. Mix up the verses and ask the students to put them in order, or give groups part of the song each as a ‘jigsaw’ reading. Students can check their answers while listening to the song.

- usually based on the lyrics.

•    Include some information which is wrong and has to be corrected in the lyrics.
•    Set multiple choice or true/false questions.
•    Gap-fills should have multiple choice options.
•    Individual words are often impossible to catch, so blank out words at the end of lines or words which rhyme to make the task manageable and more focused.

Follow-up activities (see Activity 1)

Plan a video for the song.
•    The song is from a film. What is the film about?
•    Discus the topic of the song. Common topics include love, life and money, but more interesting and controversial topics can be found such as women’s rights, the environment and poverty. Some examples are:

           - Queen - Friends Will Be Friends (Friendship)
           - John Lennon - Jealous Guy (Jealousy)
           - Pink Floyd - Money (Economy/business)
           - Eric Clapton - Nobody Loves You When You’re down and Out (Being Poor)
           - Suzanne Vega – Luka (Abused women)
           - Joni Mitchell – Big Yellow Taxi (Urban renewal)

•    Write a letter (or a mobile phone message) from one of the characters in the song.
•    Write a diary entry for one of the characters.
•    Write a conversation between the singer and a character in the song.
•    Write the story of the song or a character description.

he language of songs (See Activity 2)
  • Some songs can be used to present language in context instead of a normal reading or listening text. Some examples are:
          - Suzanne Vega – Tom’s Diner (present continuous)
          - Eric Clapton - Wonderful Tonight (simple present)
          - The Beatles - I’m So Tired ( so/such plus result clauses)
          - The Beatles - Penny Lane (definite article)
          - Queen - Lazing On a Sunday Afternoon (days of the week, prepositions)
          - Kate Bush – Don’t Give Up (Phrasal Verbs)
          - Abba – Money Money (2nd conditional)
  • Songs are a good way of drawing attention to the rhythm of the language, and how we change sounds and words to fit the rhythm. This makes a good alternative phonology focus.
  • Songs often contain slang and ‘street language’. They also use words like ‘ain’t’, ‘gonna’ and ‘wanna’ which are not good English, but which we hear all the time.
  • Songs use a lot of metaphors. Students might be asked to interpret their meanings.
Songs and vocabulary (see Activity 3)
Lyrics are a rich source of vocabulary, but rather than asking students to guess or look up the ‘unknown’ words, concentrate on vocabulary which is related to the theme or story of the song. In this way, attention can be drawn to lexical sets, and students can be encouraged to build up vocabulary notebooks including pages devoted to the themes of songs.

Responding to a song (see Activity 4)
Songs that work best are those that produce some sort of response to the music other than ‘I liked’ or ‘I didn’t like’ it.
  • Songs with a good story-line are a good choice. Students can discuss what happened, why it happened and maybe who was to blame.
  • Some songs require students to work out what is happening in the song using language of speculation.
  • At higher levels, students can discuss the actual meaning of the song.
  • Make a poster depicting the song.
Relaxation and background music
  • Use soft music to relax restless and tired classes. Music helps to create a more informal classroom atmosphere.
  • Use music as background to mechanical exercises and extended writing. Instrumental music is best.
  • Music is also good background for storytelling and ‘guided fantasy’ activities.

Lyrics are very easy to find these days. There are many lyrics websites, or just type the song title into Google. If you want to paste the lyrics into a Word document, choose "Edit" from your menu and then "paste special" from the dropdown menu, to avoid the formatting from the webpage. You can even download a plug-in from that will automatically show the lyrics to a song when you play it on Windows Media Player or WinAmp.

Sites for Lyrics (recommended)

Song Sites

All Music Guide (for biographies)
BBC The Singer and the Song (songs, lyrics, tasks, and artists talking about their songs)
British Council Teaching English (ideas for the classroom)
ESL Café (ideas)
BBC Learning English (songs section)
British Council Learn English (songs for kids)
British Council Language Assistant (tips)
Songs For Teaching (for all teachers)
Ideas for songs can also be found on and

Resource Books

Tim Murphey & Alan Maley, Music & Song. OUP, 1992.
Mark Hancock,. Singing Grammar. CUP, 1999.

