A Song More Than Just a Gap-Fill

Music, music, music

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.

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

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.

the 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 www.lyricsplugin.com that will automatically show the lyrics to a song when you play it on Windows Media Player or WinAmp.

Sites for Lyrics

www.lyricsfreak.com (recommended)      www.lyrics.com
www.azlyricsuniverse.com        www.metrolyrics.com
www.lyricsdownload.com        www.leoslyrics.com

Song Sites

All Music Guide (for biographies) www.allmusic.com
BBC The Singer and the Song (songs, lyrics, tasks, and artists talking about their songs) www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/music/singersong/
British Council Teaching English (ideas for the classroom) www.teachingenglish.org.uk
ESL Café (ideas) www.eslcafe.com/idea/index.cgi
BBC Learning English (songs section) www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/
British Council Learn English (songs for kids) www.britishcouncil.org/kids-songs.htm
British Council Language Assistant (tips) www.britishcouncil.org/languageassistant-teaching-tips-using-songs.htm
Songs For Teaching (for all teachers) www.songsforteaching.com/teachertips.htm
Ideas for songs can also be found on www.onestopenglish.com and www.developingteachers.com

Resource Books

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

Steve Darn – ELT – GME: A Song – More Than Just a Gap-Fill

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.cetin@ieu.edu.tr

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

Related Posts