By Tom Anderson, Aoyama Gakuin University; Tokai University
Some teachers think of using songs as a mere “filler activity” for use in a Monday or Friday class. This is a real shame as songs, when exploited wisely, are a very powerful teaching tool. My Japanese wife says that her interest in the Beatles and their music helped her with her English rhythm, intonation, and vocabulary. Tim Murphey, an expert on English language education in Japan, introduced a concept he called the “song stuck in your head phenomenon”. People tend to remember and retain song lyrics for a long time. Knowing that this is the case, how can we use songs to create an environment which is both fun for the student and in which learning takes place?
In my experience, the songs that have worked best for me are ballads such as Can’t Help Falling in Love by Elvis Presley or pop songs such as Top Of The World by The Carpenters. The songs should have a clear rhythm and beat and be slow enough to follow easily. They should also tell a story.
I have taken groups of students out to do karaoke as part of a Christmas or Sayonara party but, given the Japanese classroom situation and the size of classes, I believe it’s better to stick to a group focus to help students become and stay more relaxed and less inhibited.
Karaoke Day should be an activity that is a change of pace for the students, one that they look forward to doing. Therefore, it’s better not to do it in every class.
These are the steps I find useful to follow when using songs. Some may be modified to increase student participation and give them ownership of the activity.
1) I always begin this activity with the “very important question”: What day is it today??? At first I might get blank looks or answers such as Tuesday or September 30, however as the term goes on, students know and give the correct answer.
2) Before listening to the song for the first time, I introduce the artist(s) and give information about the song.
3) I challenge the students to listen carefully to the song and see how many words they can catch.
4) Following the first listening, students get cloze lyric sheets and work in groups to fill in missing words as the song is played in chunks. Student groups are asked to name the missing words.
5) I go over idioms (raining cats and dogs) and images (blue skies=happiness) and the story in the song.
6) My students and I do choral speaking of the song lyrics emphasizing the drama of the words and the way words are manipulated to fit the beat and rhythm.
7) Especially during the first few Karaoke Days, students are reminded of singing mechanics. These include posture-sitting upright with the back straight, using the diaphragm (singing from the “gut”), and, most important, opening the mouth wide to let the words come out with good volume. I remind students not to worry about their voices and how “bad” they might sound as, if everyone is actively involved, they won’t hear other people’s voices.
8) Finally, the teacher and students sing the song together.
1) During the first listening, have students work in groups to listen and then make a list of 5 or more words that they caught.
2) Instead of using teacher-chosen songs and doing teacher-centered activities, have student groups choose songs, make lyric and cloze lyric sheets and do the eight steps.
After reading what I have written the question may arise: “Is Karaoke Day worth all the effort that is involved in carrying it out?” The answer, without a doubt, is YES! Students enjoy themselves and build self-confidence that spills over into other class activities and develop English fluency.