Learning Grammar through Lyrics


In this online course, students learn about direct and indirect pronouns through examining a French song, which they analyze using collaborative software.


  • To demonstrate to students how direct and indirect pronouns are used in a real life language context (as opposed to the prepared sentences used in grammar exercises)
  • To teach students about direct and indirect pronouns and their referents in the French language
  • To introduce students to aspects of French culture, specifically, music
  • To give students confidence in their growing mastery as they recognize points they have learned in "real" language samples

Class: French E-2D: Online Intensive Elementary French 2

Introduction/Background: Students in this course learn French in web-based, real-time classes. The course uses the software Blackboard Collaborate to enable students to view and interact with a virtual whiteboard, and engage in small group conversations with peers. In this exercise, students practice using direct and indirect pronouns by identifying these pronouns and their referents in a French song. This activity illustrates both how instructors can use real life language contexts to teach grammar to students, and how online classes can be made interactive through innovative technology.

Materials: Software “Blackboard Collaborate” & its virtual whiteboard/markers, mp3 of song “Suzette” by Dany Brillant, PDF of song lyrics (which are placed on the virtual blackboard; attached)


Before Activity:

  • Students were expected to have learned about direct and indirect object pronouns and their referents.
  • Make sure that the grammar point has been presented and students have done simpler exercises (e.g. "replace the underlined words with a pronoun") before having them use a holistic language sample like a song or video.  This is a "capstone" activity to a grammar point, not an introduction.

During Exercise:

  • Students were given instructions on the “whiteboard”, which is a medium which all students can read/look at during the class. The instructor read the instructions out loud with the students. Students listened to a song, Dany Brillant's Suzette, a French song with a number of direct, indirect, reflexive and subject pronouns.  Students were asked to circle (which they can do on the whiteboard) all objects (direct or indirect) that they saw/heard.
  • Since the song is longer than can be contained on one whiteboard, the instructor stopped the song at the end of each white board.  At that time, she and the class discussed which pronouns were circled, and whether they were indeed direct or indirect.  Students’ choices became more accurate throughout the exercise.
  • At the end of playing the song, the students began the second phase of the activity, which was to identify the referent for the pronoun.  For this activity, they were divided into small groups.  In Collaborate, this is done in the same way it would be in a non-virtual classroom:  the instructor creates sub-rooms, and puts a small group of students into each one.  The groups were assigned to make a list with the pronouns from the previous phase and their referents.   Then, when the class returned from small group, students presented and discussed their findings.
  • At the end, the students then returned to discussing some of the sample sentences they had examined the previous week, or earlier in the lesson, so that students were clear about how the song (holistic, real world language use) compared to the rules and exercises they had done previously. 
  • Finally, they were assigned a small group discussion topic that would naturally include a number of object pronouns:  e.g. Who did you see last weekend?

Assessment of Understanding: By asking individual students to articulate the referents during the final class discussion, the instructor can usually get a good sense of who understands the material based on the clarity of their explanation. She also can determine whether students understood the concept based on conversation group time the following week. If students are having difficulty with a grammar point, the instructor can recast and re-present the topic to the group.  

Comments from Instructor:

“One should use this activity precisely because it helps students visualize the grammar in a "real" way, which encourages them to spend time learning and practicing something that is normally a pretty boring and seemingly arbitrary grammar point.  Also, using a song permits a teacher to introduce a cultural topic, in this case musical culture, but also social life (cafés) and Paris, since the song is set there.”

activity.pdf228 KB