5 Ways to use songs in your classroom for all levels

Music is one of the most universally enjoyed things in our world today. And using songs and music in your classroom can make your classes more fun, give a needed break from heavier activities, and improve your students vocabulary and listening skills.

However, if you just put a song on and let your students listen, they’ll only get a fraction of the benefit they could. Here are some ideas for using songs to the fullest in your classroom.

1. Provide the lyrics

This is a given. If you are going to play a song for your students, you have to at least print out the lyrics for them, otherwise it is too easy to zone out and miss things. Reading along with lyrics helps them really understand what they’re listening to so they can connect the sounds their hearing with the words.

2. Fill in the blank 

There are two ways to go about this. First, you can prepare your lyrics ahead of time and delete words or phrases from them for your students to fill in while they’re listening. Or you can give the complete lyrics to your students, have them white out ten or so words and exchange with other students to fill in. I like it this way because they feel more like they are in control and challenging each other. Note, if you are doing it the second way, do another activity in between whiting out and listening to the song. This allows the papers to dry and the students to forget what they may have seen.

3. Guess the title

This is an activity that is a little less strenuous for my students, but still engages their listening skills. Here you provide them with a list of ten or so song titles, then play a song for them. They have to listen to the song and try and identify what the song title is. Don’t give them the lyrics until the second time listening so that it is more of a challenge.

4. Translate to their native language

This one really only works if you are proficient in your students native language, but is a great activity if you’re able to do it. Now I know, we don’t teach translation in modern language courses, and I’m not advocating my students translate as their speaking. The idea of this activity is to check whether the students are really comprehending exactly what they should be. For this, I let students take turns translating orally to their native language while I listen to make sure they really understand. I can’t stress how many times I’ve caught misunderstood vocabulary or grammar with this exercise, so I continue to do it. This exercise is especially good for catching false cognates- words that look/sound the same in both languages, but have different meanings.

5. Challenge: Translate from native language to English 

This is basically #4, but the opposite direction. It is also a lot more difficult. I do this activity with my highest students. It is one of the best ways to find vocabulary that my super advanced students don’t know. It also is great because they have to really think about how sentence structure changes from one language to another.

I hope these ideas are helpful for you all. A general last piece of advice: Always listen to the song more than once. Depending on the activity, I’ll let them listen before the activity, then after they have finished for them to really focus on the words.

As always, if you have more tips about using songs in class, let me know in the comments!

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