Teaching Tip: Using contemporary music to teach grammar

Jessica Williams

Songs can be an effective, engaging way to introduce or reinforce a grammatical point. Beyond captivating students’ attention, the repetitive nature of song lyrics provides opportunity for students to encounter grammatical features multiple times (Folse, 2009) within a two- to four-minute window. Additionally, the grammar often occurs within a meaningful, story-like context. With song lyrics in hand, there are many ways that instructors can guide their students to notice grammatical features—both their form and usage—particularly in the spoken register. Since locating relevant, suitable songs that include the desired language features can be time consuming, the sharing of such songs is valuable.

In an intermediate adult ESL class, the future forms be going to, will, and the present progressive are typically introduced since these are the most frequently occurring structures in English to express future time (Carter & McCarthy, 2006). The following songs utilize the structures be going to and will, and each of them was released within the past five years. (This provides an alternative to hearing Whitney Houston incessantly belt out “I Will Always Love You” [Parton, 1974, track 1] in the classroom.)
  • The popular singer Meghan Trainor’s “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” (Trainor, Weaver, & Smith, 2015, track 6) uses the form be going to in its shortened form gonna, which frequently occurs in spoken English (Carter & McCarthy, 2006).
  • “Young and Beautiful” (Del Rey & Nowels, 2013, track 3) features will, including the interrogative form.
  • The hit single “Next to Me” (Sandé, Chegwin, Craze, & Paul, 2012, track 11) uses will, including its contracted form, and won’t.
  • “I Will Wait” (Mumford, 2012, track 3), recorded by the band Mumford & Sons, uses will and its contracted form.
  • “Someone Like You” (Adkins & Wilson, 2011, track 11), released by well-known singer Adele, contains simple present and past tenses and the future using will (in its contracted form)—this could be a great verb tense review and introduction to the future tense with will.
There are multiple avenues one could take to incorporate these songs into grammar lessons based on the needs of the class; perhaps this list will serve as a useful starting point for instructors to demonstrate future tense grammar in context and motivate students through music!
Adkins, A. & Wilson, D. (2011). Someone like you [Recorded by Adele]. On 21 [CD]. London, UK: XL.
Carter, R. & McCarthy, M. (2006). Cambridge grammar of English: A comprehensive guide. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Del Ray, L. & Nowels, R. (2013). Young and beautiful [Recorded by Lana Del Rey]. On The Great Gatsby: Music from Baz Luhrmann’s   film [Digital download]. Santa Monica, CA: Interscope.
Folse, K. S. (2009). Keys to teaching grammar to English language learners: A practical   handbook. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Mumford, M. (2012). I will wait [Recorded by Mumford & Sons]. On Babel [CD]. London, UK: Island.
Parton, D. (1974). I will always love you [Recorded by Whitney Houston]. On The           bodyguard: Original soundtrack album [CD]. New York, NY: Arista. (1992).
Sandé, E., Chegwin, H., Craze, H., & Paul, A. (2012). Next to me [Recorded by Emeli Sandé]. On Our version of events [CD]. Hollywood, CA: Virgin.
Trainor, M., Weaver, J., & Smith, C. (2015). Like I’m gonna lose you [Recorded by Meghan Trainor & Jon Legend]. On Title [CD]. Nashville, TN: The Green Room.

Jessica Williams is an ESL instructor at Rockford University.

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