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3 Creative Ways to Explore Culture through Music in Spanish Class

I absolutely love using music every day in class. I think music is a great jumping point for cultural discussion and comparisons, simple cultural exposure, and often vocabulary and grammatical connections as well. Sometimes, it’s just fun. The other benefits are a bonus!

There are so many ways to work music into your class daily. There are some time-consuming but valuable ways, and there are quick and seamless ways that are also valuable. For me, I like to try a little of everything. Just hearing music every day makes me happier. Happy teacher = happy class, right? 😉

Music competitions

Some ideas are a bigger commitment, but worth it! Last year, my classes participated in two music competitions:

  • “Manía Musical” This music competition was organized by Mis Clases Locas during National Foreign Language Week
  • “Locura de Marzo” Señor Ashby organizes a WORLDWIDE music competition with tense of thousands of voters. He provides all of the links/resources/voting for you for free online, which is pretty amazing!
My entire department actually banded together for the first music event, Manía Musical. We purchased multiple license of Mis Clases Loca’s music materials, so that we could all participate with our classes. There were around 10 of us! We all had our students vote in the same Google Forms throughout the competition, and each round received between 700 and 800 votes! We had a huge competition bracket (like a sporting event playoff) in the hallway outside my classroom, and students from all grades would stop by during the day to see who was winning. It was awesome for community building and enhancing interest/engagement between all levels of our classes. This first competition was in November, and I loved building interest and hype toward the beginning of the year like that.

The second music competition of the year, in March, I ran just between my own classes. My students even decided that they didn’t want to vote in the worldwide competition; they wanted to vote solely amongst themselves. I let them make this decision, and it went really well! Some students would even go above and beyond and vote twice per day; they voted with our class, but also logged into Señor Ashby’s site to join the worldwide vote. Our class matched the larger competition *almost* all the way until the end!

To stay within the curriculum during these music competitions, I make sure my students know they are responsible for a warm-up during the music video and voting. If possible, I make the warm-up connected to the song/country/artist. After we have seen the video and heard the song a few times (so once we are done the first round of the songs), my warm-ups are more content based // connected to our current unit. Since my students have already heard the songs and seen the videos at that point, I don’t feel bad asking them to do a quick vocab matching activity, puzzle, or other warm-up as the music plays. My department head really liked this as well, as it integrated the competition seamlessly into our typical daily routine.
I absolutely plan on hosting at least one music competition this year as well. My students really enjoyed how many songs they were exposed to in a short amount of time!

Seamless integration

You don’t necessarily need a big competition to integrate music into your classes!

Sometimes you aren’t able to adjust your curriculum enough to do a three-week music competition, and I get that. But please do keep in mind, they can be done during your warm-up time and they do help build community if you ask me! BUT, if you aren’t interested in that commitment, you probably want a more seamless way to integrate music.
After the music competitions last year, my students were always requesting music. They had multiple favorites from both competitions, and I wanted to find a way to expose them to these different styles as much as possible. Here are a few ways I integrate music without taking up any class time:
  1. Before class– As I am in the hallway greeting my students, music is playing inside the room. Students love walking into a welcoming environment with music playing. I allow it to continue through my attendance/homework check, and stop it when we are ready to go over the warm-up.
  2. During transition time– Do you give your students a few minutes in between activities? Do you ever have students engage in lessons that take a little bit of set-up? This is a great time to play a quick song or music video.
  3. During independent work– I often have music playing *quietly* as students are working independently. Sometimes, they even request it during writing prompts. I always make sure no one is being disrupted by the music playing, and I always bounce around the room allowing different students the opportunity to choose the song. They love feeling like the class DJ for a moment (and they are only allowed to choose songs that I know, and that I know are appropriate for class.)
  4. During my MARACAS and TACO TUESDAY activities– If we ever play Maracas or Taco Tuesday, you can bet music is playing. With Maracas, pausing the song is the signal that it’s time to pass the card. For Taco Tuesday, we just sing and dance as we play 🙂
  5. ….almost any other time that isn’t direct instruction.  Once you hear students begging for their favorite song, and then singing along to that song in Spanish… you’ll want to play music more during class 🙂
If you want to see the Spotify playlist I use during any of the above mentioned times… you can find it right here! I teach high school, and I am fairly careful about what I play // add to this playlist. That being said, please always preview songs and make sure you are comfortable playing them for your students 🙂

Music with culture and grammar in mind

Sometimes, heaven and earth collide in a shower  o f        s   p   a   r   k   l   e  s   and I find a song that matches perfectly with one of our units. This means that I get to stay on-content, but sneak in some extra cultural exposure as well as extra teacher-shoulder-dance-time. (Picture me standing on the side of the room, smiling wildly and bouncing my shoulders to the music. YEP.)
When this glorious event happens, I try to squeeze as much out of the song as I can. That means we do as many things as we can from the following list:
  • We watch the music video or lyric video if appropriate
  • We read the lyrics and find cognates, familiar words, unknown words
  • We assess the grammar or vocab within the song and make connections to our class (YAY!)
  • We discuss the style of music
  • We research the artist and country (exports? location? other famous people?)
  • We research the cultural influences behind the music (instruments? aspects of the video)
  • We identify meaningful lines within the song (students mark lines personally)
  • We research the meaning behind identified lines in the song (I pick these lines)
  • We expand and have cultural discussions that have been sparked by the song, in Spanish or English depending on the level and intensity of the discussion. If a student can only contribute in English, they are never told not to contribute during these discussions. We help them with Spanish when needed.
  • and even MORE!!!

And then tomorrow, students ask to hear the song during the warm-up. And my heart shines.

Want to see examples?

I have made various activity packets for my favorite songs that match the units I teach. Here are some examples of my favorites! Each one is connected to the grammar or vocabulary of the unit, while also including the culture of the artist and country.
  • Latinoamérica by Calle 13 — I use this at the start of the year every single year, within the first few days of class.
  • Corazon sin Cara by Prince Royce — my students love Prince Royce, and this is great for Spanish 1 examining ser/adjectives
  • Yo No Sé Mañana by Luis Enrique — future tense! I use this with Spanish 3
  • A Dios le Pido by Juanes — I use this with my Spanish 3s during our present subjunctive unit
  • Ojalá que Llueva Café by JLG — another present subjunctive option for Spanish 3!

You can also find a bundle of all of my available Culture and Grammar through Music packets right here.

Thank you for reading!

I hope these ideas help you find a few new ways to incorporate music this year in your classes! Good luck and have fun!

Please feel free to share this post with your world language teacher colleagues and friends!
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My name is Erin and I have 10 years of experience teaching high school Spanish. I love building positive student relationships and bringing a bit of fun into my lessons to keep my students engaged!

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