Many teachers want to fit music into their lesson plans, and I have experimented with several methods. I finally hit on something that really seems to be working for both me and the students.
Every fall, in my Everyday English class, we do a unit called Love & Relationships. In the first part of the unit, we talk about the various types of relationships between people and how to express that. Some examples are, "They are getting married." or "They are boyfriend and girlfriend." or "She is his boss." Later, we get into discussions about giving advice to a lady who has to choose between three guys who all have plenty of both good and bad qualities. (We usually advise her to stay single.) On another day, we discuss gender roles, like who usually fixes things in your house, who usually washes dishes and so on. This kind of discussion usually gets the kids realizing that they should do more to help their parents at home. We also talk about relationships, in terms of, who usually asks who out, who usually pays, etc. There is never any right or wrong answer, but it gives the students a chance to discuss their opinions as well as their own experiences.
To make the unit even more fun, I like to add another dimension to it: Love songs!
It's so easy to find love songs to use for class, and I have tried a variety of methods. Over the years, I have switched between teacher-centered and student-centered methods for incorporating music into the unit.
1. Teacher-centered - I found the love songs, made the worksheets to go with them, played them for the class and had them do the activities on the handouts. Activities included fill-in-the-blanks, put chorus lines in order, opinion-sharing about the themes, etc.
2. Student-centered - The students are put into groups and given the task to find a love song and make an activity to go with it. They are given 10 minutes at the beginning of class to present the song and activity to the class. We did this once a week for the duration of the unit until each group had a chance to present.
3. Teacher-centered - I gathered the love songs, pulling ffrom different genres and made an entire packet. The packet included the lyrics for each song, the background about each musician along with their photos, the activities for each song, and at the back, a matching exercise using the some of the idioms and meanings pulled from each song. For some songs, I showed the music video. For other songs, we just listened to the song.
4. Student-centered - Using the soundtracks from Glee, Season 1, I chose about 15 love/friendship songs and made a mix CD for each of the groups. Groups were given the CD and told to pass it amongst their group members until everyone had copied it to their iPod (or whatever they happen to use these days as a listening device). Groups were also asked to choose one song and to prepare a worksheet for their "song presentation." The "song presentation" would basically be a mini-lesson for the class, and their worksheets had to include the lyrics and the background about the artist and/or song. Groups also had a plan an activity, choosing from a list of ideas which I provided. I had one rule: No fill-in-the-blanks activities! I feel this type of activity is overdone and I wanted them to try some other types of activities.
I found that with teacher-centered, they did not always like the songs that I picked out, and the idiom-matching activity was too difficult, and for many students, idioms are akin to algebra ... not all that useful. With totally student-centered, I didn't like the songs that students chose. There were a lot of Disney theme songs and over-played movie soundtrack hits. (Can we hear the Titanic theme song one more time?) I thought the songs were too simple as the students are already so familiar with them and their Japanese versions, plus the activities that students created for the class were lame.
This year, I think I've hit on a formula that works, a perfect mix of teacher-control and student-centeredness. #4 option above explains in more detail, but let me explain why I think it works so well. First, the students are given a gift - it's cheap and easy for me to burn a few CDs for them, and it exposes them to something new. Glee, though extremely popular in the USA, is only shown on Cable TV FOX here in Japan, so many are not able to see it. I showed them the pilot episode just before summer vacation, and of course, they couldn't understand all of it, but they got the picture.
Even though it appeared that the students had a wide range of songs to choose from, I essentially had control because I chose this range. The CD provided them with the Glee versions of the songs, but students were free to use the original versions for their song presentations. You Tube lets us show music videos in many cases and we could play the original songs if students could not bring in the original artists' CDs.
Though students had a wide range of activities to choose from, the first group who presented just happened to choose "Discuss the theme of the song as it applies to your life" as their activity. This worked so well that most groups from then on chose the exact same activity. I would say that some groups were very good at executing a class discussion, but other groups froze, and let me be frank, some songs were much more difficult than others to discuss.
In the next post, I will share what we gleaned from each song and activity chosen by the 6 groups in the class.