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Category Archives: songs

R. Michael Medley, Ph.D. – Eastern Mennonite University

I have recently drafted a content-based textbook for English learners that teaches principles and skills for coping with difficult situations in life.  It is called resilience and is based on materials developed by my university’s program of Strategies in Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR).  The materials are premised on the idea that we need to appeal to and stimulate learners’ multiple intelligences.  To this end, I have included some music in almost every chapter of the book (there are 14 chapters).

In a content-based course like this one, it is important to use songs or instrumental music that are thematically related to the course content.  Some of the language may be beyond the range of students’ ability to (re)produce it, but in the context of the course, students can still work on comprehending the music and lyrics, taking them as matters for discussion.

For example, in a chapter that focuses on what trauma is, I have chosen to use a hopeful song, Ben King’s 1961 hit “Stand by Me.”   One interesting thing about this song is its longevity.  Not only was it a theme for the 1986 movie (Stand by Me), it has recently been recorded in bachata style by the US Latin pop singer Prince Royce (2010) and most  movingly by Playing for Change in a version performed by a team 35 musicians in about ten countries on their CD/DVD “Songs Around the World” (2009).

This way of using music seeks to insert several important effects into the classroom beside the fact that there is a simple chorus that is repeated many times, which even beginning level learners could reproduce (practicing the simple imperative “stand by me”).  These other effects include (1) the stimulation of positive, hopeful emotions, which is something language learners need in order to persevere in their long march to proficiency; (2) the theme of solidarity: we can accomplish these challenging tasks of language learning and surviving in a messy world if we stick together or stand by each other; (3) the realization that as language learners we are involved in a multi-cultural endeavor: no matter which cultures we belong to or attempt to bridge, we can harmonize and we can appreciate music in new and refreshing flavors.  As learners are encouraged to reflect on how the various musical styles convey the message, those class members who are already musically inclined will feel that they can make some important contributions to the class discussion.

Those whose musical sensibility is not so strongly developed will have a chance to develop their musical intelligence.


>Daniel T. Parker: It’s possible that I’ve entirely lost my mind, but I just happened to land on this website tonight — Dictionaraoke — and I’m becoming more and more convinced that I can actually use it in listening comprehension lessons, by making tapes of the songs and taking them into class. But I’m not sure if I can quit laughing long enough to actually teach!

Dick Tibbetts: Great. Yes, I can use this to teach connected speech, stress, intonation and weak forms. Some of my students actually sound rather like this, or would if they could rapidly change gender and throw their voice at the same time. This site makes fun of ‘disconnected speech’ without there being any criticism of the students. First they do it like the mp3 in 2 groups, male and female, perhaps with lyrics up on the OHP, coloured for gender. Then, after we’ve laughed ourselves silly, we talk about why it’s funny and set about identifying weak forms, stressed syllables and practice linking words. Then we sing it as it should be sung.

From Wikipedia:
The Dictionaraoke Project was conceived of in 2001 by the Snuggles Collective, a diverse group of experimental musicians communicating through the Internet. Inspired by the recent addition of spoken word audio clips to the Merriam-Webster and Microsoft Encarta online dictionaries demonstrating the correct pronunciation of each word, these artists used the samples to create artificial vocals that “sang” karaoke.

Listen to the dictionaries singing James Brown’s “I Feel Good”: I FEEL GOOD!

>By Dick Tibbetts, University of Macau, China

You don’t always have to concentrate on music that you think the students will like. There will, in any case, be a spread of tastes in music across the class. What you need is a good reason for using the song and a hook of some kind that will drag the students along. This could be a tune, vocabulary, language or lyrics or task.

I’ve used pop, rock, blues, folk, punk, country, humour, doo-wap and other genres with a reasonable amount of success. I doubt that students would cover all these types of songs if left to their own devices but although they might not rush out and buy George Formby, Etta James or Bert Jansch CDs the songs work because they can see the language learning taking place, whether it’s metaphors with Emmy Lou Harris, word play with the Everly Brothers or lyric prediction with the Five Satins.

So for me it’s the task that is more important than the song, though the song may suggest the task. I really reccomend Alan Maley’s Short and Sweet and Maley and Duff, Literature for a list of language learning activities for texts and examples of how to exploit and develop these activities. Maley uses written texts but you can do just the same with songs.

Here are Maley’s 12 generalisable procedures with some very brief examples of how they can be applied to songs, though you should realise that there are many ways of interpreting each procedure and the examples shouldn’t be looked on as limiting each procedure.

Many songs tell a story but condense it. Springsteen’s Wreck on the Highway is an example. It’s easy to add detail to the story and in this case you could get learners to comfort the dying man found after the car accident, an event slipped over in the song. They don’t need to do it in lyric form.

Reduce a song to its bare bones. Pare it down to its message. If it’s a story turn it into a two line newspaper report (yes, this is also media transfer – the procedures can overlap).

Rose Murpy’s Busy Line can be turned into a telephone conversation. New York Mining Disaster into a news story, Chumbawamba’s She’s got all the Friends that Money can Buy into a bitchy conversation between friends.

Match songs with pictures using the themes to match. For lower levels one might use events in song and picture to match.

Select songs for language to be used in different situations. Rose Murphy’s Busy Line vs Lou Reed’s New York Telephone conversation for useful telephone chat.

Compare two versions of the same song, perhaps sung by a male and a female with small lyric changes. Compare Dylan’s heroic John Wesley Harding with the real nasty little psychopathic J W Harding.

Listen to the song, give jumbled lyrics and ask them to put in order.

Retell the story. Tell Laura I love Her and Teen Angel work well for this. They can really ham it up and they love it. Leader of the Pack would work as well.

Any songs with depth can be used. Dylan, Bragg, Chumbawamba, Linton Kwesi Johnson, the list is endless. You could interpret less serious songs too, I guess.

Quarry words from the song to create a new text. write a parallel story on the same theme as the song.

Look carefully at the language of the song. Etta James Almost Persuaded: how does the almost in ‘almost persuaded’ differ from the almost in “almost sorry’? Change the adjectives for similar ones and see if the song changes meaning.

Make questionnaires on the theme of a song. Take Ivor Cutler’s “our car can go fast on a hill” and get students to write another mock Children’s reader:

Our car can go fast on a hill
With no brakes
And oil on the hub

It cannot stop
So it has a spill

Mum and Dad get a cut
See Bill bleed
Bleed, Bill bleed

Kate, do not cry.
If you do
Ann will be sad to see it
And Ted will fret.

Phil; run to the phone
For a nurse to make us well

I see nurse
Nurse, make us well
We are ill
From a spill
On the road

As we took a spill
Dad has a cut on his lip
It hit the wheel
As he drove fast

Mum cut her cheek
See how it shines

Bill is dead
He lost his blood in the crash

Kate, Ann and Ted are sad for Bill
He was their chum

Phil will walk us home
Along the pavement to our house
29 Redpond Avenue

…And then you could just sing along.