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Teaching Tracks: Top Ten

Chris Walklett, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-916058-86-6

While recent reviews in this column have tended to focus heavily on aspects of teacher development from mainstream publishers, on this occasion a self-published entertaining musical resource for those hard at work in the language classroom is highlighted. In a way, though, I’m almost certain using Teaching Tracks: Top Ten will also prove developmental. How many of us have previously taken the opportunity to use songs by legendary artists such as David Bowie to teach reported speech?

In his introduction, the author provides three strong reasons for how music can help develop language learner proficiency. He explains there how the short, rhythmical repetitions in authentic musical material containing thought-provoking issues tends to spark something in the minds of even the least motivated student. How many teenagers today could not name the song this line comes from: “Planet earth is blue, and there’s nothing I can do.”?

The ten songs used in Teaching Tracks will largely have most appeal to late teenage learners at good intermediate level and beyond. They are all available on YouTube (I listened to the lot on there), but if required the relevant QR codes are provided in the accompanying Teacher’s Book. Chronologically, tracks range from ‘Space Oddity’ (1969), to R.E.M’s ‘Everyday is Yours to Win’ (2011) In between, along with several others, learners can feast on Pink Floyd’s legendary ‘Money’, Ed Sheeran’s ‘The A Team’, and Lily Allen’s ‘LDN’. I’l leave you to guess the years they came out. And I must confess to feeling a bit of a dinosaur when I only recognised four of the ten artists and their tracks listed.

Several pages of activities are devoted to each of the tracks. The seventh, for example, which utilises  Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’, is titled ‘Fight For Your Rights’ and like all others begins with a detailed overview of related activities. As these include a reading text covering issues like female contraception and domestic abuse, such material would need to be used with a good degree of teacher sensitivity. And where deeply controversial subjects such as drug-addiction in the track by Ed Sheeran are dealt with, this is indicated in bold red fonts in the Teacher’s Book. The same applies to tracks which include the odd swear word, although students these days tend to know them already.

Valentine’s Day on February 14th grows increasingly popular worldwide, and one of the songs in this selection that will go down well with your classes on that date would of course be ‘The Power of Love’, by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Probably one of the most beautiful ballads ever written, even without the accompanying tasks in unit nine, I’m sure just listening to it in the background as they work would lead to language acquisition. And here’s a question you could ask your group: which track not in this book prevented ‘The Power of Love’ from being Number One in the charts on Christmas Day in 1984? The answer lies withing the reading text on page 175.

As postal services are only recently picking up after ‘you-know-what’, I was working from a digital version of this title, the flip-page format of which enabled fairly easy reading (although I sometimes wished the fonts were a bit larger). A paper copy is also available, of course, and personally I would always recommend this. From their comments, I noticed in the blurb on the back cover how this title is already receiving positive feedback from teenage users. Teaching Tracks: Top Ten might be just what you need to liven up an afternoon in mid-winter on a course that might have become a little predictable.

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Wayne Trotman
Wayne Trotman
Wayne is a teacher educator at Izmir Katip Celebi University in Izmir, Turkey. Wayne has been involved in language teaching both in the UK and overseas since 1981. He holds an MSc in TESOL from Aston University and a PhD in ELT and Applied Linguistics from the University of Warwick.
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