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Tech Tasks: Music videos for digital storytelling

Level: Intermediate, Upper intermediate, Advanced Type: Article, General lesson plan Print material

In the latest instalment of the Tech Tasks series, Tom Walton looks at music videos as an educational resource, exploring how they can be used to help students develop their listening and speaking skills both inside and outside the classroom.

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One activity that virtually all language teachers try with their classes these days is to ‘do’ songs, often using YouTube. The classic activity is to ‘fill in the gaps’ in the lyrics. However, storytelling with the songs can get your learners much more engaged and provide many more opportunities for more meaningful interaction.

In one of my previous articles, we looked at creative writing projects. A suggestion there was to use the kind of YouTube music videos that seem to tell a story (see example below) and get your students to collaborate on telling that story. This article looks at that type of lesson in greater detail.

I suggest the following as either a speaking activity or a writing project, with the learners collaborating in pairs or small groups to create their own digital version of the story.

Lesson plan information

AGE: Any age above 16 (but make sure the music video you choose is suitable for the age of your students).

LEVEL: To get the most out of an activity like this a minimum B1 level is recommended, and the same activity could be used all the way up to C2. At that level, it is important to have a lot of spoken group work in class. It can be done at lower levels, but in that scenario I prefer whole class discussion, as you can provide language the students don’t have, as and when required.

TIME: 45–60 minutes in class, with the story to be finished and published outside class-time.

AIM: This is a fluency activity in which the students talk about what they’re seeing (or think they’re seeing!). The success of the activity depends on the students’ reaction to and interpretation of the story; it’s very learner-centred, so it’s probably best not to have a preset language agenda.

Note that this lesson is not really a listening comprehension activity (although they are getting some listening practice). I like to think of it as ‘watching comprehension’, which is much more interesting! We’re also using the video as a storytelling prompt and don’t have a lot of time for worrying about every word of the lyrics.

LANGUAGE FOCUS: As with your aim, your language focus is really going to be a reactive rather than a prescriptive one. What language comes up? Focus on that!

TOOLS REQUIRED:

  • A suitable song video (see also ‘Picking a great song’, below). The lesson below is written with ‘Hard Knocks’ by NYPC in mind, but you can easily adapt it to any song.
  • A copy of the lyrics.
  • For the collaborative writing stage, shared Google Drive documents are wonderful: https://support.google.com/drive/?hl=en#topic=14940
  • For sharing the finished stories, I’ve previously recommended Edmodo: https://www.edmodo.com/ or a private Google+ Community: https://support.google.com/plus/answer/2872671?hl=en. You could instead print the stories and share them on your classroom walls, but you then miss out on the ‘commenting’ stage, which is both productive and fun.
  • If you prefer a speaking activity to writing, the Spreaker Studio app is brilliant – free and really easy to use, and a Spreaker account gives you ’cloud’ storage space for the recordings your students make: https://www.spreaker.com/download

How to teach the lesson

NYPC – Hard Knocks from laurie lynch on Vimeo.

A great music video with a twist at the end!

Before watching

  • Before class, capture a number of important images from the video (using the camera tool on an interactive whiteboard). When class starts, show these images to your students, then ask them to predict what the story is going to be about. I prefer to keep this stage short or sometimes not have it at all (so as not to spoil the surprise of what’s coming), but it can be useful for pre-teaching certain vocabulary with lower level classes. 
  • Divide your learners into pairs. They’re going to watch together and, eventually, produce their digital version of the story together.

While watching

  • Watch the first 90 seconds only (to 1’30”). While the video is playing – but with the music turned down so as to be only just audible – ask students to discuss, in pairs, the age of the two people; their characters; their relationship; and whether or not the girl likes the boy. Optionally, you can have one learner not watch, while the other provides a running commentary. When the 90 seconds are up, pause the video.
  • Have the students discuss their answers to the above, either (a) in pairs; or (b) with two pairs pyramided together; or (c) as whole class discussion. Do they agree? At this and all subsequent stages, provide help with any language your learners don’t have (that’s your language focus!)
  • Watch the next 90 seconds (to 3’00”) with the audio turned up for comfortable listening. Then stop and discuss (a) anything they want to add to/change about what they’ve said so far; (b) the lyrics (how much have they understood?); and (c) how they think the story will end.
  • Watch to 3’35” and then stop. How do they think it will end now?
  • Watch to 4’00” and stop again. What happened?
  • Watch to the end. What exactly happens? Do they like the ending?

