ESL fun with songs and music videos

(This is a monstrously long post. Beware!)

This week is an in-between sort of week for my main school kids. We’ve finished Lesson 5 in the textbook, which is as far as we’re going before the final exam, and next week marks the beginning of the speaking test. I decided not to try to teach them anything substantial because they probably wouldn’t listen anyway… so we’ve been listening to songs and watching music videos. ^^

I make it somewhat academic by having them score the videos 1-5 (terrible to amazing) and write a couple sentences describing their opinion of the video (e.g. “I liked it because it was funny” or “I didn’t like it because it was boring”). This reviews their lesson on opinions from the textbook as well as refreshes/expands their vocab for descriptive adjectives. (I usually make two columns on the board, Like and Don’t Like, and they brainstorm adjectives that fit either category.)

What music videos did we watch? I wanted to choose videos which: A) they probably hadn’t seen before, B) were appropriate in both lyrics and content, C) were visually appealing/interesting, and D) had a theme or were somehow related to each other.

I thought the best musical group to fit this category was OK Go. If you don’t know who they are, you need to check them out ASAP. All of their videos are incredibly creative, and all of them use only one camera, one take. I made sure my kids understood this as well, and they were pretty impressed.

Here are the three videos I used (although there are so many more, and it was really hard to narrow it down!). Ultimately, I picked these three because there is a theme – the titles are all idioms! Before I showed each video, I explained the idiom to my kids.

“The Writing’s on the Wall” – Optical Illusions

“This Too Shall Pass” – Rube Goldberg Machine

“White Knuckles” – Well-trained dogs ^^

As of this writing, I have seen each of these videos a minimum of 9 times each (by tomorrow that count will be upped to 12). Yes, there are times I’ve stood there thinking “Oh-my-gosh-is-it-over-yet-this-is-the-longest-video-ever“… but if the class has a positive reaction to it, then they inspire me to see it with new eyes again, too.

It’s strange how each class seems to unanimously have an overall reaction – some are unenthusiastic as a whole, some are vocal as a whole, some are excitable as a whole. (As a NET in Korea, one of the best sounds in the world is a chorus of hearty “우와!”s from your students – it sounds like “uwaaaaa!” and it’s the equivalent of “wow/whoa”.) So when I get one of those classes where they’re shouting “우와!” and laughing, it’s awesome.

Also strange is how each class seems to have its own sense of humor. For example, in “The Writing’s on the Wall,” some classes laughed when the guy is lying sideways (but appears to be standing up) and gets pink liquid poured on his face [around 1:50] – some were stonefaced. Some thought it was funny when people popped out from behind set pieces at the end, some didn’t. In “White Knuckles,” most of my classes loved the jumping dog [2:35], but a couple were silent. Some classes seemed to love the chair-spinning bit [1:23] more than the dog tricks. I just find it fascinating how strong a classroom culture can be, to sway all the individual kids one way or another.

Some of the unexpected responses I’ve gotten regarding their opinions of the videos:

“I didn’t like it because it made me dizzy / gave me a headache.”

“I think it’s boring because I’ve seen it already.”

“I liked it because it was colorful.”

“I thought it was very interesting because they used optical illusions so nicely.” (That was from one of my high level kids, but it still surprised me.)

I’ve also been having them listen to “Lemon Tree” by Fool’s Garden and play the “stand up and sit down when you hear one of your words” game which I used with my after-school class a month or so ago.

I had my doubts about it because there are some classes that just don’t want to do anything… but once again, I was surprised to see about 90-95% participation in every class. My co-teacher told me she was also surprised, because some of the shyest kids in class were doing it! That made me so happy. I can relate, though, because as a shy person myself, I know that this is something I wouldn’t dread doing if I were a student because A) it doesn’t require speaking and B) you’re not singled out – you’re doing it with your peers. I think that’s why it works well even with the shy kids. Most of them were laughing throughout as well.

I wish I could take a video, because from the teacher’s perspective at the front of the classroom, they look so adorable. It’s like conducting an orchestra. I always give special recognition to the students who get the word “turning,” because the song has the lyric “I’m turning, turning, turning, turning, turning around” several times, and the poor kids pop up and down frantically to keep up (which everyone thinks is hilarious).

Just now a student came into the office to ask my co-teacher (and indirectly, me, but he was too shy to ask me directly) if the response “It gives me a sense of belonging” and “It makes me relaxed” were appropriate answers for the speaking test question about wearing school uniforms. Fantastic! I’m about to burst with pride.

This kind of thing makes me look forward to sitting down one-on-one with each kid, even if it’s just for 1 or 2 minutes, and having a more personal conversation with the ones who are capable of doing so. For the low level or super shy ones, I’m just going to be as encouraging as I can, and if they at least attempt to speak English with me, that’s awesome and they pass.


6 thoughts on “ESL fun with songs and music videos

  1. Mom says:

    Love it! Going to watch the videos now but just wanted to say that the “turning, turning, turning” part made me laugh, picturing the kids. And I can see why you are bursting with pride about your students answers to the uniform question!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maddy says:

      P.S. I also usually briefly went over the concepts of the first two videos as far as optical illusions (착시) and Rube Goldberg machines (루브 골드버그 머신) to make sure they knew what those things were. Showing the Korean translation for both helps.


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