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An Idea for Using Songs in the EFL/ESL Classrooms

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    KEY WORDS -- Using Songs in the Classroom
    LEARNER ENGLISH LEVEL -- High beginner and above.
    LEARNER MATURITY LEVEL -- High school and above.
    PREPARATION TIME -- One hour to rewrite a song to fit your class.
    ACTIVITY TIME -- 90 minute lesson, depending on level and how many details or variations are included.

    Using music in your ESL/EFL classroom is a great way to motivate students and generate enthusiasm for what they are learning. In this activity, students learn about US American culture through a song. They develop their vocabulary through practicing and singing the original song. Students then personalize their learning as they write and share their own simple lyrics to the same tune. Through this lesson, students will have fun learning through music.

    For this activity, I selected the song •This Land is My Land• (Note: Any song will work for this lesson.) I used only the first verse which is short and easy to learn. The song is a good level for beginners as it does not have too many high level vocabulary words. Here are the lyrics and guitar chords for the song.

    This land is your land,
    This land is my land,
    From California
    To the New York Island,
    From the redwood forest,
    To the Gulf stream waters,
    This land was made for you and me

    PART ONE- Eliciting background knowledge
    The first part of the lesson is designed to generate vocabulary and work with what students know relevant to the song's topic. Ask students to share where they all come from. Students then talk in pairs to describe the neighborhoods/areas where they live now or in their home country

    PART TWO- Introduce the song
    This part of the lesson introduces the students to the tune and the lyrics. Prepare a copy of the lyrics for students to listen and follow along as you play the song. Play it a few times until students can get the tune and feel
    comfortable singing it or mouthing it on their own.

    Higher level students can do a cloze while they listen and fill in the gaps in the lyrics with the words on the blackboard.

    Have the lyrics in single strips. While they listen to the song, students work in pairs or groups to put the lyrics in order.

    PART THREE- Vocabulary Check
    With •This land is Your Land•, students do a jigsaw and teach each other where California, New York Island, Redwood Forest, and Gulf Stream Waters are. After they know where these locations are, students try to come up with the meaning of the song in their own words and share it with their group. The teacher can share his/her own meaning of the song to the class.

    You can also create a vocabulary/definition matching sheet where students try to guess the meanings of new vocabulary words through the context of the lyrics.

    Assign students to be an expert on one of the vocabulary words. Students find out the meaning of their word in the dictionary and prepare to explain it in their own words to a partner. They then teach each others their words, giving the meaning in their own words, an example sentence, point out where it is in the lyrics of the song, etc.

    Students can draw pictures/images of the meaning of the songs and present it to the class.

    PART FOUR- Sing the song together
    Once the students know the meaning of the lyrics, they can work on pronunciation and rhythm through signing the song together with their classmates. Teachers can add a kinesthetic element by asking them create a set of matching gestures to go along with the song lyrics while they sing.

    PART FIVE-Write your own song!
    This is the fun part of the lesson where students create their own lyrics and personalize the song. For my beginning level students, I gave them a template of the new lyrics where they could fill in the gaps with their own information and be creative with the language. Here are the new lyrics for •This land is your land•

    This is our classroom
    We are learning English
    My name is •Morris•
    I live in •Brattleboro•
    I like •to play tennis•
    •I enjoy teaching English•
    This class was made for you and me.

    Where a word is in quotations, students fill in their own information. The next to the last sentence, students come up with a full sentence of their own. Depending on the level of the students, you can grade the task by having the students write more or fewer lines/verses with guiding questions or fewer prompts. At the end of the lesson, students can present their songs in pairs or groups by singing their lyrics. If a student is shy to sing, I ask permission to sing their lyrics to the class myself. At the very end, you can let your students know that now they are •SONG WRITERS in English•!

    This lesson structure can be plugged into any song that you want to use in the classroom. This lesson personalizes the song at the end by having students write their own lyrics. I have found that personalizing the song allows students to be creative with English, share information about themselves and learn about their classmates.

    I adapted this lesson from Lisa Varandani's community/team building activity, which was presented at Tokyo Jogakkan Junior College/SIT project in 1999 in Tokyo, Japan.


    Morris Kimura is a 1997 graduate of the Master of Arts in Teaching Program at the School for International Training (SIT). He recently returned to the US after teaching for four years in the SIT Intensive English Program at Tokyo Jogakkan Women's Junior College in Japan.

By Morris Kimura

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