After watching

  • In the case of this particular song, I’d suggest in fact spending very little time attempting to exploit the language in the lyrics (they’re quite hard, quite repetitive and perhaps not really very language rich). You could consider a second watching, with a copy of the lyrics to hand, and compare and contrast the video, the lyrics and what different people in the class think is happening/what the story is about.
  • In their pairs/groups, learners should then devote any remaining time to starting to produce a draft version of their story. In class, I like them to talk and use pen and paper for notes, rather than turning straight to technology.
  • I want my students to leave class with (1) lots of ideas and (2) the vocabulary to express those ideas.

Before the next class

  • Turn the notes into a finished version of the story, one version between each pair (alternatively, one version between four people). It doesn’t have to be the same story as in the video – they can make any changes they wish to make! What they must do is recycle at least some of the new vocabulary that has emerged during the time spent in class.
  • EITHER, for a written version of the story, you need a shared Google Drive document created by each pair/group and shared both with you, the teacher, and the rest of the class (Edmodo or a Google+ Community both make that very easy). The students can collaborate in real time in the document, although collaboration can also be asynchronous.
  • OR, for a spoken version of the story, a Google Drive document can still be used, but rather than producing a text version of the story, learners should make an audio version. As noted above, Spreaker Studio is a great way to produce that. Best results come from the students telling the story (they can use notes as prompts), rather than reading from a script.

Optional extras

  • Providing the first line of the story can be a great help to get the learners started writing. Here, ‘Neither of us imagined when we met that 50 years later we would still be together…’ works well, but you should allow people to change that if they wish.
  • If there is time, it’s good to have some peer review of the different stories, and it’s a great way to exploit the ‘comments’ feature of tools like Edmodo. Students often find that commenting on the draft (unfinished) version of the stories being written by their peers is both productive and enjoyable. What do they like/not like? What would they change or add?
  • Having students nominate prize winners (Best Story, Scariest Story, etc) is another way to generate lots of comments and also gets everyone to read everyone else’s story.

Correction

Picking a great song

Whether or not the activity works depends to a considerable extent on finding the right video. From most to least important, you want:

  1. A video in which there’s a visually strong story (i.e. can you ‘see’ the story if you watch the video without the lyrics?) (vital)
  2. A video story that is open to different interpretations (very important), and it’s great if it has a twist at the end (not essential)
  3. A song which the learners are going to say afterwards that they liked (important!)
  4. A song which has linguistically interesting lyrics (provided you have 1. and 2., desirable but not essential)

What we want is for the learners to be able to watch and tell the story that they are seeing on the screen. If they disagree over what is happening in the story, that’s perfect, because disagreement will lead to discussion and use of language.

Things to note

Make sure there’s nothing in either the lyrics or the video that is unsuitable for your learners. Some of my own favourites (see below), for example, touch on subjects that might not be suitable for all ages and cultures.

By all means ask your students to suggest other songs you could work with in class, but note that many commercial music videos they like won’t necessarily work as storytelling prompts (and may contain explicit lyrics or images that are unsuitable for the classroom).

If you (or your students!) can think of other music videos that would work as storytelling prompts, do share them in the comments!

See also

Tech Tasks for Teachers: Creative writing with Edmodo http://www.onestopenglish.com/methodology/tech-tasks-for-the-class/creative-writing-with-edmodo/

Tech Tasks for Teachers: Learners as editors with Google+ Communities http://www.onestopenglish.com/methodology/tech-tasks-for-the-class/learners-as-editors-with-google-communities/

More creative writing (aka digital storytelling) ideas http://blogs.ihes.com/tech-elt/?cat=40

Six generic activities with YouTube clips http://blogs.ihes.com/tech-elt/?p=4385

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