Teaching Blog

Interested in seeing how the lesson plan ideas on this site work in a real-life classroom? I taught a “Songs” class to Mexican university students in the U.S. for an intensive 4-week program. (My class met for an hour once a week and was the “fun” class!) Below I share what we did in each class and how it went.

Class 1 

  • I started the class with the One-Question Interview on Music. The activity worked great as an ice-breaker on many levels. It turned out that the students, who’d just arrived the day before, didn’t know one another, so this gave them a chance to get acquainted. It also gave me a quick snapshot of both their proficiency in English (high-beginning to low-intermediate) and their musical tastes. I was relieved to learn from the one-question interview that the song I’d chosen for the first day—“Can’t Stop the Feeling”—was one of my students’ favorite songs in English.
  • The students listened to the song “Can’t Stop the Feeling” while reading the annotated lyrics below. (I assured students that it wasn’t important to understand every word.)

can’t stop the feeling, lyrics.docx          can’t stop the feeling, lyrics.pdf

  • Picking up on the singer’s repeated use of the word got as meaning have, I spun off a lesson on the colloquial expressions I’ve got it and I’ve got ‘em. First we practiced with pictures I’d distributed (Who has the lamp? I’ve got it. Who has the towels? I’ve got ‘em.) Then students completed the interactive worksheet below. (The “packing list” in the activity could be adapted for the part of the world you’re in.)

packing-list-wisconsin.docx          packing-list-wisconsin.pdf

  • We listened to the song again but this time sang along with verses 2 and 6.
  • We watched the music video. When the credits rolled at the end of the video, the students applauded the performers—a nice way to end Class 1.

Class 2

  • The song for the second class was Lukas Graham’s “7 Years.” We began with the “Four Corners” activity. I wrote the numbers 11, 20, 30, and 60 on separate pieces of paper and taped each paper in a corner of the room. Then I asked students, “What is the best age?” They got up and stood next to the age they thought was best. (Most clustered around age 20.) Each group came up with reasons why that age is best, and a volunteer spokesperson for the group reported the reasons to the class. Then students took their seats.
  • I explained that Lukas Graham wrote the song “7 Years” after his father died suddenly at age 61. In the song, Lukas describes the ages he’s been—7, 11, and 20—and then looks ahead to the ages he will be—30 and 60. We listened to the song while reading the annotated lyrics below. My students had heard the song often in Mexico and seemed pleased to have the lyrics. Some students began singing along as the recording played, so I played it again and invited them to “whisper sing” along—to basically mouth the words and try to keep up with the singer.

7 Years, lyrics.docx          7 Years, lyrics.pdf

  • I spun off a mini grammar lesson based on the line I started writing songs, I started writing stories. Below is an interactive worksheet on the group of verbs that can be followed with either an infinitive or a gerund: startbegincontinuelikelovehate, and can’t stand. My students seemed confused by this worksheet at first. In most grammar exercises, each item has only one correct answer, but in this exercise, as in real-life, using either a gerund or an infinitive after this group of verbs is correct. So I told students to stop writing, and we worked together as a group to give possible answers. Then students were able to return to the worksheet and successfully complete it with their own answers.

infinitive-or-gerund.docx          infinitive-or-gerund.pdf

  • We watched part of the YouTube video “Later That Same Life” (starting at the 32-second mark to about the 2-minute mark). I asked students to guess who the two men were. They guessed it was a son interviewing his father and were surprised to learn that it was an 18-year-old interviewing his future 56-year-old self. I asked them, “What would you like to ask your 56-year-old self?” Some of their questions were:

Did you find the love of your life?
How many children do you have?
Did you achieve all your goals?
Are you happy?
What kind of work do you do?

  • I picked just two of the questions (we were running out of time) and asked students one by one to answer the questions in the present tense, as if they were 56 years old.
  • We ended the class by watching the music video for “7 Years.”

For me, the highpoint of this lesson was listening to my students describe their future selves with such certainty and detail. (Examples: I own two restaurants and have other business investments. I have two children—twin boys.)

Ah, to be 20 again!

Class 3

  • This week’s class had a theme: songs with a story behind them. I reminded the class that last week’s song, “7 Years,” had a story behind it—Lukas Graham wrote the song after his father died suddenly at 61. I told students the songs for today’s class all had stories behind them.
  • First, we listened to the songs–“You’re Beautiful,” “Ring of Fire,” and “A Change Is Gonna Come”–while reading the lyrics. (Lyrics for “You’re Beautiful” and “Ring of Fire” are in the True Stories Behind the Songs textbooks. Lyrics for “A Change Is Gonna Come” are below.) After the song “You’re Beautiful,” I asked, “Who was the woman on the subway? Was she a stranger? Someone the songwriter knew? We’ll find out.” After “Ring of Fire” I asked, “Who wrote this song?” A student replied that Johnny Cash wrote it. “Maybe,” I replied. “Or maybe not. We’ll find out.” After “A Change Is Gonna Come,” I asked, “What change did the songwriter want? We’ll find out.”

