Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

March 21, 2016
by leesensei

The Song Lyric “English First” Reading Activity

We use songs a lot in our world language classes – they are an amazingly authentic resource – and often just downright fun to listen to. file000564987721#Langchat has done more than one chat on this subject and I have written about my ‘song of the week‘  and the variety of ways I use it (among other ideas) in the past.

This past month I stumbled on a new aspect of the song activity. Keep in mind that this initially came as part of a bigger activity but it emerged as a fun interpretive add-on. In a nutshell it involves using the English version of the TL (target language) song lyrics as well as the TL ones.

What you need – a copy of the English lyrics and the TL lyrics (you can almost always find them online). Please note that I get my songs from iTunes (I believe its important to pay the artist).

What you doTo start, I put the lyrics side by side on a piece of paper (trying to match up the lines) and have the students fold them to only initially see the English version. You could put them on two separate pieces and only hand out the English first. Then play the song 2-3 times with the students looking at the English lyrics as they listen. I don’t worry too much about “understanding” – I want them to be listening and ‘reading’ the meaning. Next ask them to choose 5 words (or phrases or lines depending on their level) in the English that they want to see ‘what they are’ in the TL. Finally, once they have them I then ask them to look and search for the key phrases. Nope – no dictionaries at this point – they have to use the original English lyrics, position in the song etc. I then allow them to look up the words in the dictionary to see what they ‘mean’ in the original language. Finally we share out 1 key word each (on the whiteboard) that they found and think they will use again!

Why I like this – There’s so many ways that we use songs and I must admit that this type of approach was an afterthought during a more traditional ‘use the song’ activity. But I found that I liked it because:

  • It reinforces that we don’t directly translate from one language to another – it’s so much more than that – we have to consider not what they are saying but what they are ‘communicating’.
  • It’s personal – students are finding words/phrases that appeal to them
  • It’s interpretive – they are using guessing, inference, and more to try to find the match
  • It’s different – we almost always go to the TL lyrics first – so it’s a twist

Students enjoyed this ‘song’ option and I heard more than one “hey I was right!” comment during the time. I’ll try it again with other songs in the future!








May 16, 2014
by leesensei

Going for a Song! The “Song of the Week” Activity

Future Rock StarNote: This post is about my “Song of the Week” activities – not songs that I use for specific targeted learning!

For the past few years, I’ve featured a new song every week to 10 days – generally off the Top 10 Singles List of iTunes Japan. In the past I would occasionally do song activities but this year my Yr2 class  absolutely loved the opening song/video and suddenly my commitment to do one each week intensified. My ‘semester of song’ has meant that, in order to do a song-related activitiy,  other cultural items may have gone by the wayside – but the rewards have been great.

Where to begin – what to do for a song? Fortunately #langchat had me covered and I gleaned several great suggestions from last year’s discussion.

Song Choice:

Songs Source: I like to keep it legal so, as a Japanese teacher, I buy all my songs from iTunes Japan. If you can’t find what you want in your iTunes store, just search the web. There are always legitimate ways to purchase a gift card for the iTunes of your choice, and information needed to set up a specific iTunes account for it. (if you need an iTunes Japan card – the service at White Rabbit Express is excellent).  As long as lyrics are appropriate some are old, some are newly released and some came from student suggestions. For my Japanese teaching colleagues a sample list of songs I’ve used is here.
Song styles – We found the general rule that the faster is more challenging – so pick your activity to match. It is hilarious to watch the paper strips of lyrics fly as kids try to match the lyrics on a more upbeat tune – but it can be incredibly frustrating for them as well. I try to vary the styles of songs presented so that at least 1 appeals to every student preference.


Song Selected: My song of the week is played all week starting on the first Monday class. On the board is an area reserved for information on the music – generally the song title, artist and a QR code link to information on the artist. The song plays at the start/end of class and, quietly (as I’ve blogged before) during interpersonal communication.

Activity: I’ve found that the activity generally takes about 15-20 minutes. That’s long enough to do what I need (be it listen 2 or 3 times or search out information). If the activity results in the students having the full lyric sheet – we head right into listening. If its doesn’t then after the activity they get the lyrics.  Generally I give out a copy of the song lyrics in the target language and English (I don’t translate them – they are typically easy to find online)

Post Activity Listen/View: We generally run through the song with full lyrics at least once. They love to sing along. If the visuals are ones I’m comfortable with I sometimes follow up with the video – typically found on YouTube.

Past Activities:

“cloze” – the classic fill in the blanks with what you hear. Generally they listen two or three times. Then they check out what they got with their partner. I typically give 5-10 minutes for them to then try for the ‘gist’ of the song (if needed)

“wordcloud” – a new favourite I learned from #langchat. Get the lyrics and feed them into an online wordcloud generator for fun (I like “WordItOut” for this – you can adjust the colours etc easily). I run it through the generator a few times to highlight words that I want and I don’t include all the lyrics for this. I ask students to find out what the key words mean. Then I project the cloud onto my whiteboard and they write out the meaning beside the TL word. When the words are all up I turn off the LCD and we discuss what we feel the song is about, mood, key words in the TL we can use from the song. This is also a great way to ‘focus in’ on a particular phrase or construction that students will find useful in future communication – a great ‘start’ to a lesson.

“ another word for” I pick 6-7 words from the song that are new – but ones that my students already know a word with a similar meaning. They like working together to think of the words they ‘already know’. Its a way to expand beyond the ‘same words’ over and over I hope. Generally I will also add in a few unknown words for them to look up. 

“arrange the lyrics” – 18 point font, the lyrics cut into line-by-line strips and 2 students trying to put the lyrics into the order that they hear it from the song – fun, fast-paced and always popular.

“find and fill” – find the meaning of the word given (known words and ‘look up’ words) and then plug into the spot indicated in the song.

“what do we know already” – if the song contains vocabulary that they’ve already seen before this is fun – I ask them to go through the lyrics and ‘find what we already know’. Then we extend to ‘guess’ what the song is about: mood, topic etc.

For other ideas – I again refer you to the #langchat summary! I love the “Song of the Week” and my students enter on Mondays looking forward to a new listening opportunity. And how else would I have spent a week listening the grinding guitars and catchy lyrics of ‘cutie heavy metal’ group BabyMetal’s “Gimme Chocolate”?




Skip to toolbar