Activity 6: Singing or Speaking the Chorus

Many teachers–especially those who teach beginners–report mixed results when they encourage students to sing along with a recording. Finding a popular song that works as a sing-along is a challenge: The lyrics have to be comprehensible, the tempo not too fast, the rhythm fairly predictable, and the melody universally appealing. (Of course, motivation is a big factor; students will persist in their efforts to sing a song they really love. That dynamic, however, presents its own challenge–finding a song that everyone in the class loves.)

Singing is more likely to be successful if you choose songs that have a simple chorus and ask students to sing only those lines of the song–or only some of the phrases in those lines. This approach has two advantages: it limits the amount of language students need to produce and gives them multiple opportunities to repeat it. (I share some of my experiences with singing just parts of a song on the Teacher Talk blog at azargrammar,com.)

Create a Singing the Chorus Activity in 4 Easy Steps:

Step 1: Choose a song with a chorus that is easy to sing.

Step 2: Copy the lyrics of the whole song from the Internet. Highlight the chorus with color or a contrasting font–italics or boldface, for example.

Step 3: Students listen to the song while reading the lyrics.

Step 4: Play the recording again. Students sing along with the chorus.

The theme of Unit 5 in True Stories Behind the Songs is “Work and Pay,” and the featured song is Bruce Springsteen’s version of “Pay Me My Money Down.” The simple lyrics of the chorus make it ideal for a sing-along. (My class of adult learners, who come to evening English classes after a full day’s work, enthusiastically sang with Springsteen. One woman continued to sing the chorus even after the song had ended.)

Example 1: Singing the Chorus of “Pay Me My Money Down”

Pay me, pay me.
Pay me my money down.
Pay me or go to jail.
Pay me my money down. 

A perfect complement to “Pay Me My Money Down” is the song “We Do the Work” by Jon Fromer, a song that is highly recommended if you teach working adults. The lyrics are not widely found on the Internet, but they are on the website of the Smithsonian as a pdf file. Below are the third verse of the song and the chorus, which is repeated four times. For a call-and-response effect, have your students sing only the first, third, and fifth lines of the chorus (the lines in bold) while the recording plays.

Example 2: Singing the Chorus of “We Do the Work”

We dig the ditch.
We serve the meal.
We give the care.
We load the steel.
We teach the kids.
We lend a hand.
We do the work.
This is our land.
We do the work.
We do the work.
We do the work.
We do the work.
We do the work.
This is our land.

A variation on Singing the Chorus is an activity called Speaking the Chorus. It is based on a technique Marilyn Abbott describes in her article “Using Music to Promote L2 Learning Among Adult Learners” (Tesol Journal, Vol. 11, No. 1). For this activity, students read song lyrics aloud, maintaining the rhythm of the song and emphasizing the syllables that are accented when the song is sung. I was honestly a little surprised at how successful the activity was when I tried it in my classroom. The steps for creating a speaking the chorus activity are similar to those for singing the chorus.

Create a Speaking the Chorus Activity in 5 Easy Steps:

Step 1: Choose a song with a simple chorus.

Step 2: Copy the lyrics of the whole song from the Internet. Highlight the chorus with color or a contrasting font–italics or boldface, for example. Highlight the syllables in the chorus that are emphasized by underlining them.

Step 3: Students listen to the song while reading the lyrics.

Step 4: Students speak the chorus.

Step 5: Students listen to the song while reading the lyrics again. (After speaking the chorus, students might spontaneously sing along this time.)

The theme of Unit 7 in True Stories Behind the Songs is “The Great Depression, and the featured song is “Happy Days Are Here Again,” one of the most popular songs of that era. The song’s chorus, with it strong downbeat, is perfectly suited for reading aloud.

Example 3: Speaking the Chorus of “Happy Days Are Here Again”

Happy days are here again.
The skies above are clear again.
Let us sing a song of cheer again.
Happy days are here again.

An ideal supplemental song for this unit is Pharrell Williams’ Oscar-nominated “Happy,” a contemporary feel-good song. The lyrics of its chorus, like those of “Happy Days Are Here Again,” are easily spoken. Again, the words to be read aloud are in bold, and the syllables to be emphasized are underlined.

Example 4: Speaking the Chorus of “Happy”

Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof.
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth.
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you.
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do. 

A recommended follow-up to this activity is viewing the official video for “Happy” on YouTube–a great way to end the lesson on (literally) a happy note.

