Thinking about music…

photo: Elizabeth Grima
photo: Juanes in Concert taken by Elizabeth Grima

I teach a new song each week (or sometimes week and a half). It is basically our warm up. They have a packet (don’t tell Jeff Bliss!) containing the lyrics of the song, a cloze activity, and sometimes I throw in a word cloud or other activity. They are also assigned about 10 words from the song that they have to know by the end of the week. Each day, they listen to the song, look at the lyrics, sing along if they like. On Thursday they do the cloze activity. On Friday they take a really easy quiz. They love learning the songs and the quiz is so easy they don’t mind that either.

Here are many of my music files:

Lots of times kids will suggest new songs to me, or request additional songs by certain artists! I love it!

So, I love music, my students love music, and it has become a non-negotiable part of the way my class operates. But I wonder…what if I stopped giving quizzes over the songs? What would happen? Would the kids stop listening? Would they be less likely to learn new words from the songs? Would they learn MORE? Would they like the music MORE?

I am asking for your feedback on this. What do you think? Should I try it? Should I do anything in place of the quizzes? Anything I should watch out for?

Thanks for reading and thanks in advance for your comments!


  1. I have been using popular music in my classes for 15 or more years now and like you, it is a “non-negotiable” part of class. At one point, I did quiz vocabulary and do cloze exercises etc, but now I don’t do any of that. It’s nice to have something we do for the sheer pleasure of it…adding the word “test” or “quiz” somehow taints that. Often when I introduce a new song, as soon as it is over a student will say, “Can we listen to it again?” The answer is always “No, not today but next class we will.” It leaves them excited to get back to it again in the next class time together.

    The only difference is that I play a song at least 10 times (sometimes more) before we move on to a new one and I have yet to have a student tell me that they are tired of a song. Eventually, they almost all start to sing along naturally without any prodding from me…and with some songs they dance. It’s so rewarding for me!

    First, I introduce the artist(s) in the TL. Then I show the music video and they listen for words they hear/know. Next, I give them the lyrics with translation underneath. In upper levels, I give them a Google Doc with the lyrics and they translate them as a class in a jigsaw activity–pairs are assigned 2-3 lines to translate. Then, for the next few weeks we listen to the music most of the time without the video. Each day, I dissect 2-3 lines of the text with them. We discuss BRIEFLY vocabulary connections and grammar concepts (“ma voix” means “my voice” so how would you say “your voice”, “the voice”, “his voice”? etc….or: “Why is there a silent “ent” at the end of this word?”). Listening to the song and the text discussion in the TL is about 5-6 minutes.

    A little game I play with them is to quickly pause the music (2 seconds maximum) and the first student to say the number of the line we are on wins team points toward a goal.

    Last of all, because music is an important part of nearly every class, I have always invested in a good sound system with a subwoofer that is better than what the school provides. I am in a new school this year with CHEAP speakers and can’t wait to get a better sound system!

  2. What did you end up choosing? I’ll circle one or two structures when we start a song, sometimes connected to past or future vocab or grammar, sometimes just something I think they might enjoy knowing or find useful. Then at the end of the quarter I usually do a song lyrics “final exam”. I pick essential structures they’ve had over the course of the quarter that also show up in songs and ask them to translate. It’s mostly just a way for students to be successful and see how much of what they learn in class comes up in authentic, outside of class language.

  3. We do a song very two weeks. No quiz but some put in the correct order, cloze, quick translate activities. I have even provided a paraphrased line they had to match to a line from the song.

  4. In the first weeks of school in Spanish 1, do you all use songs by these famous artists or stick to easier ones like ¨el cuerpo¨ etc? I am worried about introducing songs where they know little to nothing of…or…is the goal just to relax and listen to the melody and get a few words here and there? Are you all talking about the meaning of the song or just a few lines? Thanks for your help. Any advice for Spanish 1, month 1 is appreciated.

  5. Hola, how do I get to see your music files? I click on the link…it takes me to google drive…i login but only my files are there.


    And please send me your mailing address along with Carrie’s as I have Internado presents for you!

  6. One of the most successful activities I ever did with a song (and haven’t repeated BOO) at the end of a semester in a more advanced class after a song-a-week routine was to tell kids to pick a favorite line from a song. They used just that line as a punchline somewhere near the end of a story they wrote in a series of fast writes. I read the final, edited stories out loud. When I got to the punchline, they tried to guess what it would be. I read the stories minus the authors’ names. That way I could both correct mistakes and no one would know based on what they knew that person’s favorite song to be.

    I use a mix of songs I like and songs they find. On Fridays, any kids with birthdays from that week get to pick one song and accompanying media (if we have it) to sing, after the birthday song of course. We have some YouTube videos, some PPTs that kids or I have made to go with songs, some recordings, and some classroom lip-sync videos of songs. We don’t do quizzes much, though in classes that lose focus during songs, I do institute them. Rule: everyone has to be either doing gestures that go with the song or following the text. Once they start singing or mouthing the words by heart, they can drop both the gestures and having their eyes on the text.

