This was originally posted on July 20, 2012 at

Here is the third installment in my Starting Over series, this personal quest of mine to make my classes more varied, more fun and more interesting, with the commendable objective of motivating my students and, perhaps a tad less commendably, in turn motivating myself again after so many years in the area. (It’s been working so far!) – You can read the other articles here on this blog (have a look at the articles published in April and May 2012) or by visiting my own blog,

This month I want to talk about one of the most obvious topics in the business when it comes to adding variety to a teacher’s class: music. Nevertheless, it’s funny how sometimes the obvious can be the thing we have most difficulty to see clearly, and in the particular case of music in the classroom, it’s truly remarkable how poorly we commonly use such an incredibly powerful tool – there’s much more to music in the class than gap filling!

Why music in the classroom?

There are several reasons why using music in our classes is an incredible tool, perhaps the most important of which being the fact that students – everyone, really! – love music! Therefore, as Jeremy Harmer says, music works as a “connection between the world of leisure and the world of learning”.  There are many other reasons, though:

–       It exposes students to authentic English and assorted accents;

–       It raises awareness of several pronunciation features, such as connected speech, intonation and rhythm;

–       Music is memorable. Songs ‘stick’ in the head, as “they work on our short and long-term memory” (Tim Murphey). I personally still remember learning the form of the second conditional in English in a song class listening to Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven!

–       Music is highly motivating! It is therefore fun and can change (for the better!) the atmosphere in the class.

How often to use songs in the classroom

I really don’t believe in a magic number, as it were. I would s ay, however, that twice a month, thinking of a regular semester-long, two-classes-a-week, thirty-to-forty-classes-per-term course, sounds like often enough.

Using music too much, however, can be just as harmful as not using it enough or at all. The overuse of any of the tools available to us will invariably result in boredom, not to mention the fact that students – especially adults – might confuse the overuse of music with lack of planning or of focus on our part.

How to use music in the classroom

As I said before, there is much more to song activities than gap filling. There is, of course, nothing wrong with gap-filling as such, but since the goal here is variety, it is perhaps a good idea to try different forms of exploring music in the classroom as well.

–       Gap filling: If you really must work with gap filling, you can gapall examples of a certain part of speech, e.g. all the verbs or nouns or –ing adjectives etc., and maybe even give students a few minutes to predict the words for each gap (and/or their parts of speech) before listening to the song.

–       Lyrics in jumbled order: Cut up the lyrics of a song into slips of paper and, before listening to the song, give students a chance to try and put it in order. Listen to the song to check

–       Find and replace the incorrect words: ‘Make mistakes’ in the lyrics of a song and tell students they have to find them as they listen to the song, and substitute the incorrect words for those actually sung.

–       Create alternative chorus / lyrics / add verses: We can ask students to write an alternative chorus for a song and then sing it to the original melody! They can simply think of one or two verses which can be added to the original song as well (E.g. In the song Ironic, by Alanis Morissette, they can try and think of two more ironic ideas which could be added to the song – so their new ideas should rhyme and fit the original melody as well.)

–       Warm-up activities:

  • Words on the board: Write several words (maybe all the content words) from a song’s lyrics all over the board. Divide students into two groups and have them choose a group ‘secretary’. Give them one minute to look at the words on the board and try to memorize them. Tell them that as they listen to the song, the group secretaries must circle the words as they’re sung (others in the group can help by pointing the words). Pause the song every minute or so for a change of  ‘secretaries’. The winner is the group which has circled most words by the end of the song. (It’s important the song is not very repetitive for you to make the most of this activity. I suggest, for example, Garth Brooks’s Standing Outside the Fire or Jason Mraz’s Lucky. For more basic levels, also Louis Armstrong’s or Ramones’ What a Wonderful World)
  • Hello, GoodbyeTo this day, still my favorite warm-up activity ever. Divide students into group 1 and 2. Students in group 1 should stand up or sit down every time they hear the words yes, stop, goodbye, high and why; group 2 should do the same when they hear the words no, go, hello, low and I don’t know. Play The Beatles’ Hello, Goodbye and have fun!

–       Bingo: Board 15 to 20 words from a song on the board and give students bingo charts. Have them choose 9 (or 6) words and fill their charts with them. Play the song and the winner is the student who first crosses out all words from his/her chart and shouts bingo!

–       Words stuck on the wall: Similarly to words on the board above, get all the content words from a song and write them on slips of paper. Stick these slips on the four walls of the classroom. As students listen to the song, they must run around the class collecting as many words as they can, the winner being the student with most words by the end of the song.

–       Karaoke: Honestly, this is the only activity here I haven’t tried in my classes, but being a fan of karaoke myself – and having several friends who won’t pass up a chance of making complete fools of themselves by singing Eternal Flame at the top of their lungs in karaoke bars – I’m sure end-of-semester and Secret Santa festivities would be positively affected by a karaoke competition!

That’s it for now then! Next month I’ll write about using video activities in the classroom, so stay tuned!

Please send me a few ideas of music activities you have used in your classes successfully and I’ll share them all on my blog for teachers all over to use them. Please send along with the activities your name and email address so that people can get in touch with you. Finally, I’ll also be posting some of the song activities I’ve devised over the years on my blog in the next few weeks, so feel free to download those as well.

Enjoy the remaining days of your vacation and have a brilliant second semester! Cheers!

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