Getting children interested in reading can be hard. And, unfortunately it is probably only going to get harder because nowadays educators are competing against smartphones, iPads and even VR headsets. There are some children who are born readers – you don’t need to do anything to get them on board. However, there are many children who may be unexcited by books. But this doesn’t mean that they cannot develop a love of literature. What we need to do is be creative, play to their interests and get them excited about reading. One way we can do this is by using song lyrics.

Songs make for a great hook into reading: they are easy to access and fun. We all know the lyrics to our favourite songs, but how often to do we really think about them? And there is a real value in thinking about song lyrics just as there is in thinking about a more traditional text form, such as a novel. Ultimately, studying novel and studying the lyrics from a song are the same thing. They both mean, looking at the relationships between words, and how they affect one another; unpicking meaning and inferring feelings and intentions; and, casting a critical eye over a character or author’s choices.

My name is Matthew Murray and I am the creator of a teaching blog called ‘2 Stars and a Wish’, which focuses on using materials such as song lyrics and poetry to teaching primary-age children reading skills. I’d like to share with you a few tips on using song lyrics in teaching reading:

  • Appropriateness: If you are going to use a song to teach reading, first and foremost, make sure it is age-appropriate. Unfortunately, a significant proportion of songs can reference things that we don’t want to introduce children to.
  • Activities: The type of activity you design will depend upon what you want the children to learn. In some instances you may just want to discuss the meaning of the lyrics, or why the author has written the lyrics. Instead you may want to look at the vocabulary of a song: you could give your children list of words and ask them to find synonyms for these in a song’s lyrics. Or in a more narrative focused song, one that tells a story, you could even generate a piece of a writing from it. Take Bastille’s song ‘Pompeii’, which focuses on the city that was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. With this song you could write in the role of one of the city’s citizens during the time of the disaster, using the song as a stimulus to discuss the thoughts and emotions of one of the victims. You may choose to take a more traditional route and ask questions, which brings me nicely on to my next point.
  • Asking questions: When getting children to answer questions on a text, it is a good idea to be specific about the type of questions you want them to answer. A popular teaching blog ‘The Literacy Shed’, has a wonderful system for devising questions. This blog breaks questions down into 8 specific skills called the ‘VIPERS’, which stand for ‘Vocabulary’, ‘Inference’, ‘Prediction’, ‘Explain’, ‘Retrieve’, ‘Summerise’ and ‘Sequence’.  ‘Vocabulary’ questions focus on the words and their meanings, and ‘inference’ questions require you to work out an answer based on the clues from the text and your background knowledge, for example. You can use these questions stems to compose your on questions for song lyrics. Here is a link to ‘The Literacy Shed’ blog, where you can find more information about ‘VIPERS’ questions.
  • Let the children find the songs: Let’s face it, we don’t always know who the best new artists are; we don’t know who the singer is that everyone’s talking about. Ultimately, no one is more down with the kids in your class, than the kids in your class – so let them tell you which songs they like. If your play to the children’s interests they’re much more likely to engage in discussions and enthusiastically participate in activities.

If you would like to see some example activities please do visit my blog:

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