  7. We play a song each week and as they listen, they fill out a cloze. We go through a stanza or two on Wednesday after listening for the 3rd time and some more on Thursday, then Friday, we fill out any missing words and listen for the last time. Friday is the day we sing- the louder the better. It’s a no-stress way to start the class, be in the TL and just have fun.

  8. Hi Kristy! I do a song of the week with Sp2 and Sp3. I actually like the idea of the short, easy quiz. I might try it this year. Also, thanks for sharing that Google Drive folder with all of your songs!! You are definitely one of the top 3 sharers of my PLN 🙂

  9. I only do a quiz about once a month. Usually I just do a fun activity with the song on Friday. They would love music no matter what you did so do what your heart says!!! 🙂

  10. I used to (and considering to bring it back) follow a weekly pattern with a song. It was at the time when Internet wasn’t so readily present and available in most of my students’ homes. There was no quiz but the eventual goal of “song of the week” was to have them write a brief reflection/opinion about it at the end. So at the beginning of the semester, I would give to students a “How to talk about music” sheet with vocabulary and structures necessary to discuss music and express opinion supported by some details from the song.

    On Monday, we just listened (no lyrics), discussed music genre, rhythm, melody, instruments, mood, opinion on music etc. On Tuesday we tried to listen to lyrics to pick out words and expressions we could understand and predicted what the song could be about. Wednesday – Friday we worked with lyrics in a variety of ways: put the lines in order, cloze activities, match French lyrics with English translation, etc. as well as discussed our understanding what the song was about, what topics or themes it treated, its purpose, our opinions on both lyrics and music. If there were a video, I would let the kids know but we couldn’t watch it in class because YouTube was blocked. Finally, I gave kids 2-3 guiding questions based on song’s lyrics to write a reflection/opinion piece during the weekend (or they could always take it in their own direction).

    Since the “song of the week” was an upper-level class feature, which meant fewer students, I usually was able to read all of the reflections in the following week and write my comments. Some of them turned out to be great exchanges between students and myself, especially the ones who were shy on talking in class in front of people. It sharpened kids’ writing skills, opinion-giving and touched upon a wide range of topics and themes which brought the need to use the vocabulary from the song. It did mean that I had to read and comment on 20+ writing samples weekly but in my eyes it was worth it.

    1. Sounds great! I like that they didn’t have to understand the WHOLE song. I have 110 kids in my level 3 classes this year so I probably won’t do weekly writing! But I like the thought of it!

  11. I do not give quizzes over songs. We listen, dance & do activities with them. Many of them say it is their favorite part if class so I donor want to “ruin” the music for then with a quiz

  12. I do a song a week just like you do with some kind of activity. We use the song as background music the entire week, we do a 10-15 minutes activity during their extended block, we listen, we watch the video- and done. They love to suggest artists and sing along as they work in class. The difference for me is that the songs are not handed out in advance and I don’t do ‘quizzes’. I do find that motivated students use some of the vocab in their own work. I don’t think the quizzes or not would change the motivation. I like the ‘what are we going to do with the song’ this week questions that my students always ask – and it keeps me on my toes to keep it interesting. Variety is a great ‘spice’ for class. My post on my Song of the Week

    1. Exactly Colleen! I am finding that the less-motivated kids enjoy the music but don’t really care to internalize the vocabulary. The more motivated kids are at home finding new songs that I didn’t assign! I feel like eliminating quizzes would save me work and class time while not changing much about the learning quality!

  13. Ohhh, I love looking to see what songs other teachers use in class, but the link to dropbox says the file has been deleted or removed.

  14. I don’t give quizzes throughout the year on songs, but I do give them on my midterm and final exams as the listening section. I really love it because it lightens the mood of exams, and it gives kids a reason to learn to listen to songs overall and improve.

    1. So I assume the tests have songs you’ve studied, not new songs, right? I sometimes put a new song on a final exam but I select one that has familiar words!

      1. Yes! I only use songs that they have heard. This year, I let them vote on which song they wanted. They pretty much picked the one that I wanted them to… 🙂 but they felt like they had more control over one part of their exam.

          1. I just do a cloze and also ask what some lines mean. It is a multiple choice exam (we literally have 3 hours to get our grades turned in and our rooms shut down for summer after the last exam!). I select a song that is easy so they do well!

  15. perhaps one week surprise them with a Kahoot! instead of a quiz….check the reaction…go back to the quiz for a week…(don’t negotiate)…but then surprise again – I bet Kahoot! would keep them paying attention in itself.

  16. I do the exact same thing, except I do the cloze (and I don’t make it difficult) as the quiz. Sometimes it is comprehension, but usually cloze. I also add on some questions to the end of the music quiz sometimes. I probably could drop them, too, but it gives a reason for the students to keep listening to the same song everyday, because without the quiz, they’d want to switch more often, especially if they didn’t love the song, and I like them listening to it more than once or twice. So that’s my rationale, but if your kids are more agreeable than mine, I’d drop it.

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