Hitting the Right Note:
Extending the Theme of Your Song

Author of the popular True Stories seriesSandra Heyer

One way to extend the lessons in True Stories Behind the Songs and More True Stories Behind the Songs is to follow up each unit with a supplemental song that connects to the theme of the unit, plus an activity to go with the supplemental song. Each month I’ll share a song-based activity that has worked well with my beginning and high-beginning students.

This month, let’s look at some examples of song choices and the targeted cloze exercise.

For this exercise, delete targeted vocabulary from the song lyrics, and have your students fill in the missing words. Because the focus is on words or forms you’d like to review, rather than on random words, the targeted cloze helps students see the connection between what they’ve learned in class and real-life English.

 Create a Targeted Cloze Exercise in 3 Easy Steps:

Step 1: Copy the song lyrics from the Internet, and delete words that are related in some way.  For example, delete past-tense forms, prepositions, wh-words, articles, or rhyming words. The rule of thumb is that you should not delete more than 10% of the lyrics.

Step 2: Put the deleted words in a word bank on the page. Label each word with a letter, so students use just that letter for their answer as they listen. That way you can avoid pausing the recording, as students need more time to write the whole word.

Step 3: Play the song for your class and have students write in the letters of the missing words as they listen.

Tip: Search “create cloze” for several online sites that help you create a cloze exercise.

Unit 3 of More True Stories Behind the Songs features the Bill Withers song “Someone To Lean On.”  Friendship is the theme of the unit, so we then listen to “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from the movie Toy Story. The popularity of this movie makes it likely that the song is familiar to many students.

Example 1: Cloze Exercise targeting rhyming words

You’ve got a friend in me.                                    a.said
You’ve got a friend in me.                                    b.ahead
When the road looks rough _b_,                         c.bed
And you’re miles and miles
From your nice warm __,
You just remember what your old pal __.
Boy, you’ve got a friend in me.
Yeah, you’ve got a friend in me…

After students complete the cloze activity, you can practice the pronunciation of the rhyming words. You can point out that different vowels and vowel combinations can make the same sound in English. For fun, students can watch the opening credits to the movie Toy Story.

Looking for more classroom-friendly songs with a friendship theme? Try:

  • “Bridge over Troubled Water” (Simon and Garfunkel)
  • “Friends Will Be Friends” (Queen)

Unit 1 of More True Stories Behind the Songs features “You’re Beautiful,” the autobiographical James Blunt song about seeing an old love on the London subway.  We then listen to Adele’s “Someone Like You,” another autobiographical song about finding a lost love.

Example 2: Cloze Exercise targeting irregular past-tense forms

Delete the irregular past-tense forms from the lyrics, and replace them with the infinitive form of the verbs, followed by a blank line.

I (hear) _______________ that you’re settled down.

That you (find) _______________ a girl and you’re married now.

I heard that your dreams (come) _______________ true.

Guess she (give) _______________ you things I (don’t) _______________ give to you.

Before students listen to the song, have them fill in the blanks with the past-tense forms of the verbs in parentheses. (Note that in this case the missing words are not in a word bank.) When students are finished writing their answers, you can write the correct forms on the board so students can check their spelling. You can also review the pronunciation of the past-tense forms. Then students listen to the song. A nice culminating activity would be watching the official video, shot in black and white along the banks of the Seine.

Looking for more classroom-friendly songs about finding a lost love? Try:

  • “And Still” (Reba McEntire)
  • “It’s All Coming Back to Me” (Celine Dion)


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