Other songs with easy-to-sing or easy-to-speak choruses or verses:

  • “Can’t Stop the Feeling” (Justin Timberlake, 2016) Never underestimate the power of motivation when assessing a song’s potential as a sing-along! I didn’t think this verse was particularly easy to sing, but my class loved singing it. It’s repeated twice.

I got that sunshine in my pocket
Got that good soul in my feet
Feel that hot blood in my body when it drops
I can’t take my eyes off of it, moving so phenomenally
Room on lock the way we rock it, so don’t stop

  • “Fight Song” (Rachel Platten) The chorus is easy to speak. Students draw out the words song and believes when they speak the chorus, as the singer does while singing it.

This is my fight song–
Take back my life song,
Prove I’m all right song.
My power’s turned on.
Starting right now, I’ll be strong.
I’ll play my fight song.
And I don’t really care if nobody else believes
‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me.

  • “Let’s Get It Started” (Black Eyed Peas) The chorus is easy to sing or speak: Let’s get it started. Let’s get it started in here. The chorus is repeated many times in the song.
  • “Love Yourself” (Justin Bieber, 2015) The chorus, which is repeated four times, is easy (and fun) to sing. The slashes indicate pauses. Below the verse is an audio clip of my class of adult learners singing it.

‘Cause if you like / the way / you look that much,
Oh, baby, you should go and love yourself.
And if you think / that I’m / still holdin’ on to somethin’,
You should go and love yourself.

  • “Pocketful of Miracles” (Natasha Bedingfield) The chorus is easy to speak. Students say the words along with the back-up singers, echoing the words of the singer.

Take me away (take me away),
A secret place (a secret place),
A sweet escape (a sweet escape).
Take me away. (Take me away.) 
Take me away (take me away
To better days (to better days).
Take me away (take me away),
A hiding place (a hiding place).

Below is an 11-second audio clip of high-beginning adult learners speaking with (actually, drowning out) the back-up singers.

  • “Renegades” (X Ambassadors) The chorus is easy to sing.

And I say hey
Hey, hey, hey
Living like we’re renegades
Hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey
Living like we’re renegades
Renegades, renegades

  • “Rude” (MAGIC!) Students join the back-up singers in singing only the words Marry that girl in the chorus.

Why you gotta be so rude?
Don’t you know I’m human, too?
Why you gotta be so rude?
I’m gonna marry her anyway, (Marry that girl)
Marry her anyway, (Marry that girl)
No matter what you say, (Marry that girl)
And we’ll be family.

  • “Say Something” (A Great Big World, 2013) In his book The Poetry of Pop, Adam Bradley points out that the chorus of the song “Say Something” is a poem written in dactylic trimeter—a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables, repeated three times in every line. That predictable stress pattern makes the chorus ideal for reading aloud. In my class, we broke the activity into 3 parts: We read all the lyrics while listening to the song (audio only version by Great Big World), then practiced speaking the chorus, and finally watched the video of the Pentatonix cover of the song.

Say something. I’m giving up on you.
I’ll be the one if you want me to.
Anywhere, I would’ve followed you.
Say something. I’m giving up on you.

Say something. I’m giving up on you.
I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to you.
Anywhere, I would’ve followed you.
Say something. I’m giving up on you.

  • “See You Again” (Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth) Students speak the chorus. Students should draw out the word long when saying it as the singer does when singing it.

It’s been a long day without you, my friend.
And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.
We’ve come a long way from where we began.
Oh, I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.

  • “Sound of Sunshine” (Michael Franti) The chorus is easy to sing: And that’s the sound of sunshine comin’ down. In an informal live performance, Michael Franti invites the viewer to sing along.
  • “Too Old to Work” (Joe Glazer) The chorus is easy to sing.

You’re too old to work, too old to work.
When you’re too old to work and too young to die,
Who will take care of you? How’ll you get by,
When you’re too old to work and too young to die?

  • “You Got It” (Roy Orbison) In three verses, the singer pauses between phrases, giving students just enough time to repeat after him (speaking, rather than singing). For example, in verse two, there are eight pauses: One look / from you / I drift / away. / I pray / that you / are here / to stay. In the 46-second clip below, you’ll hear beginning students try it for the first time–but more important, you’ll hear their reaction to this activity at the end of the clip.
Advertisements