Christopher Walklett
PHOTO: Oda Hveem | Christopher Walklett is a lecturer at the University of Essex, UK. His speciality field is that of song lyrics and their relation to changing lives and circumstances in the UK and elsewhere. He was invited to the Aschehougs Conference for English teachers in Oslo in early March 2019. In his presentation he pointed out how song lyrics can be used for teaching purposes in the classroom.

The Use of Song Lyrics in the Classroom

For some reason, the use of songs, song lyrics and music in the classroom has slipped off people’s radars. This is a real shame when they have all the ingredients that are required to be a multi-purpose teaching resource: they are fun, motivational, authentic, full of culture and often conveniently short. Crucially they can be used to practice every language skill that can be imagined with a whole range of levels and ages of students.

The theory behind this resource’s use will be considered as will the potential pitfalls that producers of materials based on songs and song lyrics often fall into. The content should enable practitioners to embark on a host of ideas to enhance the use of this resource using a variety of specific examples including some songs found in Aschehoug’s Stages series.

Ideas put forward and given as handouts aim to re-energise the use of this resource for both beginners and experienced teachers alike.

Some useful handouts – from Aschehoug’s Stages series

Lyrics on page 47/48 in Stages 9 textbook.

Lyrics on page 88 in Stages 10 textbook.

Lyrics as a Springboard for Presentations

Presentations are increasingly prevalent nowadays on all types of courses but there is seldom much in the way of autonomy. This activity allows students to present on something personal to them – i.e. their own taste in music. However it is a requirement that they focus on elements within the song to justify their selection e.g. a particular vocabulary area, a theme, some features of pronunciation, rhyme etc. rather than just talk about the singer and why they love the song the latter of which is often difficult to verbalize and maybe not that interesting to others.  

Caveats and options
Obviously the students in the classroom would need an interest in music and songs for this to be an applicable activity. With the vast majority of students and nationalities this is very much the case, although it should be remembered that people from some cultures and religions have resistance to music which would then render such an activity inapplicable. It does require the student to spend some time thinking about which song they would like to do and what they would like to do with it.

If handled in too free a way this activity could just become one where they talk about their favourite song (which if left to them might be down to sound, who it is, or ‘coolness’) this is where the instructions printed above become of the utmost importance. The idea then that they comment on part of it becomes vital. Additionally, for lower level or younger students the concept can be a difficult one that they will need considerable guidance with. However it is rewarding and when they present it may well give them a sense of real achievement. It is though without doubt a very rewarding activity with higher levels.

Effectively any level, as the students pick the input materials.

Aims of Lesson: (For presenters)

  • To give speaking and pronunciation practice
  • To develop research skills
  • To participate in discussion

Aims of Lesson: (For audience members)

  • Listening and note-taking practice
  • To ask questions and participate in discussion

Preparation time: Varied; preparation and tutorial time.

Class time: Presentation time 3-15 minutes per presenter depending on level.

Resources needed: Computer, projection and internet access.

‘Instructions’ given out. (See Appendix below). Students were told to choose to either:

  • Discuss the vocabulary in the song e.g. the slang or idiomatic language or whatever else they thought was worth discussing.
  • Comment on the poetic nature of the song, for example the rhyme scheme, or the pronunciation/phonetic elements therein.
  • Talk about the theme of the song, the song’s meaning, or indeed its ambiguity.
  • The students were asked to think about what they would like the audience to take away from their presentation.
  • Brief tutorials were held with the students prior to presenting in order to establish what elements in the song they were going to focus on. They were encouraged to analyze in depth rather than go for breadth. and not present on anything biographical for example. This lends the presentation more of an academic quality.
  • Students present and/or listen to others do so. A question and answer and discussion session follows each presentation.

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  • This was the handout/instructions I gave the students:
    I would like to do a short presentation project with you, based on a song and particularly its lyrics. 
  • ‘I would like you to pick some lines (lyrics) from a song (in English) and present these to the class in order to discuss some specific language area/s within the chosen song.’ 
  • ‘I will give you Feedback afterwards.’
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