The Internet TESL Journal

Helping Prospective EFL Teachers Learn How to Use Songs in Teaching Conversation Classes

Natalia F. Orlova
orlova [at]
University of Jan Evangelist Purkyne (Usti nad Labem, Czech Republic)


For the last two decades, EFL (English as a Foreign Language) methodology has been actively considering the possibility of using music and songs in class The analyses of the recent EFL literature on the problem in question (Graham, Murphey, Saricoban, Eken, Jedynak, etc.) makes it possible to suggest that among the methodological purposes with which music, songs and chants are used in class, it is possible to rank the following:

Theoretical Background

Though the list of publications devoted to the topic in question continues to grow yearly, and though no one would doubt the potential of the songs and music as a springboard to students' creativity, I think there are still several aspects in which music is overlooked in the classroom. First, songs, especially chants, are very popular with teachers whose target audience are young learners, while adult learners are less often exposed to songs. Secondly, though a song is an inseparable unity of the music and its lyrics, it is the musical part that is constantly overlooked and ignored.

My own teaching shows that songs can be effectively used in an intermediate class for the purpose of teaching speaking to prospective EFL teachers. The main reasons for this are as follows:

I have been incorporating songs into teaching EFL to prospective teachers of English for more than 10 years and I have to admit with a certain degree of surprise and content, that the songs by the "Beatles," though composed more than thirty years ago, generally appeal to the tastes of 19-25 year-olds since they deal with such eternal problems as love, commitment and parents/children relationships. One must also not forget to mention that the words are very intelligible and easy to distinguish. They are deservedly considered to be classics of pop music, from which different musical trends sprang up.

In my view, the main purpose of using songs in an advanced class should be for the development of the students’ speaking skills and the promotion of their cultural competence. The model of speech development through songs was worked out with the tasks mentioned above in mind. This model should be comprised of three stages - preparatory, forming and developing - each of them having its own logistics.

The Model of Speech Development through Songs

The aim of the first stage is to form lexical subskills of monological speech and to develop the speech content. For this purpose students are encouraged to read texts, containing information about different musical trends as well as musical reviews about various groups and singers, to fulfill pre-reading and post-reading tasks. As an example may serve the pre-reading and post reading activities that follow. For the full texts of the essays visit the Art and Culture magazine (Music section) at

It is at this stage that students do the activities aimed at vocabulary development, which also create the basis for song interpretation at the next forming stages. Below follow some examples of activities of this type.

  1. Accompaniment
  2. Song cycle
  3. Motif/motive
  4. Ballad
  5. Bridge
  6. Air
  7. Oldie
  8. Bubblegum
  9. A cappella
  10. Solo
  11. Cut
  12. Hook
  13. Lip-sync (vb)
  1. Simple tune, melody or song.
  2. Vocal or instrumental part that compliments melody.
  3. A group of related songs unified by theme or lyric.
  4. Immediately memorable and appealing musical catch phrase.
  5. Individual song on an album;(vb) to record a song.
  6. A short melodic pattern or musical idea that runs throughout a piece.
  7. Segment of pop song that connects verses and chorus.
  8. A song that tells a story; In popular music, usually a love song in a slow tempo.
  9. Pop song from early ears.
  10. (Slang) light, trendy, innocuous pop music.
  11. Singing without instrumental backing.
  12. Single instrumental lead played over rhythm section usually in absence of vocals.
  13. To mouth lyrics in sync with recording during performance.

The second stage is aimed at formation of speaking skills while interpreting and discussing the songs under consideration, with the 7-step sequence being used. (See the model above.)
As an example, let us consider the tasks fulfilled while working with the song "Yesterday."

Pre-listening questions: Who is on lead vocal and what instruments accompany him?

Post-listening questions:

Listen to the song again. How would you describe the interaction between the singer's voice and instruments in the song?The aim of the third stage of the presented model is to further develop speaking skills on the topic 'Music" and to prepare students for using songs in the EFL classroom. At this stage students are involved in less teacher controlled activities, such as: discussions, simulations and role-plays. The examples of the questions for discussion as well as simulations might serve the following:The task "Support or challenge the following statements" also serves the purpose of preparing students for discussion about the modern perspectives of development in music:The concluding lesson on the topic may go in the form of a panel talk where students present their points of view on trends in modern music, supporting their presentation by musical pieces related to the discussion.

Since the ability of using the songs and music in class is an important constituent of the would-be teachers preparation, the third phase should also include training, so that prospective teachers of English could have the knowledge and skill to do the following:

To develop the skills mentioned above, it is possible to encourage the students to fulfill the following tasks:


Concluding, I would like to mention that the system of activities presented above has the character of a training model, which may be creatively extrapolated to different musical genres - be that jazz, classic music, country music or any other.


The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. IX, No. 3, March 2003