Like many teachers of the English language (ELL, ESL, EFL), I like to enrich my lessons with popular songs. On this site, you’ll find:
- A list of hundreds of classroom-friendly songs, organized by theme, along with links to recommended YouTube videos
- Song-based activities
- Lesson plan ideas for songs in two categories: Recent Hits and Classic Hits
- A Grammar + Songs page with worksheets and songs to pair with specific grammar topics
- Stories behind the songs, written at the beginning to low-intermediate levels. Some stories are on this site, and some are on the Pearson catalog site (audio only), no registration or password required.
The songs and activities coordinate with the lessons in True Stories Behind the Songs (a beginning reading textbook) and More True Stories Behind the Songs (a high-beginning reading textbook), but they would work with other materials and curricula as well.
- Updates on Facebook: This site has a companion Facebook page, where I’ll post notifications of newly added songs, activities, and lesson plans. (If you use the True Stories Reading Series, its Facebook page has notifications of free pop-up news stories.)
- Following this blog on WordPress: Many of you are now following this blog on WordPress, which means you will get a notification for every post. You’ll probably get clusters of individual notifications because new material is usually posted on several different pages. The quickest way to see exactly what’s new is to check here on the Home Page or on the Recently Added page. New songs, activities, and lesson plans are also posted on Facebook.
Story Behind the Song. Joni Mitchell’s song “Big Yellow Taxi” routinely shows up on lists of top environmental songs. She was prompted to write the song when she looked out her hotel window in Hawaii and saw two contrasting views: lush green mountains and palm trees in the distance and below her, a huge concrete parking lot.
Lesson Plan and Story Behind the Song. In 2023, the U.S. government awarded Joni Mitchell the Gershwin prize for Popular Song. It is one of popular music’s most prestigious awards because it is not for just one song, but for a lifetime of songwriting. Mitchell wrote her best-known song, “Both Sides Now,” when she was 21 years old. Many people wonder how someone so young could have written a song so profoundly wise. This story offers an explanation. The Lesson Plan includes a lyrics gap-fill activity as well as a worksheet on the adverbial expression “at all,” which is repeated in the song.
Story Behind the Song. At the Grammy Awards ceremony in 2023, the unexpected winner for “Song of the Year” was Bonnie Raitt’s “Just Like That.” Many consider “Song of the Year” the Grammy’s top prize because it is not for the song’s production or performance, but for the song itself–that is, for the songwriter/s. This song got a lot of attention not only because of the Grammy but because of the underlying topic: organ donation.
A word of caution: Due to the sensitive nature of the topic, previewing the song before bringing it into the classroom is strongly advised.
Lesson Plan. One of the biggest hits of 2021 was “Driver’s License” by Olivia Rodrigo. This song would work well for the high-beginning level. The lyrics are straightforward and contain irregular verbs in the simple past tense, and it would be a good starting point for a discussion about cars and driving.
A word of caution: There are two versions of this song: the “official” version and the “clean” version, which is played on the radio. Add “clean” to your search terms to find classroom-friendly lyrics and videos.
*** November 2021***
Lesson Plan. ABBA’s new song “Don’t Shut Me Down” is a great choice for the English classroom. The song has clearly pronounced lyrics and a catchy melody. Another plus is that it tells a story. The Lesson Plan includes a pre-listening activity and a lyrics gap-fill exercise. 11/7/21
Grammar Worksheet. If you like to pairs songs with grammar lessons, you could draw students’ attention to the infinitive phrases used as adjectives in the chorus of Adele’s “Easy On Me.” A worksheet (levels intermediate and up) is on the Grammar + Songs page.
Story Behind the Song. After a break of almost six years, Adele has released a new song, “Easy On Me.” This is the story behind it.
Valentine’s Day Ideas. Valentine’s Day—a celebration of romantic love—is approaching. Here are some suggestions for classroom-friendly romantic songs.
ON THE GRAMMAR + SONGS PAGE:
Baby I’m Yours (adverb clauses)
Because You Loved Me (simple past tense)
Invisible String (used to)
I Will Always Love You (promises with will)
As Long As You Love Me (noun clauses)
Make You Feel My Love (could to express possibility)
One Call Away (promises with will)
Ring of Fire ((with link to audio recording of the story behind the song)
Something Just Like This (“wanna” for want to in informal English)
When We Were Young (comparisons with like)
Wonderful World (noun clauses)
You’re Beautiful (with link to audio recording of the story behind the song)
FOR A QUICK LESSON:
Students repeat phrases after Roy Orbison as he sings “You Got It.” To hear a clip of my students saying the words after him, scroll all the way to the end of Activity 6. This song/activity was a surprise hit in my class of adult learners. 2/5/21
Song + Worksheet. Taylor Swift released two albums while quarantined in 2020. Her song “Invisible String” is the favorite of many music critics. In fact, one critic put it on his list of “10 Best Songs of 2020.” The phrase “used to” is repeated three times in the opening verse, so if you like to use songs to illustrate grammatical concepts, that phrase would be a good focus. I posted an interactive worksheet on the Grammar + Songs page. Click on “Used to + a Verb in the Simple Form.” Recommended: the official lyric video. (The official music video also has the lyrics on the screen, but it might not be appropriate for your class. Previewing is recommended.) 1/3/21
Song Suggestion. “When Winter Comes,” the final song on Paul McCartney’s new album, has a slow tempo, straightforward lyrics, and a relaxing official music video—plus many of the sentences are in the future tense. You could follow up with practicing the future tense with “will.” For example, students could:
1. make a list of New Year’s resolutions in this form: “In 2021, I’ll _______.”
2. complete this sentence: “When summer comes, I’ll _______.”
3. complete one of the “future tense” worksheets on the Grammar + Songs page.
Do you have a suggestion for improving this site? A song or activity you’d like to share? Please e-mail me, Sandra Heyer, at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is my personal e-mail address. Your address will not be shared, and you will not get ads or promotions of any kind.