Music, self-directed learning, and the EFL classroom

Gary G. Fogal, Kansai Gaidai University


Quick guide

  • Key words:Self-directed learning, listening and writing, peer feedback, self-assessment, vocabulary building, music, cultural awareness
  • Learner English level:Upper-intermediate to advanced
  • Learner maturity:High school seniors, college/university, and above
  • Preparation time:30 minutes for initial instructor modeling; thereafter 2 minutes per class
  • Activity time:20 minutes per class
  • Materials:CD player, handout of student feedback template (prepared by students), handout of song lyrics, and new vocabulary words (prepared by students)


Self-directed learning (SDL) has received plenty of critical attention in the last two decades. Accordingly, this attention has thrust into the literature copious definitions of what SDL is, what it consists of, or more pragmatically, how instructors can apply its theories in the classroom. The lesson plan outlined herein concentrates on the latter, taking into account two popular interpretations of this language learning style. The first interpretationoutlines the parameters of SDL as an opportunity for students to engage independently in problem solving (Hunt, Gow & Barnes, 1989), while the other concentrates on providing students with an opportunity for critical self-reflection. The problem solving centers on choosing appropriate vocabulary words that meet the classroom needs, as well as uncovering the meanings and references embedded in song lyrics. A written self-assessment report engages the students in critical self-reflection.


Step 1:The presenter chooses an appropriate song (i.e., one with English lyrics).

Step 2:The presenter prepares a handout of the lyrics that includes five or six fill-in-the-blanks (a variety of one word blanks, collocations, and phrases), and four or five highlighted vocabulary words. These words are listed at the bottom of the page with their part of speech, definition, and sample sentence.

Step 3:The presenter cues the song.


Step 1:The presenter distributes the lyrics and feedback template to the class.

Step 2:The presenter gives a 60-90 second introduction to the song.

Step 3:Students listen to the song and follow along with the lyrics.

Step 4:Students read the lyrics again and review the vocabulary words (silent reading).

Step 5:The presenter reviews each new vocabulary word and answers any questions.

Step 6:Students listen to the song for a second time, filling in the blanks.

Step 7:The presenter goes over the fill-in-the-blank answers, eliciting responses from students.

Step 8:Anonymously, students comment and fill-in the student feedback template (see Appendix for feedback template).

Step 9:The presenter collects student feedback templates, reviews them for homework, and prepares a 300 word self-assessment of their presentation, as well as a review of the student feedback.

Step 10 (optional):In groups of three or four, students discuss their reaction to the song (discussion questions prepared by the presenter).


This lesson works well after it is first modeled by the instructor. Thereafter, depending on your class size and how frequently it meets, this lesson can be led by one student per class. Vocabulary quizzes are given every five presentations (to provide extrinsic motivation), and the presentation itself, as well as the 300 word self-assessment, is graded.


With a few exceptions, student self-assessment reports from my classes indicate a positive level of enthusiasm with this lesson. Most students find the research and presentation both enjoyable and worthwhile. Students doing the presentation have an opportunity to research a song they enjoy and to select new vocabulary words they deem valuable. They are given the chance to share something personal with their peers, gain the experience of guiding a short 20minute lesson, and read anonymous peer feedback. Those students not giving the presentation build vocabulary and practice listening and reading skills, and are encouraged to provide constructive feedback of the presentation and critical feedback of the song. Lastly, although my classes are almost exclusively homogeneous, students are exposed to a variety of different cultures and subcultures that the songs invariably present.


Hunt, J., Gow, L., & Barnes, P. (1989). Learner self-evaluation and assessment – a tool for autonomy in the language learning classroom. In V. Bickley (Ed.), Language teaching and learning styles within and across cultures (pp. 207-17). Hong Kong: Institute of Language in Education, Education Department.

Appendices: Available from the link below.