Archive for Tag: songs

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Singing the Way to Paraphrasing Success

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels

ARGH! Summarizing!

Students rarely find anything more difficult to do. There are just so many steps and potential pitfalls. First students have to understand the primary text. Then, they have to identify the key points. Finally, in order to avoid copying, they have to use synonyms to restate the main points and shift those words around to form grammatical constructions that differ from the original. Any one of these steps is difficult on its own. Doing them all together is enough to make even the coolest secondary school student break into a sweat.

Right now, some of my students at the British School of Brussels are studying for the IGCSE E2L exam, which they will take next year. One of the sections of the test is a summarizing component in which the students must read and summarize an academic passage. The students struggle with this part of the exam more than the other readings and writings they have to do. Having the vocabulary to understand and restate the key ideas from the passage is a huge challenge for them. But, more than anything, they have trouble transforming the structure of the original sentences.

Grammatical Cartwheels

Summarizing demands a high level of grammar flexibility that challenges even advanced students. For instance, they need to be able to make passive sentences into active sentences and vice versa. They also need to have a range of options from which they can pull alternatives to the classic “if … then” conditional structure. In order to reach this level of flexibility, students need repeated practice with the target structures. That’s why we do gap fills and all those other grammar activities in Azar’s books. However, after a certain number of traditional grammar exercises, my secondary students’ eyes tend to glaze over. When they are beginning to get that fidgety look, I open YouTube and rev things up with a music video.

Let Her Go

The key to making this work is to find a song that has a lot of the grammar structure you are targeting in the lyrics. For example, when we are covering paraphrasing the conditional, I like to play Passenger’s “Let Her Go.” Ideally, I find one of those unofficial music videos that shows the lyrics as the song plays, or, if I am especially organized and forward thinking, I print off a copy of the lyrics for each student. Basically, after reviewing the possible words that express conditions (provided that, unless, otherwise, or else, etc.), I play the song and pause it after each phrase. Either as a class, or individually, I have students come up with alternative ways of expressing the same message. For instance, when the lyrics say, “Well, you only need the light when it is burning low.” the students paraphrase with something like, “If the light is burning low, then you need it.” or “You don’t need the light unless it is burning low.” The students enjoy the challenge and, of course, they love listening to the music.

Some Other Songs

Here are some my favorite suggestions for songs that help students change grammatical structures without losing the meaning when paraphrasing:

  • “Let Her Go” – Passenger (conditional)
  • “If I Were a Boy” – Beyonce (conditional)
  • “Moves Like Jagger” – Maroon 5 (conditional)
  • “Parents Just Don’t Understand” – DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (reported speech)
  • “Blow Me One Last Kiss” – Pink (the subjunctive)

I would love to hear what works for you!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Singing the Way to Pronunciation Success!

By Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, SHAPE Language Center, Belgium

Last week I talked about some ways I incorporate songs into my Conversation classes. I’ve also had great success with bringing music into my Pronunciation lessons. Singing and Pronunciation are just a perfect fit. At no time is my French /r/ sound more perfect than when I am singing along with my recording of Edith Pilaf’s “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.”

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Singing the Way to Conversation Success!

By Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, SHAPE Language Center, Belgium

So, there I was, tearing through the streets of Brussels, chatting away with my taxi driver in my halting French. He was telling me (if I understood correctly) that he had family in Quebec, and I wanted to tell him that even though I am from Canada, I have never been to Quebec. As I was trying to cobble together a grammatically correct negative, the lyrics from a French song suddenly popped into my head. Non, je ne regrette rien. Thanks to French songstress Edith Pilaf, I got my negative right! Je n’ai jamais visite Quebec. As a teacher, I have been using music in my English classes for a while, but this was the first time I had a personal experience that backed up my hunch that singing is a great language learning tool.

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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, 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!