NATE2017 | Dorothy Zemach: Using Songs in the Classroom | Workshop summary

Posted: June 2, 2017 in Conferences

Dorothy Zemach gave a very useful practical workshop on using song to a packed room at the NATE conference in Moscow, Russia. Here are my notes from her workshop. 

Abstract: This practical workshop gives examples of activities you can do with songs – far more than just removing some words for students to write in. We’l also discuss how to select songs and which ones work best to teach and practice English. And of course we’ll listen to real music!

The handout for this workshop will be available at Dorothy’s website http://wayzgoosepress.com/freebies next week.

What are some reasons to use songs in the classroom?

  • Students like this – this is a good reason and not the only reason.
  • When looking for songs, the question ‘why questions do my students like?’ is not the main for Dorothy. She wants to find songs that will help with vocabulary, grammar and, most of all, pronunciation (because features of connected speech in slow songs are a lot easier to hear than in conversation).

Challenges associated with using songs:

  • Some songs contain bad grammar – which makes them bad teaching material
  • Bad/explicit vocabulary – also makes the song impossible to use in context
  • Lyrics that you find online are often incorrect and you have to double-check
  • Difficult to find songs for a particular language point.
    Where can you find suitable songs? Save all links – over the years Dorothy has collected a collection of songs that are good for present perfect / two-part verbs / etc.

Dorothy encourages teachers to buy copies of songs we use in class, as it’s only fair to pay the people who created your materials!

Next Dorothy Zemach showed activities that she’d used with five songs.

Tom’s Diner Suzanne Vega

This is a very clear song that can be used with A2 learners.

Stage 1 Read and understand and answer these questions just from listening – to give the learners a sense of achievement.

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Stage 2 Students are given gapped lyrics, in which  all present continuous verbs have been taken out.

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Tips: 

  • The gaps are too close so Dorothy warns the students in advance that while they’re writing one verb they’re likely to miss the next one. She says that she’ll stop after each verse and play it again.
  • The verbs straightening / hitching are likely to be problematic, so Dorothy will pre-teaches them in advance. In a practicing activity that is well designed the students are able to get almost everything right.

Stage 3 Listen again without looking at the lyrics and raise your hand each time you hear present continuous (this does challenge the students because some words, like ‘morning’ sound like verbs, which means they have to process what they’re listening to.

I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash; On the Rocks
Language point: weather vocabulary

This song has a lot of weather vocabulary. You can see the procedure in the handout – notice that in Task 4 the students talk about what it means because it’s a metaphor.

For lower level students the challenge is that their language level is low but they’re still adults and they have complex ideas. So it’s important for them to sometimes get the chance to talk about complex issues.

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Interestingly, in Libia when Dorothy asked ‘what do heavy cloud mean’, the learners said ‘happiness’ – because it hardly ever rains there and they pray for rain! But this prompted discussion of connotations in western countries – important, e.g. for understanding of films (when we see dark cloud, this might signal that something terrible is going to happen – if you can’t interpret that, you will have trouble understanding the film).

As you listen to this song, notice that the singer sings so slowly that it’s easy to hear the phonemic features, e.g.  what happens with sound /k/ in ‘dark cloud’ .

Working with a song, you’ll probably need to play it several times. When lots of people have covered a song, why not play different versions? If the versions are slightly different, this gives the learners another reason what to listen for.

 

Nothing (Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians) 
Language point:  ‘nothing / something / everything.

 

Stage 1. The students are given gapped lyrics to listen and fill in.

Stage 2. Dorothy asks the learners to explain why the singer is singing ‘Don’t tell me nothing’ – is that bad grammar? No, because actually she’s singing ‘Don’t tell me ‘nothing” – what she’s saying it ‘talk to me’. When low level learners work that out, they feel that they understand the hidden meaning and feel intelligent.

Cat’s in the Cradle by Harry Chapin
Discussion point: family/culture

Stage 1: discussion.

Worksheet design: notice how pre-listening section starts with some very easy to answer questions, followed by questions that require more thought.

Stage 2: students listen and read at the same time – if there’s any vocabulary or anything else you don’t understand, underline it.

This normally arises some cultural questions related to:

  • Cat’s in the Cradle, a children string game,
  • Little boy blue, a line from a nursery rhyme
  • The man in the moon – this is what little kids are told (as the spots on the mood resemble a face)
  • a silver spoon – the traditional gift for a newborn baby

So these are all things that people heard in the childhood and so they evoke nostalgia.

Stage 3: Discussion

Is this a terrible father? Should he not pay his bills?
Why did he not call? (When this song was written, phone calls were very expensive)
What can you do to have close feeling with your family, given that you have a limited amount of time?
These are the topics that everyone can relate to.

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Exposé – I’ll Never Get Over You Getting Over Me

Language point: two/three-part verbs; phonology (intrusive /w/ in between vowels, e.g. go_w_away, go_w_on – which is very difficult to hear in conversation, but a lot easier to hear when sang slowly.

Worksheet design: for students, Dorothy will normally provide the expressions in a box, for them to listen and choose.

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I hope you dance by Lee Ann Womack
Dorothy Zemach uses this song with more advanced students

Stage 1: Listen (not watch) and decide: what’s the relationship between the singer and the person that she’s singing to?

 

Stage 2: As it’s quite metaphorical, Dorothy provides the lyrics, gets through them line by line and elicits what is implied in each line.

Dorothy 2

Stage 3: Focus on language (language of imperatives..)

Stage 4; Writing assignment: the learners write their own letter to someone they care about (if they can, they can write a poem). They need to do that using the same grammar points (imperatives / I hope you [verb]). Here’s how Dorothy scaffolds this task:

dorothy3.jpg

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I thoroughly enjoyed this workshop. For me it was very interesting to look at some specific examples how Dorothy Zemach has used songs in class, and I’d really like to try some of these songs and activities in class.

I also really liked the way Dorothy shared practical advice on material writing (e.g. on ordering discussion questions) simply by commenting on the design of the worksheets.

The thing I enjoyed the most was the post-listening activities – the way Dorothy encourages the learners to explore metaphors and culture. I especially loved the post-listening activity that she designed for the last song – I know that I’d love to be in that class. 

I teach Business English students at the moment and I hardly ever use songs with my BE learners – I came away from this workshop inspired to keep an eye out for songs suitable for my context and to use them a lot more in class.  

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Comments
  1. Adi Rajan says:

    Thank you for these detailed notes (comme d’habitude) Olya! It almost feels like I attended the event 🙂

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