Teens love listening to their music but can you get them interested in learning English through songs?

teens listening to music
03 Dec Shelley Vernon 2 Comments

*You'd think that it would be easy to teach English to teens using songs since they love listening to music so much. But it isn't!


  • Either they refuse to sing in class, and you can't blame them

  • Or they don't like the song you chose

  • Or the song is too vulgar

  • Or the words are so mangled that not even native speakers can understand them!


So how can ESL and TESOL teachers work with teens using songs?


Firstly, have each student choose a song for homework. Give students your criteria: the song must be in English and contain no vulgar language. Students bring in the song lyrics (easily found online) and the music to class. If students choose their own music they will feel more involved in the lesson. Plus you'll save hours of your free time searching. Let them choose. At least that way you are sure they will like the music. See the comments box below this blog for some suggestions - and feel free to add yours, with thanks.


In the lesson, students write their song title on the board. It's highly likely several students will have chosen the same song, but that's no issue. Now have the class vote on the best song, the second best and finally the third best. These are the three songs you will work on in detail. Delete all the other song titles. 


First song activity

In groups of three or four students choose a song and translate it. Allow dictionaries.

  • Put a strong student in each group rather than having all strong students working together.
  • Put best friends or students who always chat together into different groups.
  • Make sure that all three songs are being translated by at least one group.


Second song activity

Display the lyrics to the first song. One group presents this first song, describes what it is about and reads out a translation. Check all students in the class agree with the translation. Repeat this for the second and the third songs. If the songs are very long, just do the first couple of verses and chorus.


Third song activity

Display lyrics to song one. Play the song. Tell students to memorize as much as they can. Now remove the lyrics. Play the song while students write down as much as they can of the song, with the challenge of at least having the chorus written in full by the end of the song. Play the song again and let students have one more chance to write down as many words as they can. Let students get together in threes now and see how much more they can piece together. Finally, show the lyrics and let students see what they missed.


Fourth song activity

Take song two this time and give students a jigsaw puzzle to do with the lyrics. Play the song while students put the lines in order on their tables, in small groups. Tell students they will only hear the song once, so they should focus and work as fast as they can.

  • Stop the activity before, while it is still interesting.
  • It is not necessary for every group to finish.
  • Only play the song once, unless you see that everyone is miles away from finishing the task after one playing.



Fifth song activity

For the third song have students listen to it and note down every verb they hear, regardless of the tense. Compare notes at the end.

teaching teens with songs name that tune name the artist

Sixth song activity

Now the class has worked on the lyrics of all three songs, run a lyrics quiz. Put students in teams. All lyrics are hidden except for a student from each team, these three students are at the front with a copy of the lyrics of all three songs. Team A's representative reads out a line from one of the three songs. Team B and team C race to name the song. Now Team B's representative reads out a line, and Team A and C race to name the song. Finally, Team C's representative reads out a line, and Team A and B race to name the song.

  • Continue with this for as long as it engages students, but stop before they have had enough.
  • Count up the points. If there is a big divide in the scores, move a team member who knows everything to the position of representative. it's not fun being thrashed at a game! It's only interesting if the scores are close.



Other song activities

Discuss lyrics with students. From the songs you worked on, what is more important in the song, the lyrics, or the music? Are there any songs with stupid lyrics that students love anyway, just for the music? Do students identify emotionally with any lyrics?


Students prepare for a general song quiz, writing questions for homework, or take ten minutes of class time to do this. Questions can be on topics the students choose, but give them ideas such as naming band members, singers' names, names of hits, year of hits, translating the line of a song, or name that tune.


You might find interest in performing parts of songs if students sing in groups. Don't make this obligatory. Groups could prepare parts of different songs for a "name the song" contest. This could be integrated into the general song quiz mentioned just above.


How do these song ideas work for you and your teens? I'd love to hear from you. Ask any questions in the comments box below, I'll be sure to reply to you.


For lots of great ideas to teach English to teens and adults, and make it fun, check this ESL activities book, in paperback and in an instant PDF download from me.


All the best

Kind regards


Shelley Ann Vernon

Teaching English Games




Suzy Ordaz emailed me this kind message - thanks for those kind words and I'm glad to help! "I have been following you for a while now. Your ideas are amazing and a fresh of breath air in my classroom. Thank you for the support and understanding you have for teachers."
Thank you so much for your prompt response to my specific issue. I am just beginning this tutoring project and surely will encounter some challenges . Will keep in touch.

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