Music for your Reading Class

illustration from Grace, Romeo, Juliet and Fred by Martyn Hobbs

Illustration by Lorenzo Sabbatini from Grace, Romeo, Juliet and Fred by Martyn Hobbs. © Helbling Languages.

There is a characteristic many students share: they like and listen to a lot of music, and will probably  have a favourite song. Why not take advantage of this and use music as an inspiration for creative reading activities?

Have you even thought of what music or which particular song could accompany your favourite novel? There are obvious matches like jazz and The Great Gatsby, Chopin’s Nocturnes for The Waves by Virginia Woolf, and of course there are contemporary hits that work just as well, just think about the soundtrack for Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Great film adaptations are often memorable for their soundtrack. In a recent article teen fiction author Natasha Desborough brings up an exciting question that can be a good starting point for your musical reading lessons: ‘Every great teen film has a great soundtrack… Why should teen fiction be any different?’ She also tells us in her article how she thought of songs each of the characters in her novel would be listening to or that complimented their personalities.

Pairing music with books is a very personal and creative activity that can set our mood and define our memories of the story for a long time. Since our students know a myriad of new songs, and they are also familiar with diverse musical styles, classic and contemporary music can be an excellent resource in your English classroom.

Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom

We use visual images a lot, and talk about the indisputable power and benefits of images in the classroom. Music is an equally powerful educational tool, and we can create memorable learning experiences with the careful choice of songs. According to Gardner’s theory of mutiple intelligences, our intelligences work in combination, and not isolation, and musical and linguistic skills support each other greatly. One easy way to apply multiple intelligences in the classroom is using activities that require our students to activiate and combine skills they would probably think of use separately.

Street party in Brazil. Illustration from The Coconut Seller by Jack Scholes. Illustrated by Cristiano Lissoni. © Helbling Languages

Street party in Brazil. Illustration from The Coconut Seller by Jack Scholes. Illustrated by Cristiano Lissoni. © Helbling Languages

Here are some musical ideas for your English classroom.

1 Theme song or playlist

It works perfectly with the classics but also with original stories. Ask your students to choose a song from this week’s top ten, or one of their favourite songs that would be a good theme song for the reader they have read. They can also create a playlist for the whole story.

2 Music for the characters

Choose songs for the characters. What is their musical taste? What would they listen to? What contempoary music would characters from the classics listen to?

3 Music for the scenes

Create a full auditory-visual experience in your classroom. Look at a full-page illustration, talk about the scene and pick a song that goes with that image.

4 Use songs as a pre-reading and prediction activity

Listen to a song and ask your students to talk about their feelings and expectations. It can work well with a short reading exericise, too.

5 Storytelling through music – a classical inspiration

Do you remember the Disney classic, Fantasia? It offers an excellent example of the combination of storytelling and classical music. Here is the film’s playlist in case you need musical ideas.

1 Tell your students to sit comfortably and listen to the piece of music.

2 Ask them to imagine what might be happening in a film or a book when they hear this piece.

3 Ask them to concentrate on their senses and the main question words: who, what, where, when, why and how? For more ideas on creating a setting you can use our previous blog post, ‘How to create a mysterious setting in 8 easy steps’.

4 You can pause the music every two minutes and ask your group to either write down or tell you what is happening.

Of course you can do this exercise with any contemporary song. You will find an excellent list of songs that retell a work of literature on this Wikipedia page.

Would you like more resources?

  • Here is an original musical reader for your A1-A2 level students: Grace, Romeo, Juliet and Fred is a graphic story about Grace, a young girl, who is good at music and the arts but has to deal with some difficulties perhaps because she falls in love.
  • For more ideas on using songs and music in your classroom, find out more about our photocopiable resource books:
  1. Traditional Folk Songs
  2. Grammar Songs & Rap






One Comment

  1. My Helbling Reader – The Coconut Seller – is a story which takes in Brazil. There is a party (page 39) where they play samba using all kinds of Brazilian instruments. I think it would be cool for students to research, listen to and discuss different kinds of music and instruments from around the world, including their own country.