The Motivating Magic of Songs in the EFL Classroom
Motivating Magic of Songs
in the EFL Classroom
Gary Joe Wolff
Key words: Songs,
motivation, EFL, lyrics, reductions
Learner English level:
High beginner and above
High school and above
Activity time: 30-40
song, audio source for song, lyrics, music video (if available),
(optional), tablet PC karaoke application (optional )
The link between music and language
acquisition has been
established by scholars across many academic fields. It is also clear
Japanese students are motivated to learn English through listening to
English-language songs, so it is no big surprise that EFL professionals
long made good use of music in their classrooms. Whether improving
or helping them learn new vocabulary, grammar, idioms, or colloquial
the pedagogical options for using music in the classroom are limitless.
Step 1: Choose easy, short
(less than 4 minutes), well-known songs. Ballads and movie themes work
but make sure they are singable and not too difficult. As much as
students love listening to “A Whole New World,”
it is almost impossible for them to sing along.
Step 2: Print
out the lyrics which you can get online, from the CD jacket, a
textbook, etc. I really like Songlyrics.com, which probably has every
on the planet, plus features a pop-up audio player allowing you to
the song while you sing (or read).
Step 3: Make a
gap-fill (cloze) exercise with the
song lyrics. In some textbooks,
there is a cloze exercise already provided for each song (see
Appendix below). For some songs, the first
letter of the words is given to assist lower-level students.
Step 4: In
the previous class, assign the song from the class webpage as homework
and ask students
to become familiar with at least the lyrics and tune beforehand.
Step 1: Briefly
artist’s background and history of the song.
Step 2: Play
the song and ask students to listen only for the emotions and mood they
maximize the emotive impact, I ask them to close their eyes and try not
listen to the lyrics yet, but instead focus on the melody, instruments,
Step 3: Project
the gap-fill (cloze) exercise
onto a screen or onto student monitors and
then ask students to write down the missing words as you play the song
Step 4: Show
the missing words and ask students to check their answers.
Briefly discuss the meaning of the lyrics and any difficult vocabulary
idioms, and explain reduced forms, or reductions, such as gonna, wanna, doncha,
and whaddaya, common in English songs.
Step 6: Read the
lyrics out loud, pausing at the end of each line, and ask the students
after you in choral response. This is a good time to emphasize correct
especially stress patterns, and focus on any words difficult to
Step 7: Everyone
sings the song! Encourage students as much as possible to try and match
singer’s tempo, rhythm, and intonation. Since not everyone is
about singing, for those students who are not, I ask them to simply
words as the rest of us sing.
students to sing the English songs we have learned in class the next
sing karaoke with their family or friends.
Although more complex lesson plans can
activities like dictation, sequencing lyric strips, musical bingo, and
lyrics rewriting, I have found that by keeping the musical lessons
fun, students will eagerly look forward to learning through music. I
observed that fun music lessons can also have a spill-over effect of
student interest in other classroom activities and their motivation for
learning English in general, with the side benefit of helping them
learn about foreign
culture as well.
Cloze exercise for first stanza of Your Song by Elton John:
It's a little bit (1)f_____, this
(2)I____ not one of those who can easily hide
I don't have much (3)m______, but boy if I did
I'd buy a big (4)h_____ where we both could live
Campbell, J. (2013). Using
Google to motivate and teach via English songs. The Language
Kumai, N., & Timson, S. (2010). Hit parade listening (3rd
edition). Tokyo: MacMillan Language House, Ltd.
Lieb, M. (2005).
Popular music and its role in the EFL classroom, Proceedings of the
Annual KOTESOL International Conference, Seoul, Korea, October 15-16,
2005, pp. 91-98.
is a former registered professional
transportation engineer who has worked in Japan since 1991 and taught
both undergraduate and graduate engineering and science students in his
university’s School of Science and Technology for the past 21 years.
His interests include the latest technological advances in online
student forums, student motivation, computer-assisted language learning
(CALL) methods, and
fostering global awareness among his students. In
his free time, Gary enjoys mountain climbing and has scaled all of the 25 highest mountains in Japan.
[This article was written in Jan. 2014 and appeared in
the "My Share" section of the Jan./Feb. 2015 issue of The Language Teacher, published
Japan Association for
Language Teaching (JALT).]