Global Issues in Language Education: Issue 35. June 1999. (p. 16-17)

Global Issue Songs in the English Classroom

by Sunao Shimizu (Rikkyo University, Tokyo, Japan)
Global Issues Pop Songs:
A Short List
Streets of Philadelphia   (Bruce Springsteen)
Biko   (Peter Gabriel)
Its' Wrong   (Stevie Wonder)
Mercy Mercy Me   (Marvin Gaye)
Rocky Mountain High   (John Denver)
Short Supply   (Tracy Chapman)
The Rape of the World   (Tracy Chapman)
Human Rights
Abraham, Martin & John   (Dion)
Black Is Black   (M. C. Hammer)
Black or White   (Michael Jackson)
Crime Story   (M. C. Hammer)
Ebony and Ivory   (Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder)
Happy Birthday   (Stevie Wonder)
Happy Ever After   (Julia Fordham)
Help the Children   (M. C. Hammer)
Mad World   (Tears for Fears)
No Fear, No Hate, No Pain   (Eurythmics)
They Dance Alone   (Sting)
Treat Myself   (Stevie Wonder)
We Shall Overcome   (Joan Baez)
Colours   (Phil Collins)
Do They Know Its' Xmas?   (Band Aid)
Living for the City   (Stevie Wonder)
So  (Tracy Chapman)
Suffer the Children   (Tears for Fears)
We Are the World   (USA for Africa)
Identity Issues
Bang Bang Bang   (Tracy Chapman)
Doo Wop (That Thing)   (Lauryn Hill)
Everything Is Everything   (Lauryn Hill)
Honesty   (Billy Joel)
Open Arms   (Tracy Chapman)
Step by Step  (Whitney Houston)
That's What Friends Are For  (Dionne Warwick et al)
You were loved   (Whitney Houston)
Indigenous Peoples
Pocahontas Theme   (Walt Disney)
Indian Reservation - Cherokee Lament   (The Raiders)
International Understanding
Its' a Small World   (Walt Disney)
Everything is Beautiful   (Ray Stevens)
Billy, Don't Be A Hero   (Paper Lace)
Blowin' In the Wind   (Bob Dylan)
Conversation Peace   (Stevie Wonder)
Give Peace a Chance   (John Lennon)
Happy Christmas   (John Lennon)
Heal the World   (Michael Jackson)
f I Had a Hammer   (Peter, Paul & Mary)
Imagine   (John Lennon)
Invisible War   (Julia Fordham)
Peace Train   (Cat Stevens)
Pipes of Peace  (Paul McCartney)
Universal Soldier   (Donovan)
We Can Work It Out   (Beatles)
Poverty & Homelessness
Another Day in Paradise   (Phil Collins)
In the Ghetto   (Elvis Presley)
Village Ghetto Land  (Stevie Wonder)
Womens' Issues
I Am Woman   (Helen Reddy)
Modern Girl   (Sheena Easton)
World Concerns / Global Issues
Conversation Peace   (Stevie Wonder)
Dreaming on a World   (Tracy Chapman)
From a Distance   (Bette Midler)
Heal the World   (Michael Jackson)
Heat on the Street   (Phil Collins)
Man in the Mirror   (Michael Jackson)
Rain Your Love Down   (Stevie Wonder)
Rough Justice   (Bananarama)
Take the Time Out   (Stevie Wonder)

What would you present to your students if you could give them just one gift at their graduation from school? If you were asked this question, what would you say? This question starts off the book Values and Visions and has given me an opportunity to think about what I should teach our students.
The modern world is increasingly becoming one world, in which we are all involved. The future of our countries will be inextricably linked. We educators must develop new curricula reflecting today's global realities, and teach our students about the world and the changes taking place in it.
What English teachers can do is to improve students' communication ability, to enhance appreciation of other countries, to raise social awareness of the world, to reduce prejudice or fixed ideas toward people with different cultures, to promote mutual understanding, and to teach students how to cope with or solve difficult problems.
One effective means to reach global education goals in the language class is to use popular songs which deal with global issues. Listening to music motivates students to learn English and works as a change of class atmosphere. Global issue songs raise students' consciousness about international problems and give them an opportunity to do problem solving and express their opinions. Songs can be used both as an introduction to an issue, as a topic for discussion or to conclude a lesson.
I create exercise sheets for global issue songs not only for listening, but also for reading, writing, speaking and discussion. My specific educational aims include developing:

* listening ability * cooperative learning * critical thinking
* communication skills * creative thinking

The kinds of class activities I do include:

* listening cloze * summarizing * true/false questions
* partial dictation * making connections * reactions to music
* answering questions * paraphrasing * reading comprehension
* discussions

Why Use Popular Songs?

Pop songs create an enjoyable learning environment and attract students' interest. Griffee (1992) lists the following advantages:

* classroom atmosphere * student interest * language input
* cultural input * text * supplements
* vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation

Griffee also emphasizes the power of song. Songs function differently from speech. A small amount of information and a high degree of redundancy make songs sound simple and this contributes to understanding. Besides, songs create their own world of feeling and emotion. When we listen to a song, we feel as if it were being sung for us personally. We are often comforted, encouraged or moved by songs because they speak to us directly about our experiences.

Why Global Issue Songs?

When teaching world problems, we often use techniques such as video and newspapers. Global issue songs, in which musicians appeal to us against war, prejudice and environmental destruction are effective but often overlooked. 1985 was the year when musicians in many countries produced charity records and videos to help save the hungry in Africa, to oppose apartheid and to foster environmental protection. Groups like Band Aid, USA for Africa and Artists United Against Apartheid attracted peoples' attention all over the world. Through these songs, many youth could gain knowledge about people suffering from poverty, hunger or discrimination.
To live together in harmony in the 21st century, cross-cultural understanding and cooperation are needed. Language learning can be a valuable tool for deepening multi-culturalism and mutual understanding. In this sense, global issue songs provide us with an opportunity to raise awareness of world problems and to motivate students to speak English. Global issue songs function well for students. The more they listen, the more their curiosity about global problems will increase. I believe global issue songs can promote tolerance, reduce prejudice and help students think about world issues from various angles.


Brown, H. D. (1992) "TESOL at 25: What Are the Issues?" TESOL Quarterly. 25 (2), 245-259.
Burns, S. & Lamont, G. (1993) Values and Visions. Manchester Development Education, UK.
Fisher, S. & Hicks, D. (1985) World Studies 8-13. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd.
Griffee, Dale T. (1992) Songs in Action. Hertfordshire: Prentice Hall.
Pike, G. & Selby, D. (1988) Global Teacher, Global Learner. London: Hodder & Toughton.

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