The use of music and songs in the EFL-classroom

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2006

26 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of contents

1. Introduction – Some general statements

2. The importance of the right song selection
2.1. My suggestions for a thematic sequence
(a) Phil Collins »Another day in Paradise«, Ralph McTell »Streets
of London«
(b) Tracy Chapman »Fast Car« and Elvis Presley »In the
(c) Cat Stevens »New York Times« and Bob Dylan »Like a rolling
2.2. Other appropriate songs for the classroom

3. Exercises according to songs in the classroom
3.1. Pre-listening activities
3.2. While-listening activities
3.3. Post-listening activities

4. Summary

5. Appendix.

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction – Some general statements

I think that every teacher of a foreign language should provide various strategies of learning for the pupils. It is the teacher’s task to combine the different approaches of learning in order to make learning less complicated and more pleasant for the learners. In my eyes, learning with songs and music, seems to be a successful method of learning English. Music plays an important role in the life of almost every person. We are surrounded by music all day long – while shopping in the super market, while eating in a restaurant, even in the bathroom. Especially young people love music, but they do not only consider a song ‘cool’ when they like the artist, the melody or the sound of this piece of music. Nearly as important as that is the fact that the song conveys a particular message. In most cases, young people always identify themselves with the content of the song, mainly when it touches a topic the pupil is very interested in or something the young person is about to go through (e.g. being lovesick or having problems with the social environment…). That means that young people have to concern with the lyrics of the song. This can be seen as a voluntary occupation with language. And as long as this song is written in a language which is taught at school, every future teacher should catch this opportunity and make use of music and songs in the classroom. Music and songs provide quite a lot of material, which can be used for learners of English as a foreign language. There are quite a lot of positive sides of learning English via the medium music. First of all it is a very positive way of learning English. Music is a part of our everyday life and especially young people are very familiar with music. If the teacher provides the possibility of a positive access to a new topic, the kids will learn the new things easier and with more fun and readiness. I am sure that the one or the other pupil turns out to be a little “music-expert”. This can strengthen the self-consciousness of students who are not so good at other areas because now they have the opportunity to show what they know about a special artist or band. Another pro of teaching language by using songs and music is that it is something different for the students – it is an alternation to the common methods of language learning, because it is not only interested in input. Learning with music speaks more than other language-learning-methods to the audio-channel of the learner, which has the positive effect of training listening and comprehending language which is modified in terms of intonation, pronunciation and articulation. Music in the classroom can also be arranged in corporation with teachers of other subjects, so that kids have the opportunity to use and practise the new knowledge in more than one subject. Teachers of English could not only work together with teachers of music, but also with teachers of German, religion, ethics and history. There is a variety of different thematic blocks which can be taught with the help of songs, for example cultural or social studies, to name only two areas.

However, using music and songs as a method of language teaching can also have negative effects. Not every student likes singing, acting or working with music and songs. Some find it embarrassing and childish, especially older students. If the majority of a class consists of students who feel like that about working with music and songs in the classroom, the teacher should be aware of the problem that it will be hard to motivate the pupils. It can also be that some pupils protest and even refuse to do several activities given by the teacher. So these pupils have a negative access to the new topic because it is introduced by something they do not like. The result of this could be that they do not learn as much as students who love working with music and songs in the classroom. Another problem for teachers is the question of the right choice of songs. Nowadays the kids are crazy about music which is called “Death Metal”, “Hip Hop” or “Acid House”.[1] So, many teachers think that it is hard to fill the pupils of today with enthusiasm by using Oldies.

Despite the fact that there are more positive effects of learning a second language with songs and music, than negative ones, most teachers look at this method with mixed emotions. Some are of the opinion that this is no real teaching and a waste of time with some senseless activities. This is not true, of course. Out of my own pupil-experience I can say that I have learned quite a lot with the help of songs. I have acquired not only a plenty of new words and vocabulary, but also several idioms and many ways to express feelings. When I was in class five my former teacher sang “Old McDonald had a farm” together with us and also accompanied the song with his guitar. He told us to imitate the animals appearing in the song. So he did a kind of Total Physical Response-exercise with us. This is also possible with a load of other songs for younger school children and this is always a good way to learn English through play. This method is mainly used in the kindergarten, where the kids already learn English at the age of four or five. Isn’t it amazing to see how little children sing English songs without having any knowledge of this language?

2. The importance of the right song selection

As I have already mentioned, the choice of the right songs which can be used in the language classroom is essential for the success of using such a method. The most significant thing to think about is to choose the songs according to the students’ state of knowledge about the English language. There are songs which are quite difficult to understand because the singer uses slang words, sings too fast or pronounces the words not clear enough to recognize them. Songs which are easier to understand are usually sung in a slow and clearly articulated way and do not include very special slang words. Finding the right songs for the classroom can be quite difficult when we consider that pupils of today belong to the so called MTV-generation. That means that the kids are familiar with the most modern types of music which can appear very odd and extraordinary to the teachers. Exactly here comes up the first problem: the conflict of the generations. Teachers are, of course, older than their protégés. That indicates that they are not as informed about the latest trends in music as their students. Teachers tend to have different notions of good music and they are not always up-to-date. Nevertheless, music is always a matter of taste – it is something subjective. A teacher should always make his/her decisions concerning songs in an objective way. If s/he does not, several problems could arise. If the teacher presents songs s/he likes, without involving the students’ interests, there is always the danger of boring the learners. Another danger is that the teacher allows the students to take a closer look into his/her personality, so that they can speculate about the teacher’s personal preferences and inclinations. In the worst case the students spread rumours about the teacher, which can also reach colleagues or even the school’s headmaster. But this is really the worst thing that could happen.

