Making the Band

Recently my co-worker Greg (of Sinobling) developed a really fun activity for English class. A lot of the other teachers here (including me) have tried out his activity as well, and it has gotten top scores all around. It’s been weeks and he hasn’t blogged about it. I guess maybe describing an TEFL activity doesn’t lend itself well to Greg’s awesome powers of humor.

The concept is that you break the class into groups of 4-6 people each and give them the task of creating an imaginary band. Clearly, there’s plenty of “pre” work to be done. What is a band? What types of music can bands play? What instruments can be played in a band? After you discuss these questions with the class and make sure they understand what’s going on, you tell them to come up with some of the following (be selective depending on how much time you allot to the activity):

  1. Band name
  2. Genre of music
  3. Band member names (these should not be the same as their English names — this is the time to come up with creative English names!)
  4. Musical instrument that each member plays (don’t forget vocals!)
  5. Story of the unusual circumstances under which the band met
  6. Name of the band’s first smash hit
  7. Lyrics to the hit song (if you have a lot of time to kill…)

This activity absolutely works magic on the students. I can’t explain it, but it seems to awaken deeply buried creative juices in the students’ cute passive little skulls. The activity inspired some of my students to write lyrics when I didn’t even ask them to, and to even voluntarily perform their songs in front of the class! Greg says he got almost all his groups to perform by telling them that any group that performed got him as a backup dancer. Cool trick.
Greg’s favorite band name out of all his classes was Milk Cow Goes to Australia. I gotta admit, it really works. Carl‘s favorite hit song out of all his classes was Love me, love my dog.
The following are some of my classes’ results:

Moth is a rock band bringing you
the hit song Transform.

11pm is a light music band.
Playing violin, piano, lute, and bagpipes, their hit song is
Dreaming of Tiger Spring at Hupao Valley.

The industrial band Noisy is:
Shadow on guitar, Blue on bass, Kid on drums,
Dust on vocals, and Ghost on the keyboard.
Their hit song is Waste Gas.

Seasoned Band is a rock band
comprised of Curry on bass, Mustard on drums,
Vinegar on vocals, and Ginger on the keyboard.
Their hit song is The feeling of sweet and sour.

Super Chemical Girls is a hip hop band
comprised of Oxygen on guitar, Hydrogen on bass,
Atom on keyboards, Silver on drums, and Carbon on vocals.

Falling Angels is a metal band.
The band members are Ghost, Sorceress,
Demon, and Satan.
[The 4 girls in this band are
some of my sweetest students, too.] Their hit song is Hell Gate. Below are some lyrics:
Wings broken, Falling falling
Soul gone, leaving leaving
hell gate, opening opening
Death hands, waving waving

Rock on, Chinese students. Rock on.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. This reminds me of a lesson plan I did once upon a time when I used to teach in China 🙂 I gave the students individual pictures of random people that I’d cut out from magazine advertisements. The students then “became” the person in their picture and had to invent their life story. They were also split into small groups and were allowed to incorporate other group members into their life histories if they wished to do so. After giving them enough time to prepare, I then held a mock “cocktail party” where the students had to mingle with each other, introduce themselves, discuss their lives, histories, relationships etc etc.

    It worked like a charm, and even the students whose english was really poor could still manage to utter a few words to their friends about their name, age, family etc. The students got a kick out of seeing the pictures that their classmates had been given, and it was great fun to see them dragging around their “wifes” or “boyfriends” to introduce them to other friends. Some of the stories the students came up with were great, and I guess giving them a different face, made them so much less concerned about their own.

    The first class I did this with started making so much noise that a chinese teacher came in from another classroom and asked if we could keep the noise down. Rather than stopping an activity where for the first time every student was speaking in English of their own accord to the other students, I moved the class outside where we could continue to make as much noise as we liked 🙂


  2. Greg (via) John,

    I think this is a great lesson. Possibly even CLASSIC. I’d like to “have a try” with my students. Mind if I try it (with due credit given, of course).