Activity 1 - Follow-up tasks

Englishman In New York - Dolapdere Big Gang

AI don’t take coffee I take tea my dear
I like my toast done on one side
And you can hear it in my accent when I talk
I’m an Englishman in New York

See me walking down Fifth Avenue
A walking cane here at my side
I take it everywhere I walk
I’m an Englishman in New York

I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien
I’m an Englishman in New York
I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien
I’m an Englishman in New York

If manners maketh man as someone said
Then he’s the hero of the day
It takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile
Be yourself no matter what they say

I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien
I’m an Englishman in New York
I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien
I’m an Englishman in New York

Modesty, propriety can lead to notoriety
You could end up as the only one
Gentleness, sobriety are rare in this society
At night a candles brighter than the sun

Takes more than combat gear to make a man
Takes more than a license for a gun
Confront your enemies, avoid them when you can
A gentleman will walk but never run

If, manners maketh man as someone said
Then he’s the hero of the dayIt takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile
Be yourself no matter what they say

I’m an alien, Im a legal alien
I’m an Englishman in New York
I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien
I’m an Englishman in New York

The version of this song (by a Turkish group) was chosen to stimulate interest among local Turkish students. Other stimuli come from the video of the original version by Sting, the lyrics, and pictures of New York. Pictures should suggest things to do rather than the classic sights.

Students work individually, in pairs, or in small groups on one of a number of different writing tasks:

You are in New York. Exchange MSN messages with your friend at home.

You are in New York. Write a postcard to your friend at home.

You are in New York. Your friend is coming to join you next week. Write an email telling your friend what you have planned to do.

You are in New York. Your friend at home has been there before. Write an email asking for advice about where to go and what to do. Your friend should reply.

You are in New York. Write an entry in your diary for one of your days there.

You are in New York for a week. Make notes about your plans on a calendar.

A variety of tasks caters for a mixed ability class. Most writing tasks can be expanded into speaking activities if required.

Activity 2 - Presenting language through a song

Come Dancing – The Kinks

They put a parking lot on a piece of land
Where the supermarket used to stand.
Before that they put up a bowling alley
On the site that used to be the local Palais.
That's where the big bands used to come and play.
My sister went there on a Saturday.

Come dancing,
All her boyfriends used to come and call.
Why not come dancing,
it's only natural?

Another Saturday, another date.
She would be ready but she'd always make them wait.
In the hallway, in anticipation,
He didn't know the night would end up in frustration.
He'd end up blowing all his wages for the week
All for a cuddle and a peck on the cheek.

Come dancing,
That's how they did it when I was just a kid,
And when they said come dancing,
My sister always did.

My sister should have come in a
And my mom would always sit up and wait.
It always ended up in a big rowWhen my sister used to get home late.

Out of my window I can see them in the moonlight,
Two silhouettes saying goodnight by the garden gate.

The day they knocked down the Palais
My sister stood and cried.
The day they knocked down the Palais
Part of my childhood died, just died.

Now I'm grown up and playing in a band,
And there's a car park where the Palais used to stand.
My sister's married and she lives on an estate.
Her daughters go out, now it's her turn to wait.

She knows they get away with things she never could,
but if I asked her I wonder if she would,
Come dancing,
Come on sister, have yourself a ball. Don't be afraid to come dancing,
It's only natural.

Come dancing,
Just like the Palais on a Saturday.
And all her friends will come dancing
Where the big bands used to play

This song uses a number of liguistic devices for talking about the past and expressing nostalgia.

The target structures are ‘used to’ and ‘would (always)’.

The aim here is to draw attention to language through a series of questions, firstly to comprehend the text, and secondly to elicit the target language.

Higher-level classes may try to answer the questions while listening; lower levels will need the support of the lyrics sheet.

