While I really love using music in lessons, with both YL and adult classes, I do sometimes run out of activities to do while listening to the song. As I suspect do many teachers, I often resort to the gapfill even though I don’t much like it; it’s sedentary, lacks interaction and fun, and provides an inauthentic level of support through having so much of the text provided for listeners. Of course lower-level learners need more scaffolding, but for higher levels I’ve been trying a few alternatives that take the training wheels off a little bit…
One activity I recently tried is the “Song grab”, which can be used to focus on a specific sound or to practice homophones. I tried it with my highest level of Primary 3 (with Let it Go – they chose the song as a reward) and with an UpperInt level adult class (with The Man Who, since we were about to do relative clauses). Both classes responded well, liking the kinaesthetic element and the direct competition with a partner, as well as the increased level of challenge.
Activity Name: Song Grab
Language Focus: n/a
Skills Focus: listening for specific sounds / homophones
Suitable For: Everyone
Materials or Resources: Recording of the song of your choice, plus pre-prepared cut-ups and a lyrics sheet to hand out at the end.
Choose a song. It can be one that links to the rest of the course if you like, or simply one for a stand-alone listening lesson. Ideally it should contain at least a few examples of the sound you’re focusing on, e.g. the contracted form of “will”.
Before the lesson, go through the song careful and choose the words you want your learners to listen for. Add them to individual slips of paper. Then, for each word, choose an alternative version the learners might plausibly mishear e.g. hole for whole, sun for son, will for well, sit in for sitting, and so on. Make some easier than others.Double check these false words don’t actually appear somewhere else in the song! Then add them to slips of paper too. Create one set of real and fake words for each pair of students. I’ve found that for a 3 minute song, about 15 words to listen for (so 30 slips of paper) works well.
In class, explain that students are going to work on their careful listening, and will have to identify specific words that they hear. Set learners up in pairs, and give each pair a shuffled set of words, and instruct them to spread the words out, face up, between them. Allow some time for the learners to read through and familiarise themselves with the words.
Tell learners they will listen to a song and if they hear a word that is on one of the pieces of paper, they must “grab” (demo if needed) the paper as soon as possible – before their partner/enemy does! It’s a competition, after all.
A disincentive will be needed to prevent random grabbing, so warn the learners that only SOME of the words are in the song. They will score one point for each correct word they can grab first, but lose a point for every wrong word.
Play the song, twice if necessary, then hand out lyric sheets (it may help to have the target words in bold) and let students work out their scores. It may also be worth allowing another listen at this stage with the lyrics in front of them. After that, just proceed with the rest of the lesson using the song in whatever way you like!
I’ve found this activity really builds energy levels in class and is popular with my students, but perhaps more importantly, it’s really great practice for things like the challenging IELTS listening where a fine degree of specificity is essential.