Question About Songs

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21 thoughts on “Question About Songs”

  1. Just a thought from someone who’s never tried it (!!), but what about PQAing just, say, the chorus of a song and/or any other oft repeated lines? Perhaps once the chorus is known to the kids, the ‘mystery’ of what the verses may be about could be PQA material as well (i.e. who, what, why is so and so in love? are you in love, with whom, etc… for example)…even if the real verses are never discussed – if we get to *personalize* the chorus to the lives of our students, then bingo! Isn’t that what many of us do anyways with a catchy tune – make the song our own?
    Just a thought…

    1. Brian I had to read this twice to get it. I hear you saying that, since we can’t possibly set up full comprehension of the song, then we do repetitive parts like, as you say, “the chorus of a song and/or any other oft repeated lines.” Bingo on that. I mean I knew it, but I realized that I was avoiding even doing songs because for some dumb ass reason I wanted the kids to know every word. I should know better, becasue I even once wrote a blog post about the true value of simple repetition in the oeuvre of certain artists:

      1. Hey Ben,
        Scary when my English doesn’t come across as comprehensible! Not the first time!…
        You got the heart of what I was attempting to say: focus on the structures/vocabulary of the chorus, and don’t care so much about the rest of the song. With just the words/structures from the chorus we can spin into good PQA about the lives and thoughts of our students, I am sure…
        whatever else I was saying above was some convoluted way to simply say that: the chorus of a song is our focal point for the day while the answers we get from the students to our PQA questioning becomes our own ‘verses’ to the song (in a figurative way, that is)…who cares about the real verses to the song. (ex. Chorus: “I’m in love!”…OUR verses: “Sam is in love!” “Jeff is in love with chocolate!”, etc…
        Crap, I don’t know if that was any clearer. lol oh, well. Thank you, by the way, for the post to that older blog post on the power of simple repetition. I hadn’t read that one.

        1. It was clear the first time. I had just not really put it together as a solution to how to get through a song in one class period. Really well said, Brian. I think I am going to do a song on Monday. I’ll focus on the gut stuff, the stuff full of emotional charge. In the song Aisha (Cheb Khaled) – one of my two favorite songs along with Crazy by Gnarls Barkley – there is a stanza that simply says:
          Aicha, aicha, écoute-moi…
          Aicha, aicha, t’en vas pas…
          Aicha, aicha, regarde-moi…
          Aicha, aicha, réponds-moi…

          If the PQA and stories are launching pads for the rocket of comprehensible input, songs are the clouds we get to fly through in joy with our students because they understand.
          Here’s a link to Aicha:

          I heard it once in Hebrew, and, though I couldn’t understand it, it was even more powerful, if you can imagine that.

          1. Ben wrote:
            I heard it once in Hebrew, and, though I couldn’t understand it, it was even more powerful, if you can imagine that.
            According to one of my professors, Hebrew was the language of Eden, so of course it was more powerful. 😮

  2. Songs are fantastic.
    If I remember back to my high school days I recall most of the lyrics to the songs we learned. We did our first installment of Love Song Friday last week (In Accelerated II), Colgando en tus manos by Carlos Baute. We pretaught “colgando en tus manos” “déjame” “caer” (hanging in your hands, let me, fall) and used them in stories. We have done it for 2 Fridays in a row and next Friday the prompt for the kids will be something like: Carlos Bautes’ Colgando en tus manos is rich with metaphors. Using his song, explain how the lyrics display love as a motif. After having discussed the metaphors in class “Baute canta X pero quiere decir Y” they will be able to do this. Plus they have to know the lyrics from the songs. Graded for fluency (3.0 a native speaker could understand or 2.0 a teacher could understand) and analysis (3.0 can make a claim and support it with evidence 2.0 presents evidence without making a strong claim.) All I want is a paragraph. Sounds tough, I know but kids write some brilliant things when they are challenged and when grammar isn’t an issue.
    The kids crave the music and come in and tell me how they have downloaded it (probably legally) and have been listening to it all weekend. Popular songs quench their thirst.
    I like to present it like poetry and like they would receive it in their Honors English Classes. (Now that we officially have Accelerated Spanish II on the books we are part of the Sophomore quadfecta). It also makes me feel like I am teaching something real too.

