Song lyrics can be difficult for English language learners to comprehend. So for Activities 1-7, you begin by examining the lyrics to find an aspect of the song that is accessible–past-tense verbs that you could delete for a cloze exercise, for example, or phrases that you could extract for a walking dictation. For the activity below, there is no need to give a song that level of scrutiny (although, as always, you will want to make sure the language and content are appropriate for your classroom). All you need is a recording of the song and copies of its lyrics. The simplicity of this lesson, however, doesn’t mean that your role as teacher is any less important. You help students identify which new words are critical to getting the gist of the song’s meaning (and which are not), as well as which new words are worth memorizing. This activity works best if students know at least two-thirds of the words in the song.
Create a Minimal-Prep Lesson in 4 Easy Steps:
Step 1: Students listen to a recording of the song without the lyrics. As they listen, they jot down about five words in the song that they are sure they know. (They do not write down words like the or and.) When the recording is finished, students volunteer their lists of words, and you write them on the board. More often than not, collectively students will come up with the song’s key words. Ask students to guess what the song is about.
Variation on Step 1: Rather than write down words, students draw pictures of things they hear mentioned in the song. Then they exchange papers with a partner and try to identify what their partner has drawn. This idea is from Nico Lorenzutti’s article “Beyond the Gap Fill: Dynamic Activities for Song in the EFL Classroom” (English Teaching Forum, Number 1, 2014). He says students often laugh and smile while trying to decipher their partner’s drawings.
Step 2: Students read the song’s lyrics. You clarify the meaning of new words that are critical to understanding the song; impress on students that they do not need to understand every word. Identify which new words are worth memorizing. (For more on this point, please see Tip #4 under “Tips” on the navigation bar.)
Step 3: Play the song a second time while students read the lyrics.
Step 4: Students listen to the song a third time, without the lyrics, or they watch the song’s official music video online. (Preview the video first to be sure it’s appropriate for your classroom.)
Sometimes during the course of the lesson, one of the features targeted in Activities 1-7 might pop out at you. You might, for example, notice that the song has a chorus that is easy to sing or speak, tells a story that students could summarize, or has a topic that students could personalize with Draw-Write-Share. Then you could, if time allows, expand the lesson on the spur of the moment.
Example: A Minimal-Prep Lesson on the Song “Fight Song”
Because of its popularity, clear lyrics, and upbeat theme, Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” is a good choice for the classroom.
Step 1: Students listen to a recording of “Fight Song” without the lyrics. As they listen, they jot down about five words in the song that they are sure they know. When the recording is finished, students volunteer their lists of words, and you write them on the board. My low-intermediate class contributed these words: small, ocean, heart, explosion, brain, voice, fight, life, believe, and bones. Students said they thought the song was about a woman who was afraid to speak but who is now stronger and not afraid.
Step 2: Students read the song’s lyrics. Explain that the phrase wrecking balls inside my brain is not a common idiomatic expression. Instead, you could focus on the expression right now, contrasting it with now and explaining that it means immediately–not waiting one minute.
Step 3: Students listen to the song a second time while reading the lyrics.
Step 4: Students listen to the song a third time, without the lyrics, or they watch the official music video for “Fight Song.”
If your students respond well to “Fight Song,” you could extend the lesson with one of the activities below.
Minimal-Prep Expansion Activities for “Fight Song”
- Reading the story behind the song
You will find the one-page, high-beginning story behind this song, titled “Everybody’s Fight Song,” under Stories on the navigation bar. The story can be downloaded as a Word document or as a pdf. Permission is granted to reproduce for classroom use. Alternately, students can read the story online on the same web page. (The official music video makes more sense if students first read the story behind the song–the video depicts events in the story.)
- Speaking the chorus
Students read the chorus aloud, maintaining the rhythm of the song and emphasizing the syllables that are accented when the song is sung. (For more on this activity, please see Activity #6: Singing or Speaking the Chorus.)
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.
- Personalizing the theme of the song: What Are You Fighting For?
Students sketch someone or something they are fighting for. Under their drawing, they write a few sentences about their picture. Then they share their drawing and their writing with a partner or in a small group. (For more on this activity, please Activity #3: Class Discussion on a Song’s Theme.) My students, four women in their thirties, all drew pictures of their families. Here are some of the sentences they wrote under their drawings.
- I am fighting to keep my family together.
- I am fighting to learn English. I have to help my daughter. She needs help with her homework.
- I am fighting to get a better job. If I reach my goal, I can provide a better life for my kids.