Ligia Elena: steps to make this song comprehensible

Rubén Blades is great!

bladesEvery once in a while someone mentions that they have created a unit based around a set of socially-aware songs. Here is my contribution to such a unit using the song Ligia Elena by Rubén Blades. The song may be twice the age of your students, but to my ear it still swings. It was purportedly inspired by a real-life scandal of a young Panamanian society girl who fell in love with a poor, dark-skinned musician; whether true or not the song criticizes class and racial prejudices that still exist two generations later.

Here is how I present the song to my level 3 students:

(1) I start by quickly telling the story of the song in very simple language that they can easily understand. I strive not to introduce any new vocabulary.

(2) Together we chorally read and translate this embedded reading , which is just a slight step up in complexity. Still pretty simple language.

(3) After the choral translation I circle the reading and PQA until the processing speed of my students is lightening fast. PQA might lead to a little story-asking to flesh out the story. Steps 1-3 could take an entire class period.

(4) I now present the full lyrics on the overhead projector. I sing while I read the full lyrics. When I teach songs I do not teach words like cándida for acquisition; I explain how this word makes the racial criticism evident (it means both ‘innocent’ as well as ‘snow-white’). The real value of the song as a class activity is not in vocabulary expansion but rather in the repetition of high-frequency structures.

(5) I like to subtitle videos that I show in class. Being able to read helps with the comprehension. Here is a link to a subtitled video.

(6) This is the step that provides the repetitions to make the entire song highly-comprehensible. For the next week or so our brain break is this matching activity. Students will listen for high-frequency phrases that they already recognize, which is awesome. Be sure to orally comment on the parts of the phrases that are new. At first this may be difficult so I tend to send them up to the computer in pairs, but after only a few times through they will get really quick at this game.

Once they get really quick we do an “aural choral translation”: I turn off the overhead projector so that they cannot read the translations and, after hearing the part of the song, everyone translates aloud. It is better if they play along and sing their translation to the rhythm of the song. A lot of repetition, but the pleasure of good music makes this bearable. Maybe even compelling. I like to be at the board (with a student controlling the computer) so that I can write the phrase in Spanish as it is being played. The writing seems to bring it all together.

(7) As a Fun Friday activity we sometimes play this memory game, splitting the class into two groups. It gets very emotional.

(8) I eventually give them an assessment. I play five clips; they have to write down the Spanish that they hear on one line and then translate it.

I am still actively working on how I use authentic music in a CI classroom, so if you have suggestions please feel free to write them below.


  1. As always, great post! I get so many ideas from you! Thank you for sharing so freely. I was wondering if you might tell me how you are able to edit the spellmaster games? I can’t find a way to create new ones, nor a place to even buy a subscription….just the free ones on line. Thanks!

  2. I love these activities and I sincerely appreciate the time and effort that you take to share all of your wonderful ideas! Thank you! I, too, like to have my students read subtitles when we listen to music in class. Yesterday, I discovered that Spotify has a “lyrics” feature that shows the lyrics karaoke style. I think that this is a new feature and some of the lyrics that I looked at were not correct, but most were spot on and I look forward to using this with my students!

    • At the risk of sounding like I am completely out of touch… I will have to try out Spotify! I like that there are no visuals to compete for students attention when I make one of my subtitled videos, but it does take time. Thanks for the tip.

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