A huge advantage for the teacher is that different artists covered a lot of old songs during the last years. These interprets gave the old song a new style without changing the melody or the lyrics. Most young people like that and discover the old songs in their own special way. So, these new songs are a good “agreement” between teachers and pupils because it combines the issues and melodies of the older generation with the sound and the move of the younger generation.

2.1. My suggestions for a thematic sequence

When a teacher decides to organize a whole sequence of lessons with the help of music and songs, it makes sense to look for songs which are thematically related. For my thematic sequence I decided for the topic “social criticism”. This topic was and will surely always be an important issue in our modern world. Especially young people are very interested in this topic because they are still hopeful and want to change the world.

(a) Phil Collins »Another day in Paradise« and Ralph McTell »Streets of London«

These two songs look at our society with very critical eyes. They are thematically related. »Another Day in Paradise« by Phil Collins and »Streets of London« by Ralph McTell deal with issues like poverty, unemployment and above all homelessness. The artists sing in particular about how the society reacts on homeless people and how others see people who live on the edge of society. They criticize that the big city is an anonymous place and that nobody seems to be interested in the problems of other people. I think that these songs are appropriate for the use in the classroom in order to introduce the U.S.A. to the learners. The teacher could present the U.S.A. as a land of immigrants and a lot of various cultures and as a land of contrasts. In these songs it becomes clear that not only the US is a land of contrasts. There is poverty all over the world. Especially in the big cities where poor and rich people live closely together, this contrast becomes extremely obvious. According to these songs one could also draw parallels to the condition of our German society.

Let’s have a closer look at the lyrics of »Another Day in Paradise«[2] and »Streets of London«[3] now.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

(b) Tracy Chapman »Fast Car« and Elvis Presley »In the Ghetto«

Just like »Another Day in Paradise«, »Streets of London« and »New York Times« Tracy Chapman’s song »Fast Car« and Elvis Presley’s »In the Ghetto« are thematically related, too. Both artists sing about the issue of breaking out of the Ghetto. That means they deal with a specific section of the American society – namely the poor people in the Ghetto. Particularly Tracy Chapman is known as a very critical singer who understands the victims of social and racial discrimination very well because she is black, too. Quite a lot of musicians began to view the society in a critical way during the sixties and seventies. And so, they began to express their thoughts, their feelings and their objections about that subject in songs, which are still popular today. Especially in the United States there were a lot of Ghettos, for instance in Chicago, New York and in Los Angeles.[4] Most of the black citizens lived separated from the white people although they are all said to be equal. Generally, the Ghetto was a very unpleasant place which was dominated by crime, poverty, riots and unemployment. There were also several legal restrictions for people living in the Ghetto.[5] This different and sometimes even unjust treatment of black people in the America is a matter in the songs of many singers all over the world. In my opinion, these songs are suitable for the use in the classroom in order to continue the American studies and to have a closer look at the different sections of the American society. It also makes sense to talk about the American history and deal with stuff like slavery and the oppression of the black people. Here are the lyrics of »Fast Car«[6] and »In the Ghetto«[7].

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

(c) Bob Dylan »Like a rolling stone« and Cat Stevens »New York Times«

With his song »Like a rolling stone« Bob Dylan shows how easy it can be to become poor, homeless and disrespected even if you were very rich. The artist shows that we live in a fast-moving society in which a person can fall as fast as s/he rose up. Furthermore he criticizes that our world is dominated only by money and that people are only judges by what they have and how they look. But this song is not critical in a serious way – it is more critical in an ironic way.

»New York Times« by Cat Stevens should be the last songs in my thematic sequence. »New York Times« is again a song in which the artist criticizes our ignorant society. Together with the first part of my thematic block (»Another day in paradise« and »Streets of London «), it can be seen as a frame work. Here are the lyrics of »Like a rolling stone«[8] and »New York Times«[9].


[1] Plitsch, Axel. “Music + Song = Authentic Listening in the Language Classroom”. Der fremdsprachli-che Unterricht Englisch 25 (01/1997): 4.

[2] (Aug 30, 2006)

[3] (Aug 30,

[4] (Aug 30, 2006)

[5] Ibid.

[6] (Aug 30, 2006)

[7] (Aug 30, 2006)

[8] (Sep 3, 2006)

[9] Schwarz, Hellmut, Carl Taylor and Franz Vettel. English G. B 4. Berlin: Cornelsen, 1988. p.32.

Excerpt out of 26 pages


The use of music and songs in the EFL-classroom
College  (Institut für Anglistik/Amerikanistik, Abteilung Fachdidaktik)
Acting Out – Performance in the EFL-Classroom
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
466 KB
EFL-classroom, Acting, Performance, EFL-Classroom, music, songs
Quote paper
Stefanie Warnke (Author), 2006, The use of music and songs in the EFL-classroom, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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