    1. I have music on Wednesday (Musik am Mittwoch, which I got from a workshop from a local University professor) and play a song or two every Wednesday. Most kids say Wednesday is their favorite. I don’t worry if the kids know all the words of the song. I usually just tell them the chorus or even a line to listen for. For German 1 this week I told them to listen for the words for “eyes” and “stand” in the song. Sometimes I give them the lyrics and have them circle words they know or for German 2 and up have them try to translate as much as they can with a partner. In German 1 for the first song this year I played 99 Luftballons and taught them the number 99 and the word balloon . Every week I check the charts for new German songs and then watch them on youtube and check out their lyrics and see if they are appropriate and any good.
      Kids love the songs and ask for them and have them on their ipods and memorize the words on their own outside of class. For most of them it is their most favorite thing about German class and I enjoy it, too and I like learning about the new songs and artists and reading all those lyrics improves my German. When I taught at the Middle School the kids were spontaneously singing along with their favorite songs.

      1. I have music Fridays with twexted lyrics. I like your idea of having the students circle words they know and of giving them a couple of words to listen for. I’ll try that this week!
        It does take a bit of time to check out the lyrics and make sure they are school-appropriate, but music is such a great vehicle for making words stick.

          1. Duke Crawford’s site (don’t know if it’s linked here; if you go to my site, there’s a link on the right sidebar) has his invention: twexted songs. That means that the translation to a line appears right beneath the line, in smaller, harder to read letters, so that people can focus on the target language but find the translation if they need it. This form has been enormously successful in my classes. At first, kids didn’t like it as much as having the translation in the right-hand column (they thought it was cheating), but now they tell me that it helps them to learn the song’s meaning much more quickly.

  3. I am using the schedule in which Friday is song, poetry, painting day. The first song I played for the kids this year was “Fotografía” by Juanes and Nelly Furtado. I played the song for them while they looked at the lyrics (not knowing most of them), then I had a short read about Nelly Furtado on the screen in L2, then a short read about Juanes on the screen in L2. I also posted maps of Canada and Colombia and showed them where the two are from. All of the discussion was in Spanish and I tried my best to stay inside of their box of input. Then, I translated the lyrics for my students and called on them to translated when there were lyrics that I knew they would know. Then, for the last 5 minutes of class I played the music video of the song for them.
    These are some benefits that I like about song day:
    1. Lots of CI as we talk about the singers and spin PQA style discussion. (20 min. or more)
    2. Kids’ interest may be sparked and they may download/purchase the music to listen on their own. (When I started to love Spanish that is exactly what I did)
    3. Playing music is a very nice change to what we did previously in the week.
    4. Culturally, kids get to glimpse inside of the different cultures.
    One issue that I have with music day, is that the kids don’t understand the entire song (don’t we always want to stay inbounds?) However, although the song itself is not inbounds, I make a significant chunk of class time inbounds as we discuss the singers/artists and spin discussion.

  4. This just gave me an idea. I teach a grad school beginning French class which only meets twice a week, and it’s a big mix of levels. I’m going to teach them the repetitive chorus of a song and assign them the translation of some of the verses for homework. That will be a change for them from the story translations. Thanks for the discussion!
    BTW, I always do Vive la Compagnie as a singing dance. It’s very repetitive and teaches body parts physically (“Une main à la gauche, une main à la droite…).

  5. I do a lot of stuff with songs, different ways, but one way is to pre-teach the vocab of the chorus the first day, and then let them sing along to just that part and look at the twexted version of the song while the whole thing plays. That way, it’s CI, and you can work on other parts of the song later.
    This happened in my room this week–advanced kids wanted to hear a familiar song, but many new kids didn’t know it. So we worked on the chorus, then let the song play with the lyrics on the overhead. New kids were already singing along by the third day, and I had done some circling of the first two stanzas by then too. There are six stanzas, so we’ll do a couple a day and keep singing this until the end of next week. I do grammar pop-ups, questions about the motivation of the song-writer, PQA about the stuff in the song, and so on.
    I think I mentioned already that one of the best fast-writes I got last year was when I told the kids that they had to work a line from their favorite song into a story. Kids need a good selection of known songs and all the lyrics in front of them to be able to do that. We passed out the class songbooks and they chose. Like so many things that work well, it was not a plan. I just needed to quiet them down and do a write. They wanted to sing. It was a compromise.