Focus on the text:

Listen to the song ‘Come Dancing’. The singer’s name is Ray, and he’s singing about his sister. The Palais is a local dance-hall (in the days before discos!).

Is Ray singing about the past, present or future?

A supermarket, a bowling alley and the Palais were all in the same place. Which one was there first? What is there now?

What did Ray’s sister do on Saturdays?

Was Ray’s sister always ready to go dancing?

What did she always do to her boyfriends?

What did her mother always do?

How do you think Ray feels – happy or sad?

Focus on the target language:

What does Ray say to tell us that the supermarket and the Palais have gone?

What does Ray say to tell us what his sister did every Saturday?

Does she do it now?

Can we say ‘there was a supermarket where the parking lot is now?

Find the word ‘would’.
Does it always have the same meaning?

Activity 3 - Word families

The Logical Song - Supertramp

When I was young it seemed
That life was so wonderful,
A miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical.
And all the birds in the trees
Well they'd be singing so happily,
Oh joyfully, oh playfully watching me
But then they sent me away
To teach me how to be sensible,logical, oh responsible, practical
And then they showed me a world
Where I could be so dependable,
Oh clinical, oh intellectual, cynical

There are times when all the world's asleep,
The questions run too deep
For such a simple man
Won't you please, please tell me what we've learned
I know it sounds absurd
But please tell me who I am
And then what would you say
That we're calling you a radical,A liberal, oh fanatical, criminal
Won't you sign up your name
We'd like to feel you're acceptable, respectable

Oh presentable, a vegetable!
But at night, when all the world's asleep,
The questions run so deep
For such a simple man.

Won't you please, please tell me what we've learned
I know it sounds absurd

But please tell me who I am

Ask students to listen to the song and write down as many adjectives as they can. More can be added from the lyrics later.

Tell students to choose five adjectives and add them to the word family chart. Using their existing vocabulary, knowledge about word building and/or dictionaries, they complete the chart, which can then become a page in a thematically or lexically organised vocabulary notebook.

Activity 4 - A poster

If I Were a Rich Man - Roger Whittaker

If I were a rich man
Daidle deedle daidleDaidle daidle deedle daidle dum
All day long I'd biddy-biddy-bum
If I were a wealthy man

Wouldn't have to work hard
Daidle deedle daidle
Daidle daidle deedle daidle dum
If I were a biddy-biddy rich
Daidle daidle deedle daidle man

I'd build a big tall house with rooms by the dozen
Right in the middle of the town
A fine tin roof with real wooden floors below
There could be one long staircase just going up
And one even longer coming down
And one more leading nowhere, just for show
I'd fill my yard with chicks and turkeys and geese
And ducks for the town to see and hear
Squawking just as noisily as they can
And each loud "Quack" and "Quack" and "Goo-goo-goo-goo-goo" and "Honk"
Would land like a trumpet on the ear
As if to say, "Here lives a wealthy man"

If I were a rich man
Daidle deedle daidle
Daidle daidle deedle daidle dum
All day long I'd biddy-biddy-bum
If I were a wealthy man

Wouldn't have to work hard
Daidle deedle daidle
Daidle daidle deedle daidle dum
Lord who made the lion and the lamb

You decreed I should be what I am
Would it spoil some vast, eternal plan
If I were a wealthy man?

This version of the song was chosen over the original show version for reasons of brevity and clarity.

Students work in groups. Each group is provided with a large sheet of card, coloured pens and crayons, glue, scissors, and a selection of pictures of expensive items. Each group produces a poster depicting the song using the pictures but also adding words or phrases and drawings.