change is gonna come, lyrics.docx          change is gonna come, lyrics.pdf

  • Students counted off 1, 2, 3. (They wrote their number on a sticky note and put it on their shirt so I could keep track of who was in which group.) I distributed the stories: the story behind  “You’re Beautiful” (More True Stories Behind the Songs, Unit 1) to Group 1, the story behind “Ring of Fire” (True Stories Behind the Songs, Unit 2) to Group 2, and the story behind “A Change Is Gonna Come” (on this site under “Stories”) to Group 3. I gave the students time to read the story assigned to their group.
  • When students were finished reading, I sent Group 1 to one corner of the room, Group 2 to another corner, and Group 3 to the hallway outside the classroom so that each group could confer in privacy. I went from group to group and reminded students of the questions I’d posed about their song. (For example, I reminded Group 1 that we wanted to know who the woman on the subway was.) I gave each group time to agree on an answer. Then everyone returned to their seats.
  • First, Group 1 told the class about the woman on the subway. Then we watched the music video for “You’re Beautiful.” Next, Group 2 told the class who had written “Ring of Fire” and why the songwriter thought love was dangerous. (Little known fact: The songwriter was June Carter, Johnny Cash’s future wife.) Then we watched Scene 34 from the movie “Walk the Line,” where June finally accepts Johnny’s marriage proposal. (A shorter clip from the movie is on YouTube. Both videos show a romantic kiss and may not be appropriate for all classes.) Finally, Group 3 related the experience that prompted Sam Cooke to write the song “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Then we watched the 2016 music video.
  • We had about five minutes of class left. I told students they could leave a little early, or we could listen to another song. “Another song!” they said. I happened to have the lyrics to “Let It Be” with me, so I passed out them out. I briefly told students the story behind the song (on this site under “Stories”). We listened to the song while reading the lyrics, and many students sang along. On that note (literally!), the class came to an end.

Class 4

  • Our fourth and final class had a theme: old songs, new covers. We listened to three songs that were given new life when contemporary artists recorded them: “Make You Feel My Love” (Bob Dylan song, covered by Adele); “Pay Me My Money Down” (dockworkers’ and sailors’ song, covered by Bruce Springsteen); and “When I’m Gone” (1931 Carter Family song, covered by Anna Kendrick).
  • First we listened to Bob Dylan’s version of “Make You Feel My Love” while reading the lyrics below.

make-you-feel-my-love-cloze.docx          make-you-feel-my-love-cloze.pdf

  •  Then I spun off two mini grammar lessons based on the lyrics. The first lesson was on using the word could to express possibility. I called students’ attention to the three lines beginning I could (for example, I could make you happy). I explained that the songwriter is not referring to the past but to a possible future. We practiced the construction this way: I passed around a gift-wrapped box which contained farewell gifts to the students from me. I encouraged them to feel the box, shake it, and smell it, and then guess what its contents were. Each guess had to begin with the words It could be. After everyone had made a guess, they opened the box. (The gifts were pens in the school color.)
  • Next, we practiced using I’d to talk about possible plans. I explained that I’d is a contraction for Iwould and called students’ attention to the sentences in the song beginning I’d and its negative Iwouldn’t. We practiced this way: I asked students, “If you wanted to make someone fall in love with you, what would you do?” The women retreated to one corner of the room, the men to another corner, and each group made a list of ideas beginning with I’d. Then the groups read their lists aloud to the class. Finally, the men told the women what they thought the women’s best idea was, and the women told the men what the men’s best idea was.  (The men said the women’s best idea was I’d give him space, and the women said the men’s best idea was I’d send her text messages like “How’s your day going?” to show I’m really interested in her life.) I noticed that the men were intently listening when the women read their list aloud, and vice versa.
  • We watched Adele’s official music video for “Make You Feel My Love.”
  • The next song was “Pay Me My Money Down.” I briefly explained the song’s history. (Please see Unit 5, True Stories Behind the Songs.) We listened to Bruce Springsteen’s version of the song while reading the lyrics. Then we watched the official music video and sang along with the chorus.
  • The final song was “When I’m Gone.” First, we listened to the song while reading the lyrics. The phrase you’re gonna is repeated 20 times in the song, so I spun off a mini lesson on using gonna for goingto in spoken English. We practiced this way: I asked the students, “What are you gonna miss about Wisconsin when you go back to Mexico?” Students asked one another that question in the Moving Line. (For instructions for the Moving Line activity, please see my article ”Back to the Future: Low-Tech Activities for a High-Tech Classroom” in the Always ESL online newsletter.) This worked well not just as a follow-up activity to the song but as a culminating activity for the 4-week class.
  • We watched the video for “When I’m Gone” (the famous “Cups” video).

At the end of our final class, I told my students, “I’m gonna miss you when you’re gone.” And I will.