songs: fill-in-gaps with a twist

This is one of my favourite song activities ever. It focuses on having a look at relevant vocabulary from a song by means of a dictation (again, with a twist), on having the students mingle and help each other with meaning and then doing your typical fill-in-gaps. Finally you may decide to allow time for some speaking interaction with the target vocabulary.

Select 10-15 key words from the song. Choose words you expect all students to know and also some difficult words for the language level. I have chosen to play Stitches by Shawn Mendes for an Intermediate/Upper-Intermediate level.

Ask the students to get a piece of paper and draw three columns on it headed “I know”, “I’m not sure”, “I don’t know”. Tell them you are going to dictate a number of words or language chunks from a song they are about to listen to. First they must take those words down and write them under the corresponding column according to whether they know them, they are not too sure about it or they don’t know at all.

For the song that I have chosen I would dictate:

  • sore
  • knife
  • to breathe
  • (to) go under
  • to bleed
  • to shake
  • stitches
  • to trip over
  • to ache
  • to wind up
  • moth
  • to lure someone in
  • to reap what you sow

Then have the students mill around and help each other to come up with the full list and meaning. Do not help them with meaning at this stage.

Give them a copy of the gapped lyrics and have them write down the missing words and expressions. Play the song for them to check. Then help them with the vocabulary they don’t understand.

Finally you can ask them to spend some time reading the lyrics and discuss what the song is about and share their different interpretations of it.

Or alternatively you can think of conversation questions with some of the target words and expressions for vocabulary consolidation and some speaking practice. For instance:

  • How would someone get a sore head/throat/legs?
  • Have you ever got stitches in your skin? What happened?
  • Have you ever wound up in hospital?
  • Can you think of a situation where someone could say “Well, you reap what you sow”?
  • Which are some of the most common aches and pains?

This type of song exploitation also works really well with these songs: Earth Song by Michael Jackson, Try by Pink, Big Yellow Taxi by Counting Crows and Firework by Kate Perry. Which words would you dictate?

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