Using Music and Visualisation to Promote Discussion

This activity uses music to promote group discussion and is suitable for intermediate students and above. It asks students to visualise the scene that the music which they hear suggests to them, and then report back to their groups. Not everyone finds this easy at first, so you may find it is more successful if you do it in stages - a guided version of the activity a few times at the beginning of the course, passing to the freer version only once they are used to the technique.

The music you use should match whatever you want the students to visualise. New Age music usually works well, but what you choose will depend on what you have on your shelves. I have often used artists like Kitaro (Silk Road); Rick Wakeman (Country Airs); Vangelis (China); Santana (Caravanserai). It is however extremely important that whatever you use evokes a positive, happy or relaxed mood. Avoid music that might evoke negative feelings, and emphasise to students that you want this to be fun. If they start to be drawn into a negative visualisation, they should stop and opt out of the activity. They will still be able to participate later by listening to and asking questions to the others.
Phase One : Guided Visualisation
Play the piece of music you have chosen to the group. Encourage them to shut their eyes, or if this makes them feel silly, just to look down at their desk and concentrate on the music. While they listen, speak to them guiding them through the visualisation. Speak slowly, leaving pauses for ideas to come. What you ask them to visualise can be linked to the language you have just been teaching - this example could, for instance, fit into a class which has recently focused on food vocabulary :

Listen to the music ... and as you listen I'd like you to visualise a scene... You're on holiday and you're feeling really good ...You are feeling happy and relaxed. It's one o'clock and you're having lunch. Where are you? In the mountains? At the sea? In a town?... Are you in a hotel? In a restaurant ? Or somewhere else? ... Is it noisy or quiet? What can you hear? ... And what can you see around you? ... Are there any other people there? ... Are they with you or are you alone? ... The food is really good. Taste it. What are you eating? ... Are you at the beginning of the meal or at the end? ... What have you already eaten and what is still to come? ... Are you feeling hungry or are you already full? ... What are you going to do after lunch?...

Script the prompts before the lesson - don't try and ad lib - making them very concrete the first time you do the activity, and more open on subsequent occasions, for example by asking simply Where are you? rather than giving options.

At the end of the visualisation, fade the music out gradually to "bring them back" and then put them into groups of three or four and ask them to tell each other where they were, what they could see around them, what they were eating etc etc. Monitor while they speak, noting on the board any language that you want to bring their attention to later. When they finish, ask two or three students to describe their scenes to the whole class and give feedback on the language which you overheard.

Phase Two : Free Visualisation

Once students are used to visualising, tight guidance becomes unnecessary and you can pass to a freer activity.

There are two versions of the activity described below. If you have sufficient space, electric points, numbers of CD players, headphones etc try the first version. Otherwise, try the second.
  • Version A
    a) Divide the students into groups of four and ask each group to listen to a different piece of music, using headphones or moving to different rooms so that the other groups don't hear. Ask them to listen to their piece of music and visualise a scene, and what's happening.
    b) In their groups, the students discuss what the music made them think of, choose the idea they like best and expand on it, working out a little story. It may help them to listen again at this point to get more ideas once they've agreed on the general scene. Monitor while they're speaking, noting down language points for later feedback and making suggestions if they get stuck.
    c) Students change groups, so that each new group contains one student from each old group. They describe the scene and tell each other the story their old group invented, without referring at all to the music.
    d) Write on the board a few words summarising each story, and then play the group each piece of music one at a time. After you play each piece, ask a couple of students which story they think it represents and why. Put their "votes" on the board, but don't confirm anything until after you have played the final piece. (Students should obviously keep quiet when you play their own piece). Finish with feedback on the language you noted while monitoring.

  • Version B

    If space or other constraints prevent you from using more than one CD player, an alternative version of the exercise is :

    a) Divide the students into groups of four as before, but this time only one person from each group comes to the CD player to listen to the music. Together, they decide on a scene and a story for the music as above. Meanwhile the other students discuss something related to the topic, eg. What type of music do you like? When was the last time you went to a concert? What/Who did you hear? Where was it? Who were you with? Was it good? Is there a song or a piece of music that you really like or that means a lot to you - explain why.b) The "listeners" report back to their groups, describing the scene/story that they invented but without describing the music.
    c) Full class discussion - The teacher plays snippets from three or four different pieces of music, one of which is the piece which the listeners heard. The students who didn't hear it before vote for which piece they think was being described.
    d) Feedback on language noted during the various discussions.


Photo provided under Creative Commons Licence by brookesb via flickr

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