SO YOU THINK YOU CAN’T SING

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Researchers from the University of Edinburgh found that adults who sang words or short phrases in a foreign language were twice as good at speaking it later (see more here).

However, not everyone will sing along to the song.

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, has recently attracted much criticism for not singing along to God Save the Queen at a memorial service. He’s not the first one and most definitely not the last one to remain tight-lipped as the song plays. And while reporters are busy coming up with all possible reasons why some public figures wouldn’t join in, including ‘they don’t like the song’, ‘they don’t like singing’, ‘they don’t know the words’, ‘they’re very shy fellows’ and ‘they’re the Queen’, teachers are looking for ways to engage all students in the happy choir in the classroom to the end of better language learning.

This post is for those teachers whose students are rather self-conscious and would prefer to remain silent when a song plays. It gives no solutions on how to help them become confident singers but offers a few songs and activities that include some elements of singing.

1.

G-Chord, Stewie Griffin

ELT focus:

Grammar: Tenses, namely Present Simple vs. Present Continuous with a focus on verbs that cannot be used in continuous forms.

Conversation: Describing plans, moods, the weather and people around.

Ask students to read the lyrics of the song (see the lyrics here). Play the song and get the students to lip sync the song while they’re listening to it.

Have students change the song according to what they see in the classroom. Have them look out of the window and write down what they see. After they have changed the lyrics, play the song again and get the students to ‘lip sync’ their version of the song.

(You can also use the changed lyrics to play Whisper Challenge (See Step 3 in IT’S ALL ABOUT TENSES: TIME TO CHOCOLATE).

2.

Unbelievable, Diamond Rio

 ELT focus:

Vocabulary: Word building (turning verbs into adjectives with the suffix ‘-able’). 

Conversation: Describing people.

Before students listen to the song, ask them to form adjectives out of the following verbs:

kiss

hug

love

believe (not)

predict (not)

dispute (not)

deny (not)

Now listen to the song and check. Discuss the meanings of the adjectives formed with the suffix ‘-able’.

Play the song and get your students to sing the adjectives with ‘able’.

(See the lyrics here)

3. 

If I Had $1,000,000, Barenaked Ladies

ELT focus:

Grammar: Conditionals.

Conversation: Discussing dating; money matters; and cultural differences.

Before your students listen to the song, ask them to come up with a list of things they’d buy for their boyfriend/girlfriend if they had 1,000,000 dollars. Write the ideas on the board.

Get your students to listen to the song and sing the line “If I had a million dollars, I’d buy you’. (See the lyrics here)

Compare the lists as given by them and Barenaked Ladies. Are there any differences? Can they be explained by cultural differences?

4. 

Everything is Tickety-Boo, Danny Kaye

ELT focus:

Vocabulary: Loanwords.

Conversation: Discussing words borrowed from English as used in the native language.

Listen to the song and try to guess the meaning of the expression TICKETY-BOO (See the lyrics here).

FYI: According to the Word Detective, there are a number of theories about “tickety-boo” (also sometimes spelled “ticketty-boo” and “tiggity-boo”) meaning “all in order, correct, satisfactory.” The phrase seems to have first appeared around 1939, although slang etymologist Eric Partridge asserted that it dates to the early 1920s. Partridge also believed that “tickety-boo” originated as armed forces slang. If so, it may be a relic of the British colonial presence in India. One of the leading theories about “tickety-boo” traces it to the Hindi “tikai babu,” meaning “it’s all right, sir.” A similar phrase common in the British Army in the mid-20th century, “teek hi” (meaning “all right”), was apparently drawn from the Hindi “thik,” meaning “exact or precise.” May have originated in the British military. Possibly related to the Hindi expression “tickee babu”, meaning “everything’s alright, sir”. Some people spell it “diggity boo” or “tiggity boo”.

Over the centuries English has incorporated many foreign words into the language. Split your students into small teams and ask to guess some of these words:

  1. Clothes worn for sleeping (Indian)
  2. Large area of tropical trees (Indian)
  3. A yellow citrus fruit with thick skin and fragrant, acidic juice (Middle East)
  4. American currency (Czech)
  5. A large keyboard musical instrument (Italian)
  6. Mathematics (Arabian)
  7. Comfortable lying seat (Arabian)
  8. Hot mixture of herbs and water (Chinese)
  9. Soft fabric used to make clothes (Chinese)
  10. A liquid preparation for washing the hair (Hindustani)
  11. Sweets; confectionery (French)
  12. A mechanical device that sometimes resembles a human and is capable of performing a variety of often complex human tasks (Czech)
  13. A short and striking or memorable phrase used in advertising (Gaelic)

See the answers in ARE YOU TICKETY-BOO.

Ask your students to think about the words used in the language that are borrowed from English. Are they used in the same meaning? Are there any equivalent words in their own language?

5.

Who Knew, Pink

ELT focus:

Grammar: Verb forms.

Conversation: Discussing relationships.

Pair up or split students into small teams and hand out the lyrics of the song (see the lyrics here) and ask students to replace the verbs in the song with ‘chocolate’ in the right form.

  Who Chocolated

You chocolated my hand
You chocolated me how
You chocolated me you’d be around
Uh huh
That’s right
I chocolated your words
And I chocolated
In everything
You chocolated to me
Yeah huh
That’s right

Get your students to sing ‘chocolate’ verb forms while they’re listening to the song.

As a further activity, play the Guessing Game (see Step 2 in IT’S ALL ABOUT TENSES: TIME TO CHOCOLATE).

Now, if nothing has worked and your students still remain tight-lipped,  play this song. If they do not end up singing ‘manana’ (for the rest of the day), then nothing on this planet can make them sing.

6.

Manana, the Muppets

While students listen to a song, get them to create a rhythm with finger snapping, or hand clapping. This may be used further to accompany a chanted verse.

Have students clap as they speak. Aaaand one-two-three-four (clap-clap-clap-clap), one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four…Betty Botter bought some butter, “But,” she said, “this butter’s bitter! If I put it in my batter, it will make my batter bitter. But a bit of better butter, that will make my batter better….one-two-three-four, keep the rhythm going.

If you have never done it before, watch this British Council’s video on stress timing to get a better idea of how to do this in the classroom.

Your students may think they can’t sing, but they can:
  • lip sync
  • hum to the song
  • sing a particular word
  • sing a phrase, and
  • create a rhythm

Extra resources:

Check out fantastic videos from the ELT music guru – Fluency MC.

Lyricstraining.com – an excellent resource for working with songs; ideal for homework.

Midomi.com. Your students are sure to like it – they don’t have to sing in the classroom, they may hum at home.

* * *

Please leave me a comment with your favourite song for the classroom.

Thank you for stopping by and happy teaching!

(Image: source)

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5 thoughts on “SO YOU THINK YOU CAN’T SING

  1. Hello Svetlana! Thanks a lot. I love singing in the classroom, though now as I’m a business English instructor it has become almost impossible 🙂
    My favourite song for Past Simple, for instance, is ‘I shot the sheriff’ by Bob Marley. It’s fun! And I wouldn’t be original if I named ‘Yesterday’ by the Beatles too.

    Liked by 1 person

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