What activities can you do with songs?

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There are lots of different ways to use songs in your ESL class, most depend on whether you are using a song to present new grammar or to practice grammar that you have already studied. Here are just a few ideas…


It’s always a good idea to start with a conversation with your students so that they know what to expect and so that they can familiarise themselves with the topic, the grammar or the vocabulary:

  • Introduce your students to the band, or the song; ask them if they know the song or the band. Wikipedia, including wikipedia’s simple version, usually has information about most well-known bands (for example, The Beatles), and even some songs (such as Yesterday), but maybe one of your pupils has even seen the band live and can talk from experience.
    • pro-tip Pro-tip: gamify this activity by playing a few seconds of the song or handing out the lyrics and asking students to identify the song or the band
  • Ask the students about their musical preferences, if they sing in the shower, if they can play a musical instrument, if they go to concerts… etc.
  • Talk about different genres.
  • You can even talk about the song’s topic (love, the environment, beauty, jealousy, politics… etc.).
    • pro-tip Pro-tip: notice that if you do this activity, you’ll need to prepare beforehand; you can’t just say: “this song is about losing a partner, let’s talk about that” but rather you have to pose more specific questions. For example, Bill Withers sang: “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone” so in this case you could prepare your students by asking them: “on what occasions do you have the sensation that the weather is worse?”
  • pro-tip Pro-tip: For more advanced levels, give the students only the title of the song or a snippet of the lyrics and ask them what the song might be about, or ask them to predict words and phrases that they expect to hear based on the topic.
  • pro-tip Pro-tip: Another idea for more advanced levels is to play the song and have your students write down any word they hear, and then ask them what they think the song might be about based on what (little) they have understood.
  • Prepare your students by covering specifically the grammar or vocabulary the song is designed to practise.


  • Fill the gaps: open cloze or multiple choice… the students fill the gaps in a song while they listen.
    • For beginners, you can give the students a list of the words which they will have to put into each of the gaps, for intermediate level you can just give them a gap.
      • “Yesterday, all my _____________ seemed so far away”
  • Choose the right word: the students listen to the song and choose the word that they hear.
    • For beginners, you can give the students two different words that mean the same thing but which don’t sound similar.
      • “Yesterday, all my problems/troubles seemed so far away”
    • For intermediate level, you can give the students two different words that sound similar, which is harder to distinguish:
      • “Yesterday, all my doubles/troubles seemed so far away”
  • Listen for words:
    • Give the students a list of words and tell them that ONE of the words is not in the lyrics. The students listen to the song, ticking off the words as they hear them. They should end up with one word.
  • Find the mistakes:
    • Give the students the lyrics of a song with mistakes in it so that the students can correct them.
      • For example… “Yesterday, all my problems seemed so far away”
      • or… “Yesterday, all of my troubles seemed so far away”
      • or… “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed far away”
  • Put the lines in the right order:
    • Give the students the lyrics of the song, but in the wrong order. Here you can cut the lines up into strips which then need to be reconstructed:
      • Now it looks as though they’re here to stay
      • Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away
      • Oh, I believe in yesterday
  • Put the words in the right order:
    • Much more difficult, but very good for practising grammar:
      • “my away yesterday, troubles far so all seemed”
  • Matching:
    • Give the students the first half of each line and ask them to match them with the second half. For intermediate level you can divide each line into three parts:
it looks as though…
…I believe in…
…all my troubles seemed
…so far away
…they’re here to stay


Obviously a good way to finish the activity is to ask the students if they liked the song, but also…

  • Sing it! Either sing along to the original version or find a karaoke version to sing along to!
  • Ask for the meanings of specific words; for example “from the context, what do you think the word troubles means?”
  • What is the song about? (in the case of “Yesterday”, it is about the end of a relationship, a separation)
  • Ask the students to draw a picture (in the case of “Yesterday”, a man crying alone)
  • Ask the students to write a poem based on the lyrics of the song, or a summary if it is a story or a conversation between two people.
  • If the topic of the song is controversial, organise a debate.
  • pro-tip Pro-tip: and finally, ask the students to write another verse. In the case of “Yesterday”, they could give the song a happy ending:
    • Tomorrow, she’ll come back to me, that much I know.
      We’ll have dinner and we’ll watch a show.
      Oh, I believe in tomorrow…
    • Tomorrow, she’ll come back to me, that much I know.
      We’ll have dinner and we’ll watch a show.
      Oh, I believe in tomorrow…
    • Tomorrow, she’ll come back to me, that much I know.
      We’ll have dinner and we’ll watch a show.
      Oh, I believe in tomorrow…