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Here’s a teacher’s guide to using foreign language songs in the classroom (La Bamba)


Language Arts  


4, 5, 6, 7, 8  

Title – Teacher’s Guide to Using Songs in the Classroom (Foreign Language)
By – Stacey Tipton
Primary Subject – Language Arts
Secondary Subjects – Music
Grade Level – 4-8
Teacher’s Guide for Using Songs in the Classroom
(from Musical Spanish,

I – Setting the Stage: Before Playing Song
II – Ready! Playing the Song
III – The Fun Part: Getting Creative with the Song!
IV – List of scholarly references supporting the use of music in FL teaching

I – Setting the Stage: Before Playing Song
          1 – It is a good idea to do a little groundwork before presenting the song. Students tend to react best when they can identify some familiar elements right from the start.

          2 – It is better not to have students look at the lyrics during this phase, allowing them to listen more carefully.

          3 – Review the song you are going to present, and create a list of target words for the lesson. It is wise to choose a focus:

                    A. pronunciation
                    B. vocabulary and idioms
                    C. grammar concepts
                    D. culturally rich lyrics

          4 – Students can listen more actively if they are listening for specific examples. Read the list of target words/phrases you want them to listen for. A vocabulary example for “La Bamba” would be:

                    una poca

          5 – These words can later be used to create associations and word clusters.

          6 – Another idea is to list several words in English, and ask them to listen for the equivalents in Spanish. An example for “La Bamba” is:

                    a little

          7 – The whole idea is to help students attach meaning to what they hear, and encourage mental associations as they listen to the song for the first time. You may also want to talk about what they think the song will be about based on the title, or whether they have heard the song before.

II – Ready! Playing the Song
          1 – Play the song, at least 2 times from beginning to end.

          2 – Ask students to talk about what they heard:

                    A – What images did they get from the song?

                    B – Did any of the words sound familiar or similar to other Spanish words they know?

                    C – Based on the rhythm and tone, what emotional state best describes the song? (you can add to this list!)
                              1 – excited
                              2 – jovial
                              3 – meloncholic
                              4 – demanding
                              5 – sad
                              6 – dreamy
                              7 – wishful
                              8 – in love
                              9 – hopeful
                              10 – desperate

                    D – Which phrases stand out in the song?

                    E – What is their favorite phrase or melody?

                    F – Which sections are the fastest/slowest?

          3 – Handouts: now is a good time to present handouts that can consist of the following:

                    A – Llyrics with certain target words MISSING

                    B – Multiple choice sheets; mix in words NOT heard in song

                    C – The complete lyrics

          4 – Ask students to fill in the blank words, or select the words that were really in the song.

          5 – Introduce the targeted pattern whether it be pronunciation, vocabulary, or a grammatical element. Ask students to identify all examples of this pattern in the song.

          6 – At this point you might like to play the song again, asking students to circle or underline phrases or patterns.

          7 – Present the grammar lesson, always referring back to the lyrics when possible for examples. In “La Bamba” there are several good concepts to introduce:

                    A – pronunciation
                    B – masculine/feminine
                    C- present tense verbs
                    D – 1st person future tense

          8 – Ask students how elements in the song remind them of things they’ve learned in class.

III – The Fun Part: Getting Creative with the Song!
          1 – Now is a chance to do fun activities related to the song. Use your imagination! Here are some ideas:

                    A – Have a sing along
                    B – Split the class into 2 or more groups, and have a COMPETING sing along, each group singing alternate phrases
                    C – Create skits based on the theme or words from the song
                    D – Have students talk about what picture they would draw to illustrate different phrases and concepts from the song
                    E – Have them draw them! (computurized kids can look for clip art….)
                    F – Have students write NEW lyrics to the music. It might be best to stick with only changing verbs and nouns, and keeping the basic grammatical concepts the same. This will encourage them to remember these patterns
                              Example: para cantar la bamba, para lavar la bamba, etc.
                    G – Write your own grammar chapter! Have students create a lesson plan based on a song, to be presented in a small group
                    H – Split the class into groups and create a dance like “La Macarena”– have a contest and vote for the winning dance
                    I – Have students create a music video for the song. This could include images with the song on the audio track or having students lip sync lyrics and act out themes for song

          2 – Talk about culture, Latin music, different music styles (like salsa, merengue, vallenato, tango, mariachi, bolero, flamenco, Andean, etc.) Ricky Martin, music videos, etc. Music can help students identify with the language more, and develop more of an interest in Latino culture. Use the opportunity to spread enthusiasm!

IV – List of scholarly references supporting the use of music in FL teaching: The bridging of music and Spanish is supported by national and state standards for arts educations and foreign languages. Below you’ll find references to documents outlining these standards as well as other articles detailing the benefits of the musical approach.

Anton, Ronald J. 1990. “Combining Singing and Psychology.” Hispania 73: 1166-70.

Cullen, Brian. 1998. “Music and Song in Discussion.” The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. IV, No. 10.

National Standards for Arts Education: Dance, Music, Theatre, Visual Arts: What Every Young American Should Know and Be Able to Do in the Arts. 1994. Reston, VA: Music Educators National Conference.

Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century. 1999. Lawrence, KS: Allen Press.

Trapp, Elisabeth A. B. 1991. “Break Down Inhibitions and Build Up Understanding with Music, Music, Music.” Hispania 74: 437-38.

Viney, Peter. “A Time for a Song.” Found on web:

Weinberger, N.M. Fall 1997. “The Neurobiology of Musical Learning and Memory.” MUSICA Research Notes V IV, I 2.

Willis, Bruce. and Keith Mason. 1994. “Canciones en la clase: The Why and How of Integrating Songs in Spanish by English-speaking and Bilingual Artists,” Hispania 77: 102-109.

© Stacey Tipton, 2000. All rights reserved. (Used with permission by

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