Monday, May 4, 2009

Teaching Grammar with Songs

By Maria Spelleri
Instructor, Department of Language and Literature
Manatee Community College, Florida, USA

What better way to liven up a grammar class than with a little music?

Instructors new to the idea of using songs as a teaching tool may be reluctant, as I once was, because they worry that some of their older, more “serious” students (usually found in an IEP or college program) will perceive songs as trivial, a waste of time and money. But we can successfully use songs with these adult students as long as we have specific lesson objectives and convey that songs are simply another source of authentic language input.

There may also be evidence, which will delight even the dour rocket scientist in your class, that language learned in songs is more readily retained and memorable. (Think about how we sing our ABC’s.) Finally, I’ve found a great way to ease into songs with my adult students is to inform the students that the song is a grammar lesson disguised as a break. (“You’ve been working really hard this week, so listen, enjoy…..and learn.”)

While there are many ways to use songs in language learning in general, many grammar instructors use song lyrics as sources of authentic language models of specific grammar points. Searching for lyrics that utilize the structure being taught is a time-consuming process, but luckily there are already some linked grammar/song sources available.

There are seven different songs lessons for low level grammar structures, nine intermediate lessons, and ten more advanced structure lessons right here on the Azar Grammar site in the collection of classroom materials. These lessons involve completing cloze exercises, sequencing, completing charts, analyzing and discussing grammar usage alternatives and meaning, listening for specific words and structures, using lyrics as a model for spoken and written production, and other activities.

Lyrics can be found at any one of many sites, like SongLyrics.com, but be sure to check the lyrics with the version of the song you are using because of slight variations in live vs. studio recordings and errors in lyrics transcribing. I frequently use YouTube as a free source of many songs, and the video is sometimes a stimulating source of discussion as well.

As you listen to the radio or when you pop in a cd at home, listen to songs with an ear for grammar and you’ll likely stumble across a song that you can use for a future lesson — just don’t forget to jot it down! If you are “always” searching, you’ll save a lot of time, as opposed to pouring over song lyrics searching for a specific structure the day before you plan on teaching it! The songs on this website provide an excellent jump start to your own collection as well as offering some activity ideas that can be reused on any song you come across. Have fun!

Comments

Comment from Ela Newman
May 4, 2009 at 3:23 pm

Maria,

You are absolutely right about the “power of songs.” It is interesting to watch even the most timid or the “coolest” students as they are drawn into the listening (and singing) of songs even if those come from their “grandparents’ era.” The blog reminded me of using poetry in a language classroom. Students enjoy reading literature “in original.”

Comment from Rachel
May 10, 2009 at 12:15 pm

Right, the power of songs! Here’s a good example.

My exercise class has about 12 participants. Of these, half are Spanish-speakers, and the instructor speaks very little English; he speaks Spanish.

The instructor is also a DJ and knows which music is appropriate for our slow exercises and which for our fast ones. The best thing about this is that all the songs are in Spanish!

Now my Spanish vocabulary is increasing, and I am sure I will always remember the words and the idioms that go with the songs, which go with the exercises.

This is not a Spanish class, but learning more Spanish in it is a wonderful extra for me.

Comment from Mark Pennington
July 5, 2009 at 4:34 pm

I love teaching songs. May I share my Parts of Speech Rap? It's an MP3, ready to make you move… http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/the-parts-of-speech-rap/

Comment from gregflets
January 5, 2012 at 7:30 pm

hi there im a little late but just back off holls, hope yous had a nice xmas and new year
greg f

Pingback from Teacher Talk » Singing the Way to Conversation Success!
November 1, 2013 at 11:50 am

[...] months ago another contributor to this site, Maria Spelleri, wrote an excellent blog about using songs to teach grammar. She highlighted our very own AzarGrammar.com’s Song Lessons, which suggests songs for [...]

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