Maximum Benefit, Minimal Prep:
A Quick Song-Based Lesson

2013_Heyer_SandraSandra Heyer

Song lyrics are sometimes difficult for English language learners to comprehend; in fact, some song lyrics are difficult for even native speakers of English to comprehend! (Consider, for example, this line from a Credence Clearwater Revival song: There’s a bad moon on the rise, famously misheard as There’s a bathroom on the right.) That doesn’t mean, though, that a song can’t be a valuable learning tool in the classroom. One way to create a successful song-based lesson is to focus on an aspect of the song that is accessible to English language learners and build an activity around that feature. To do that, you start by examining a song’s lyrics to find a feature you can exploit. (For activities that target one aspect of a song, please see the archived articles in this newsletter or my website, Songs and Activities for English Language Learners.)

For the activity described here, there is no need to give a song that level of scrutiny (although, as always, you will want to make sure the language and content are appropriate for your classroom). All you need is a recording of the song and copies of its lyrics. The simplicity of this lesson, however, doesn’t mean that your role as teacher is any less important. You help students identify which new words are critical to getting the gist of the song’s meaning (and which are not), as well as which new words are worth memorizing. This activity works best if students know at least two-thirds of the words in the song.

Create a Minimal-Prep Song-Based Lesson in 4 Easy Steps:

  1. Students listen to a recording of the song without the lyrics. As they listen, they jot down about five words in the song that they are sure they know. (They do not write down words like the or and.) When the recording is finished, students volunteer their lists of words, and you write them on the board. More often than not, collectively students will come up with the song’s key words. Ask students to guess what the song is about.
  2. Students read the song’s lyrics. You clarify the meaning of new words that are critical to understanding the song, impressing on students that they do not need to understand every new word. Identify which new words are worth memorizing.
  3. Students listen to the song a second time while reading the lyrics.
  4. Students listen to the song a third time, without the lyrics, or they watch the song’s official music video online. (Preview the video first to be sure it’s appropriate for your classroom.)

Sometimes during the course of the lesson, one of the song’s features might pop out at you. You might, for example, notice that it has a chorus that is easy to sing or speak, tells a story that students could summarize, or has a topic that students could personalize with Draw-Write-Share. Then you could, if time allows, expand the lesson on the spur of the moment.

Example: A Minimal-Prep Lesson on the Song “Fight Song”
This song by Rachel Platten debuted last February and has steadily climbed the pop-music charts. Because of its popularity, clear lyrics, and upbeat theme, it is a good choice to bring into the classroom. Continue reading