  6. I love songs too, and have a rather sordid history of using them in class, ranging from just random listening/reading along with the lyrics to a choreographed lip-synch of a Shakira song, to a “use the info from our latin american history unit to create an original poem, song, rap, etc.” (The latter idea actually worked because that year I had 2 real musicians in the class)
    Yikes! I also avoid them for the same reasons Ben states, but now that I read everyone’s responses I realize I do tend to focus on the chorus, and that kind of takes care of it. Two years ago we did an impossibly crazy fast song by Tryo “Hymne de nos campagnes” because we had a Belgian exchange student who loved that song and wanted to teach it to us. Yeah French 1. Not a percentage move. We totally focused on the chorus for that one. One kid got so obsessed with it that she listened to it 5x a day on her ipod until she could sing the whole thing!
    I hope to structure my use of songs more consciously by using these ideas. In the meantime, can someone point me to a good list of songs. I have Bryce’s, and some other Spanish songs, but would love a list of French songs that folks have found appealing to teenagers.

    1. Jen,
      I have had success with my second and third year students with Emmanuel Moire. Search his name with “Sans Dire Un Mot”. it has a cool utube video to go with it. I have Students who downloaded it to their IPod during class! Another song I have used is “Sois Tranquille”. This one has a very melancholy tone to it, but the kids ask to hear it. One student is teaching herself how to play it on her guitar! I’m looking forward to hearing her play it. Search his name on Wiki and read the back story on this song. Very moving… I also love the Roi Soleil :p

    2. ok so on the songs we have to figure out the best way to put them all in one place. A few weeks ago I made a category called Song Links French. I can add two more for German and Spanish. That should be where the YouTube links go. Then I guess it would be up to the individual teacher to track down the lyrics. Or should we make a place for them too? My thinking here is that we need to have a place to go on this site where we can “grab” a song and lyrics and have them up and running in our classrooms in minutes. Right now we don’t have that. We spend a lot of time, or I do, surfing around and then there is never, has never been to my knowledge, a crisp locating process for the song. Actually, I don’t even want the YouTube link until the end of the process. I am still trying to frontload (backwards plan) that song Aicha. It’s not that easy. I grab a few minutes if I have them at the end of class and PQA one or two structures from the song. It is so time consuming. I hope I am clear here – we need ease of access to some great songs via the categories link on this site. Suggest any ideas you might have that might lead to that end. And let’s only send in songs that are upper 10% in wow factor. Otherwise it will be too crowded. If we know that the links we get here are killer songs we can trust that we won’t be wasting any time.

  7. I could go for a list of French songs. We need to get that together here as a category and then one for Spanish and German songs too. It would be like having our own links from those two categories here through our computers/LCDs and right up onto the screens in our classrooms, which could save us planning time maybe. I’ll put up the categories now and, people can just upload links. Just do like Jen says and keep them appealing to teens. We don’t want to get overloaded with a bunch of songs that kind of suck. I’ll put a link to Aicha to start things off and then add more as we go along through the year. Key word here – quality. And maybe there is a way of indicating best songs per level. We can’t be playing a complex song for level one kids. We can just think this through and let it develop. I do know personally that if Friday rolls around and I need a link to a song right quick it would be nice to find it instantly here, as I have done with story searches which have saved my ass at the last minute when I couldn’t find my script books.

  8. I just created the categories for German French and Spanish links. However, please send the song links to me as an email to Otherwise, if you just put the link as a comment, it will scroll out. I can just keep making new blog posts for each song which will then be available on a search of that category. At least this will work for now until we get something more fancy.

  9. Susan VanBronkhorst

    I have just started using some of the Spanish songs from Señor Wooly’s website for my middle school students. They love them! The vocabulary is simple and repetitive; the video versions of the songs are well done and hilarious; the cloze-type games are challenging and totally engaging. And the kids can’t stop singing the songs.

  10. Angela Williams

    Susan, I do the same with my middle schoolers as well! I teach at a K-8 school, and some of the younger brothers and sisters of my students have come up to me telling me how much they like the songs too!

  11. Laurie,
    If you see this message, could you or anyone on the blog working with music pleeeez advise how you approach songs? Laurie, I know you work a lot with music, and I just love music and kids do too.
    I m trying to do a song today with PQA and plain old translation after that and then want to do a cloze activity but I wonder about other ideas.
    Ben ‘s idea of course works but I m wondering if there are other ways .
    Any one out there with novel idea on how to approach music in a CI class?

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