    It plugs into the Chinese student’s love of (a) music, (b) singing stars here, and (c) desire, to themselves, become stars in some way. This gives them a chance to dream their dreams at least for one day.

    IMO, the lyrics part is the kicker (as your examples, John, clearly showed) to the lesson. Rather than rush that part, I’m thinking that spreading the whole lesson over a number of periods may be the way to go rather than trying to cram it all into one lesson. I have a few of my own lessons (projects) which span multiple days. I find that giving the students “homework” for the parts that require a bit of creativity, does inspire at least a bit of creativity on their part.

    Plus, the really strange thing that I have never been able to figure out here: the most reticent, shy, awkward, etc. Chinese person who can barely mumble a word, has no reservations about standing up in public, with a microphone in hand, and screeching out a song. So requiring a performance (even if the other band members have to play air guitar and beat on pans and bao zi steamers for drums) is the least of my worries. They’ll do it.

    This “Making the Band” project, I can feel in my China-Teaching bones, will be really good. It’s a great idea Greg. And thanks, John, for posting it.

  3. Beautiful. Jack Black would be proud as well.

  4. Hmmm, could a Chinese version of “This Is Spinal Tap” be far behind?

  5. I used this lessn as well, I made all my students sing, well i didn’t make them sing but I promised I would give them extra credit if they did. Once they et over the fact that they have to sing in front of class everybody really likes it. It is a KTV culture.

    My favorite band was a hip hop band called country mice. they came from the country to the city and were disgusted by all the pullotion and noise so they made a band. Their hit song was like

    mumble mumble mumble

  6. Man, “Easy Open Tin Can” could so be sung by Nashville Pussy.

    Of my groups, my funniest was a band named Weather whose hit song was “Golden Shower.” I seriously didn’t have the heart to explain to them why they shouldn’t use that, so I simply expended all of my energy trying not to die laughing when they got up and sang.

  7. matt (nanjingren) Says: December 3, 2003 at 6:11 pm

    thanks john and greg for the just-in-time post. you saved me from another walk of shame, the one where as I’m walking from my office to the classroom I think of a topic to teach. my class is in 45 minutes and i’ve already got a topic, wow, kick ass!

    My class has never exuded creativity, but here’s to hoping…

  8. sounds so interesting~~

    i wish u & greg had come up this idea when u were teaching us. I took a weekend class this semester for interpretation. The old gentleman, also from the us(he looks pink actually, no exaggeration!), maybe comsiders this oral english course as intensive reading. Very boring frankly!:( He asked each of us to read a part of a passage, asked several quesions, and noted some phonetic symbols. Kinda disappointed la.

  9. hehe matt – you sound like an Aussie by the name of Simon who used to teach at ZUCC – he would be asking me what I was doing each morning 2 minutes before class was due to start.

  10. matt (nanjingren) Says: December 4, 2003 at 5:02 pm

    Not that I’m lazy and procrastinate, it’s just that I work for a 7hr block, usually having 4-5hrs of classes to teach during that time. which gives me 2hrs to eat dinner and plan a lot of lessons. And, of course, to make it extra difficult, my 8-9 class is always an “English Corner” where I have to make up something interesting.

    Anyway, I gave up putting real effort into my courses long ago. I lost interest somewhere between the teenagers disinterest and the adults lack of ability to ask questions. But once in a while the guys out in blog cyberspace throw me a bone, then my students are in awe. Which leaves my bosses distracted enough that I can exercise my power of salary negotiation.

  11. hey it’s cool – I’m certainly not judging you.

  12. Great idea. The topic is interesting, but I think that getting the students to think of themselves as the band members makes this activity even better than just designing a music band in the abstract.

    Similarly, one of my more successful activities was inspired by a picture of a bank in the textbook. I gave the students some information about the bank (working hours, alarms, and so on) and asked them to plan a bank robbery! Each student in the group needed to have a part to play in the robbery. I also put a list of equipment on the board (from a gun, to a police uniform) and said that they could only choose three items to help them.

    I haven’t added this activity to my newly created Oral English Activities page yet (, but I’ll get around to it eventually.

Leave a Reply