Teaching GPS through song lyrics?

Many schools are evaluating how to teach, track and assess GPS in both Key Stage 1 and 2. Although there are some past papers to analyse for Key Stage 2 tests, we have a limited sample for KS1 questions. School leaders are holding working parties to establish how to track progress from the end of KS1 to the end of KS2. There are many resources available to support teaching and assessment including: the Achieve range; Skills Builders; half termly Progress Tests and Optional Tests for Years 3-5.

musical notesHowever, good quality teaching is necessary to equip all pupils with both the knowledge of technical English (see Appendix 1 and 2) and skills to apply this knowledge in a ramped test. Certain strands of grammar may require a discrete session where teachers will need to inform, model and explain. Other strands of grammar, especially content taught in previous year groups that may need to be reviewed, might be taught in more creative ways. In order for the knowledge of GPS to transfer into pupils’ own writing, pupils need to be able to ‘see and hear’ technical English in real contexts.

Most pupils have a favourite song, pop-group, genre of music!

  • Sharing song lyrics with pupils can expose them to vocabulary that is ambitious for their age groups.
  •  Having printed copies of lyrics whilst pupils listen to the song being sung is a high level form of guided reading.
  • Analysing song lyrics and preparing a range of comprehension questions focussing on inference; language for effect and identifying themes can be a valuable session for all.
  •  Using powerpoints of song lyrics (many available on youtube) can encourage pupils to ‘sing along’ like karaoke, therefore, reaching out to the most reluctant reader!
  • Spelling patterns can be explored from song lyrics.

Song lyrics can also be the vehicle used to teach elements of GPS. Below there are a range of activities using two different songs.

Michael Jackson, The Earth Song

Year 2 + Teaching ‘statements, questions, exclamations & commands’
What is a question? Although the lyrics are full of questions, younger pupils may not yet have an understanding of what a question is. Teachers could recap what pupils know about questions and create a shared word bank of question starters – including how, did, do as well as the W words. Teachers could label one side of the room question and the other statements. Teacher reads and pupils run to the labelled side that matches. Once the teacher is satisfied that pupils understand what a question is – play the song and ask pupils to listen for examples of questions in the lyrics.
Writing and punctuating a question. Explain to pupils that the song is full of questions. Teachers may choose to give pupils a copy of the lyrics (without question marks); ask them to listen to the song (could be used as dictation) or use the karaoke version of song lyrics. It is important that pupils hear how the song was performed by Michael Jackson. Teachers may ask pupils to add the question marks accurately to the lyrics – demonstrating accurate formation and orientation. If used for dictation – pupils will need the song to be paused and repeated to ensure they can write what they hear. This can also be done in a more active way, where pupils put their hand up or jump up when they think a question mark should be in the lyrics whilst listening to it.
Changing questions into commands. Once pupils are familiar with the questions in the lyrics, spend some time discussing what the song is about. What is the main message? (purpose) Who is the song writer talking to? (audience) Why are questions used? (structure) Instead of asking questions, the song writer could have used commands to instruct listeners to change their ways and do things differently. Choose a question to focus on, for example ‘What about killing fields?’ How can we convey the same message in a command? Take pupils’ suggestions – Look after the fields! Stop using pesticides! Have respect for nature! Discuss the language used and the correct formation/orientation of an exclamation mark.
Matching questions and answers. This activity can be differentiated. Teachers could type some of the questions out and distribute amongst the class. Then teachers could prepare some answers and distribute. Pupils could find their matching partner – question and answer that make sense together. An alternative activity could be to give the pupils the answers to a range of questions and ask them to create a question that would correspond to the answer. This could be done in the context of the lyrics or applied to another context.
Adding question tags. Discuss what question tags are and when they are used. Drama could be used to demonstrate the difference between using a question tag or not, for example, Have you got the keys? You’ve got the keys, haven’t you? Discuss what effect the question tag has. Adding question tags to the questions in these lyrics would add to the message of the song – ‘You have ruined the natural world, haven’t you?’ Pupils could add facial expressions and actions for effect. Teachers could ask pupils to create a range of examples to match the lyrics. Pupils could use their questions with question tags to create a whole class shared poem in response to the lyrics.


Run DMC, It’s like that

Year 3+ Reviewing and teaching ‘the use of the apostrophe’
When do we use an apostrophe? Most pupils should have some knowledge of when an apostrophe is used. Key terminology should be used when classifying the two different reasons – omission/contraction and possession/ownership. Teachers may choose to spend some time articulating definitions with examples and monitoring that everybody knows how to form an apostrophe accurately. As well as correct formation – teachers should also demonstrate where the apostrophe should be positioned. Teachers could play the song lyrics and ask pupils to listen for as many examples as they can of words with apostrophes. These are the words included in the lyrics: don’t, it’s, that’s, won’t, I’d, I’m, could’ve, you’re, aren’t, here’s, who’s, we’re, someone’s. Did pupils spot all of these?
Writing a contraction and writing two separate words.

Revisit the lyrics and look at the correct spelling of contractions. Can pupils recognise that they are all omission/contraction? Can pupils write the contraction after they hear it in the song? Display some of the contractions on the flipchart or board. Once the pupils hear the contraction, can they write the two separate words? This could be part of a class display where I’m = I am are written as flash backs. Remind pupils that I’ll. I’m, I’d all need a capital letter.

Explaining why an apostrophe is used. Can pupils explain why the apostrophe is used. Choose an example from the lyrics, for example could’ve and ask pupils to explain the purpose of the apostrophe. Play the song lyrics again for pupils to say the chosen words with the apostrophe – could’ve and without – could have. As the pupils are writing the missing letters in contracted words, ensure that their spellings are accurate. In the GPS test pupils are expected to spell words with an apostrophe correctly.
Explaining whether an apostrophe is for contraction or possession.

Listen to the lyrics again, ‘Why has the apostrophe for possession/ownership not been used?’ Ask pupils if they can suggest a line for the song that uses an apostrophe for possession or ownership. Scribe suggestions on the board. A common misconception is that pupils think this is an apostrophe for possession:

‘Laura’s running a bit late.’ Many pupils see a person’s name and assume that the apostrophe is possession. Pupils should be asked to read sentences aloud to check the reason for the apostrophe. 


All song lyrics have potential to be used in GPS. Choose one of your favourites, listen to the lyrics and look for an opportunity. Apart from passing the GPS test, what can be better than sharing good music with our pupils!

All of the extracts above have been take from English for the More Able. Find out more about the series and view a full content list here


Achieve 100 at Key Stage 2, Achieve Key Stage 1, English and Literacy, English for the More Able, Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation, Reading and Ebooks, Science and Technology, Skills Builders, Spelling Tests

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