Songs are a popular resource with teachers and learners alike – but, when it comes to exploiting them in class, why on earth does it always seem to be gap-fills? Here are a few alternative ideas.

Photo of a teacher preparing a class, ideally with a laptop and a headset.

Source: YinYang, Getty Images

  1. This is my story 

    Before class, prepare to tell the story of a song as if it happened to you. Make it as interesting as you can by exaggerating your intonation, gestures and facial expressions a little. Add in one or two small differences from the recorded version. In class, perform your story then play the song and see if students can spot any differences.

  2. I like it because …

    Bring in a song you really enjoy. Prepare a 1-2 minute explanation about what you like about the lyrics and music. In class try to convey your feelings and enthusiasm rather than giving a speech then play the song (and hand out the lyrics if you think it helps). Get some feedback from students. Do they agree with you? Often students have very different tastes to their teachers! Feel free to argue with them. Stand your ground. And for homework …

  3. But we like this!

    … ask one or two students to bring in one of their favourite English language songs. Ask them to prepare notes so that they can talk about it in class, and also, if possible, to provide lyrics (from the CD sleeve or off the internet). In class invite them to talk (as you did) about why they like the music. If this goes well, other students can follow in future lessons.

  4. I don’t love you anymore

    Choose a song with lots of good language chunks i.e. phrases that people might say to each other, if possible with strong emotions (love, anger, surprise etc). In class, draw stick figures on the board with speech balloons coming out of their mouths. Write a selection of the phrases in the balloons. Make sure students understand them. Get students practising saying them – with appropriate emotion and intonation – first in pairs, then students walking and mingling, meeting people randomly and saying only these phrases to each other. Afterwards let students hear the song and see how the phrases are used and how they are said.

  5. Silent songs

    Choose a pop video - one which the students probably won’t know and where the pictures reflect the lyrics to some degree. In class, play it without sound and ask students to predict words and phrases from the song. Replay the video with sound so that students can check if they were correct.

  6. Quick ideas

    Cut up and mix up printed lines of a song lyric. Ask students to (a) predict the order (b) listen and re-order. Dictate about 10-15 key words and phrases from the song. Students must discuss and guess what the song is about. Give students all the rhymes from a song, but in a mixed-up order. Listen to the song and place them in order.