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#iFLT18: “Let the Music Move You” by Mark Mallaney

Last year I observed Mark teach in the  language labs and it was a pleasure to watch how he interacted with his students.  I was curious to gain a better perspective about how he plans his units. He began by sharing some information his school district in Denver. Many of us were impressed to hear that his district defines “rigor in World Language classrooms” as 90% + in the target language. This is particularly true for Mark’s classes since they are 95 minutes. It is difficult for students to process in L2 for such a long period of time! 40-95 minutes of TL is most definitely rigor and I hope that more programs view it as such.

Next Mark shared the steps as to how he plans a unit with music

  1. Identify the song
  2. Identify the theme (can be based on AP  themes)
  3. Find resources and choose an end goal.
  4. Backward plan!
  5. Create unit assessments
  6. Implementation and tweaking  

Mark explained how he connects music to Can-Do statements and ultimately assessments. CI teachers shelter and speak in a clear way with gestures for their students to make their language comprehensible. This is an extremely DIFFERENT experience than listening to authentic speakers or music. He made the comparison to his own life about when he listened to Nirvana for the first time and could not understand one word even though that is his L1. Therefore L2 music can be extremely different for language learners. However the beauty of music is we and our students WANT to know it and sing it. There are also certain language structures that can get stuck in our students’ heads (and therefore students are acquiring the language) from music. For this reason it is beneficial (as well as many more).

Since Mark is teaching pre-AP Spanish classes he expressed the importance of connecting to AP themes early in the curriculum! (Yay! I felt validated because this is what I have been doing too!) He gave a quick example of the song “La historia de Juan” by Juanes and its connection to the AP theme of Contemporary Life.

So, what can students do with music?

#1 Put the lines of song in order

#2 Listen for a structure and raise their hand when they hear it.

#3 Pick up lyrics when they hear them. Next match the lyrics to the English equivalent.

#4 Tally the amount of times they hear a target word.  

#5 Play different parts of the song, stop it and have students grab the part they hear.


Mark mentioned that he saw Kristy Placido present about music a few years earlier at iFLT and it was a transformational session. Below were some great ideas that she shared. Mark used these ideas in order to connect AP themes in his music units.

It all started with a song:

Things to do…

  • Non fiction article
  • Song lyrics manipulative
  • Vocabulary (pulled from song, article)
  • Media (movie talk, music video, process)
  • Infograph
  • Story outline
  • Debate topics

He gave the example of how he took the song “El rey tiburón” by Maná. He loved the song but the message was not very deep. Therefore he collaborated with his colleague on how to connect this song’s vocabulary to AP Themes. They decided to talk about sharks and ultimately relate the music to the AP theme of Global Challenges. They did this by talking about the pollution in oceans with non fiction articles that talked about sharks eating prey that is contaminated with plastic. This unit is promoting environmental awareness while also giving repeated exposure to key structures in multiple contexts. What a great way to go beyond the cloze with music! Mark said, “The song is just a vehicle to drive everything else. It is not the point. It is part of the point.”

Another really interesting connection Mark made was with the song “Lento” by Julieta Venegas. He connected this to culture with topics such as the pace of life, slow ways to move (transportation) or things that go slow (different types of animals). He used cultural products such as sloths and turtles as well as structures like crawling. His ideas demonstrate that there are many cultural topics that you can tie in to connect to the lyrics of the song that can be used for PQA and more.

I really liked Mark’s idea of using your already cut up song lyrics to play games like Old Maid or Concentration so that students can match the English to Spanish song lyrics. Mark said, “95% of what I do is tricking kids into reading again. As long as it is slightly different, they don’t seem to pick up on the trick.”

Mark shared this  video with us today and it is funny! It was something he was able to tie into a music unit while also weaving in the cultural practice of siestas. The company that made this product/video is from Spain. An ultimate goal/assessment for students was to write a response to the question, ¿Se debe o no se debe echar una siesta? This topic also leads to great cultural comparison, another excellent way to prepare students for the AP Test!

Finally Mark shared how he connected the song “Chocolate” from Jesse & Joy to a chocolate unit. Chocolate is a massive agricultural product of the Américas. The AP themes he hit in the unit were Families and Communities and Science and Technology. In this unit, the song was just the hook. He found a great authentic video that was about chocolate. He showed the video to students without any scaffolding to see how much they understood. Next how taught some important vocabulary with PQA. He had his students interact with the video or text of the video in a variety of ways. For example, students interacted with the authentic text by writing 3 word summaries of each step of creating chocolate. By the end of the unit, students were able to write their own version of the chocolate making process while acquiring some key vocabulary that is handy for everyday situations like “quitar” (to remove).

A major takeaway from Mark’s session was how students were able to track their progression of comprehension of the video throughout the unit. I like the idea of students setting goals and reflecting on them.

Mark has some rock star ideas and I really hope he presents again at iFLT 19 in St. Petersburg to share more of them. I highly recommend watching him in the language labs this week for some engaging CI! He said that he will be teaching his “Lento” unit, so stop by to check it out.  

Here is a video of Max connecting vocabulary from the song “Lento” to animals which will eventually lead the AP theme of Global Challenges of extinction of animals.  

Arianne Dowd has been a Spanish Teacher at South Brunswick High School for the past 18 years. She is committed to lifelong learning. She holds dual BAs in Spanish and Psychology with a minor in International Studies from Montclair State University. She has two Master’s degrees, an MA in Spanish Literature from Montclair State University and a MAT in Italian from Rutgers University. She is passionate about delivering Comprehensible Input in order to engage and interact with all learners. Arianne enjoys collaborating with colleagues through social media to create compelling and comprehensible units comprised of cultural knowledge. She has begun documenting these activities on her blog.

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