6 Activities for one song

Thank You - Dido

My tea's gone cold, I'm wondering why I got out of bed at all
The morning rain clouds up my window,
And I can't see at all

And even if I could it'd all be grey But your picture on my wall
It reminds me that it's not so bad
It's not so bad

I drank too much last night, got bills to pay
My head just feels in pain
I missed the bus and there'll be hell today

I'm late for work again
And even if I'm there, they'll all imply That I might not last the day

And then you call me and it's not so bad
It's not so bad

And I want to thank you
For giving me the best day of my life
Oh, just to be with you
Is having the best day of my life

Push the door,I'm home at last
And I'm soaking through and through
Then you handed me a towel
And all I see is you

And even if my house falls down now
I wouldn't have a clue
Because you're near me

And I want to thank you
For giving me the best day of my life
Oh, just to be with you
Is having the best day of my life

Put the lines in the right order

1. and I can’t see at all

2. the morning rain clouds up my window
3. it’s not so bad
4. and even if I could it’d all be grey
5. got out of bed at all
6. but your picture on my wall
7. it reminds me that it’s not so bad
8. my tea’s gone cold, I’m wondering why

Fill in the missing rhyming words:

I drank too much last night, got bills to pay
My head just feels in pain
I missed the bus and there’ll be hell ______
I’m late for work _____
And even if I'm there, they'll all imply
That I might not last the ____
And then you call me and it's not so bad

Write the chorus:

And I want _________________
For _______________________
Oh ________________________
Is _________________________

Find the differences and correct them:

- Pull the door, I'm home at last
- And I'm soaking tough and though
- Then you handed me a tower
- And all I see is shoes
- And even if my home falls down
- I wouldn't have a glue
- Because you're near me

Match the expressions and their definitions:

have a clue - completely wet imply - give
last - be in big trouble
soaked through - suggest
hand - continue, remain
hell to pay - have no answer

Match the pictures to parts of the text:

27 Ways of using a song

1 Put the words and/or lines of a stanza in order. Listen and check.
2 Jumble the sentences or break each line into two and do a matching exercise.
3 Give students slips of paper with some words from the song and ask them to line up according to the order of the words.
4 Identify the words /phrases that are different from the ones in the song. 5 Write/guess the missing line(s).
6 Find the synonyms/antonyms of the words in the song.
7 Construct a mind-map of the song.
8 Discuss the meaning/message in the song.
9 Discuss, explain, debate, write about the message, theme or the story of the song.
10 Paraphrase the song.
11 Write down all the words that begin with the letter...
12 Identify and sequence the pictures /drawings that represent the different lines in the song.
13 Predict the words/content of the song from the title or theme. Listen to confirm expectations.
14 Write down as many words as you can hear (vocabulary competition).
15 Find words in the song which mean....
6 Write a dialogue based on the action in the song or write the song in narrative form.
17 Prepare song posters.
18 Write the storyline of a movie (instrumental/ classical/ film music).
19 Give learners a few words from the lyrics and ask them to make a sentence from them.
20 Give students a song which has a clear rhyme. Ask them to fill in missing lines, read their own lyrics, listen to the original and compare.
21 Students read the lyrics in detail and do comprehension questions.
22 Students read the lyrics in detail exercises and work on open-ended/reference questions.
23 Cut the song into strips. Give each student one strip to memorize. Mingle and put the song in order.
24 Ask students to relax and listen to the song. Write a description of the place they imagine.
25 Read out definitions of words in the song. Students identify the words.
26 Two versions of the same song can generate discussion, or can be used for variety (students don’t want to hear the same song more than twice!).
27 If the song has an accompanying video, the video can be paused for prediction tasks, or used with no sound or no picture.

Note: this article is based on a workshop given by the authors at the Izmir Türk Koleji ‘Liberating The Learner 4’ conference, 3rd March 2007. Materials from the workshop (some of which are included here) are available from Funda Çetin:

Funda Çetin is a is a graduate of Marmara University and taught at Bilkent University before joining Izmir University of Economics in 2002. She is an approved CELTA and ICELT tutor for Cambridge ESOL Teaching Awards and holds the Cambridge ESOL DELTA qualification. She is involved in in-service training and teacher development in her current position

  first published in English Teaching Matters (paper journal) February 2008 (Part One), May 2008(Part Two)
part reprinted in MELTA News (paper journal) No.65, Summer 2008