Archive for Tag: Sandra Heyer

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Teaching Grammar with Pop Songs: Ain’t No Reason Not To

heyer_picBy Sandra Heyer
ESL Teacher and Author of the textbooks True Stories Behind the Songs and More True Stories Behind the Songs
Songs and Activities for English Language Learners

Many teachers of grammar are reluctant to bring popular songs into the classroom, with good reason. Incorrect grammar is so rampant in popular music that one SAT prep guide actually has a section that gives test takers lines from pop songs and asks them to identify the grammatical mistakes. If you listen to popular music, maybe you’ve heard these lines in recent hit songs: “My mama don’t like you” (Justin Bieber); “You and me can make it anywhere” (Charlie Puth); and “It don’t matter” (Adele).

While there’s a lot that’s grammatically wrong in pop song lyrics, there’s a lot that’s grammatically right, too. Yes, Justin Bieber tells his ex, “My mama don’t like you,” but he also tells her, “You should go and love yourself.” Thank you for that reflexive pronoun, Justin! Charlie Puth assures a woman, “You and me can make it anywhere” and then vows, “I’ll be there to save the day.” Thank you, Charlie, for using the future tense with will to make a promise! And before she sings “It don’t matter,” Adele, bless her, sings, “I’m sorry for breaking your heart”—a perfect example of using a gerund as the object of a preposition.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Value of a Multi-Generational Teaching Staff

heyer_picBy Sandra Heyer
ESL Teacher and Author of the textbooks True Stories Behind the Songs and More True Stories Behind the Songs
Songs and Activities for English Language Learners

When I walked into the classroom of my 24-year-old colleague, a popular song was softly playing – but the music didn’t seem to have anything to do with the lesson. The students were hunched over their desks, filling out a worksheet on irregular past tense verbs. When I looked at my colleague quizzically, she explained, “I play music when they do worksheets – otherwise it’s too quiet in here.”

“Really?” I thought. A quiet classroom would be undesirable during, say, a class discussion. But is a quiet classroom always undesirable? I grew up in an era where music and TV were not life’s constant backdrop, so the song in the background struck me as distracting. But when I looked at her students, all adults in their 20s and 30s, I couldn’t deny that they looked focused, yet relaxed. Perhaps they, like my younger colleague, were more comfortable in settings that were not “too quiet.”

I teach in a small community-based Adult ESL program with a multi-generational staff. Two teachers are in their 20s, one is in his 40s, and I am in my 60s. I think both students and teachers benefit from this range of ages: Younger teachers tend to bring fresh approaches that are particularly effective with students close to their age, and older teachers tend to bring insights that come with experience.

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

“We Shall Overcome” – A Song Activity

heyer_picBy Sandra Heyer
ESL Teacher and Author of the textbooks True Stories Behind the Songs and More True Stories Behind the Songs
Songs and Activities for English Language Learners

In recent interviews, iconic American singer Tony Bennett has been critical of today’s songs for not having “lasting quality.” He might be right; only time will tell. I admit I have brought flash-in-the-pan songs into my classroom, knowing full well that they will probably not hold up well over time. But if, like Tony Bennett, I am still practicing my craft at age 88(!), there is one song I’m quite certain I will continue to share with students. That song is “We Shall Overcome.”

“We Shall Overcome” is a chameleon of a song. It was perhaps originally a folk work song, then a hymn, then a protest song during the tobacco workers’ strike in South Carolina in 1945, and finally the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. The song is sung around the world during times of political turmoil, sometimes in English and sometimes in translation. For example, hundreds of thousands of people sang it in Prague during the weeks of the Velvet Revolution in 1989, and it was an anthem of the apartheid movement in South Africa.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Singing in the Classroom — When Less is More

heyer_picBy Sandra Heyer
ESL Teacher and Author of the textbooks True Stories Behind the Songs and More True Stories Behind the Songs
Songs and Activities for English Language Learners

Not long ago, I was flipping through radio stations in my car when I came across an oldies station playing “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” the song that accompanied the iconic scene in the 1969 movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I began to sing along, a little surprised that I knew the words. But the bigger surprise was that I wasn’t singing in English — I was singing in German. Ach, du lieber Himmel! Where did that come from? I had probably memorized the lyrics when I was teaching German in the early 1970s. There they were, pretty much intact, over four decades later.

Language learners and teachers know that singing popular songs in the target language and memorizing their lyrics can be a powerful learning technique. However, if you teach beginners, as I do, your attempts at having students sing along with recordings may have had mixed results. For the activity to work, the planets have to be perfectly aligned: The song’s lyrics have to be simple, the tempo not too fast, the rhythm predictable, and the melody universally appealing. That’s a pretty tall order.

After several disappointing experiences with sing-alongs in my beginning class, I had pretty much abandoned the activity. Then came the “Ah ha!” moment —

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