Below are lesson plan ideas for some of the top classroom-friendly songs of 2015-2016, listed alphabetically.
(For a complete list of over 200 classroom-friendly songs by theme, please see the List of Songs.)
Fight Song (Rachel Platten, 2015) Choose from the following activities:
Listening Listen to a recording of “Fight Song” without the lyrics. Students jot down five words in the song that they are sure they know. When the recording is finished, students volunteer their lists of words, and you write them on the board. My low-intermediate class contributed these words: small, ocean, heart, explosion, brain, voice, fight, life, believe, and bones. Ask students to guess what the song is about. (Variation Rather than write down words, students draw pictures of things they hear mentioned in the song. Then they exchange papers with a partner and try to identify what their partner has drawn. This idea is from Nico Lorenzutti’s article “Beyond the Gap Fill: Dynamic Activities for Song in the EFL Classroom” (English Teaching Forum, Number 1, 2014). He says students often laugh and smile while trying to decipher their partner’s drawings.)
Listening Listen to the song a second time while reading the lyrics. (Most Internet lyrics for this song are accurate.)
Post-Listening Read the high-beginning story behind the song, titled “Everybody’s Fight Song.” Permission is granted to reproduce for classroom use.
Post-Listening Speak the chorus. Students read the chorus aloud, maintaining the rhythm of the song and emphasizing the syllables that are accented when the song is sung. (For more on this activity, please see Activity #6: Singing or Speaking the Chorus.)
This is my fight song– Take back my life song, Prove I’m all right song. My power’s turned on. Starting right now, I’ll be strong. I’ll play my fight song. And I don’t really care if nobody else believes ‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me.
Post-Listening Draw-Write-Share:What Are You Fighting For? Students sketch someone or something they are fighting for. Under their drawing, they write a few sentences about their picture. Then they share their drawing and their writing with a partner or in a small group. (For more on this activity, please Activity #3: Class Discussion on a Song’s Theme.) My students, four women in their thirties, all drew pictures of their families. Here are some of the sentences they wrote under their drawings.
I am fighting to keep my family together.
I am fighting to learn English. I have to help my daughter. She needs help with her homework.
I am fighting to get a better job. If I reach my goal, I can provide a better life for my kids.
Hello (Adele, 2015) Choose from the following activities:
Listening Listen to the song while reading the lyrics. (Most Internet lyrics for this song are accurate.)
Post-Listening Read the beginning-level story behind the song, titled “Hello, Adele.” Permission is granted to reproduce for classroom use.
Post-Listening Practice using gerunds as objects of prepositions. Adele repeats the line I’m sorry for breaking your heart three times in the song–a perfect example of using a gerund (breaking) as the object of a preposition (for). First, have students watch the Talking Heads video at AzarGrammar.com, which explains how gerunds work. Then have them complete the worksheet below, suggested for levels intermediate and above. Permission is granted to reproduce for classroom use.
Love Yourself (Justin Bieber, 2015) Choose from the activities below. (One word of caution: The line And now I know: I’m better sleeping on my own might make this song inappropriate for some classrooms.)
Listening Listen to the song while reading the annotated lyrics below.
Post-Listening Watch the official video. It features dancers who are married in real life and is appropriate for most classrooms, although previewing is advised.
Post-Listening Summarize the video, which tells a story. For step-by-step instructions for structuring a summarizing activity, please see Activity #2: Summarizing. Working together, my low-intermediate students wrote this summary of the video:
A couple is having a difficult time. She thinks only of herself. He tries to fix the problem. He tries to communicate, but she doesn’t care. She doesn’t love him. He recognizes it’s not a good idea to be together. She wakes up. He’s gone.
Post-Listening Sing the song’s chorus, which is repeated four times. It’s easy and fun to sing.
‘Cause if you like / the way / you look that much, Oh, baby, you should go and love yourself. And if you think / that I’m / still holdin’ on to somethin’, You should go and love yourself.
Post-Listening Practice using reflexive pronouns. The song repeats the phrase love yourself eight times, so it invites a grammar lesson on reflexive pronouns. First, have students watch the “Talking Heads” video at AzarGrammar.com, which explains how reflexive pronouns work. Then have students complete the worksheet below. Permission is granted to reproduce for classroom use.
Post-Listening Summarize the video, which tells a story. Working together, my high-beginning students wrote the summary below. I followed up with the “Disappearing Summary” activity described in Activity #2: Summarizing.
He is in love. But she has a boyfriend. Her boyfriend is mean. He thinks about her, but he doesn’t say anything. He gives her a surprise. It’s a movie especially for her.
Post-Listening Practice offering help and making promises using the construction I’ll + a verb in the simple form. This construction is used in the line I’ll be there to save the day, which is both an offer to help and a promise. The line is repeated four times in the song. The first worksheet below focuses on making offers to help. The second worksheet/activity focuses on making promises. Both worksheets are for levels high beginning and up, although the worksheet “making promises” is slightly more difficult. Part 2 of the “making promises” worksheet asks students to evaluate promises (all beginning with I will) that people make when they get married. It prompted a lot of interaction and laughter in my class of adults in their 20s and 30s. Permission is granted to reproduce for classroom use.
Post-Listening Draw-Write-Share: Keeping in Touch. Students sketch someone they love and don’t see often. They answer a few questions under their drawing, then share their drawing and their writing with a partner or in a small group. (For more on this activity, please Activity #3: Class Discussion on a Song’s Theme.) This activity is for levels beginning and up. In my class, the activity stretched beyond the time I had allotted for it because students were exchanging information on apps that helped them keep in touch with friends and family far away. Permission is granted to reproduce for classroom use.
Post-Listening Sing along with the chorus as the the song plays a final time. I had thought the chorus was too difficult to sing, but many of my students spontaneously sang it.
I’m only one call away. I’ll be there to save the day. Superman got nothing on me. I’m only one call away.
Renegades (X Ambassadors, 2015) Choose from the following activities:
Listening Listen to the song while reading the lyrics. The lyrics below have low-frequency words crossed out. Assure students that they can understand the gist of the song without getting bogged down by those words.
Post-Listening Read the high-beginning story behind the song, titled “Two Brothers and a Band.” The story explains why the band’s singer calls the official video for this song “personal.”
Post-Listening Watch the official music video, in which physically disabled people do amazing things.
Post-Listening Sing along with the chorus. It’s easy and fun to sing.
And I say hey Hey, hey, hey Living like we’re renegades Hey, hey, hey Hey, hey, hey Living like we’re renegades Renegades, renegades
Post-Listening Personalize the chorus. Students replace the line Living like we’re renegades with their own lines. After each student says his or her line, the whole class sings Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey. For examples and an audio clip from my class, scroll to the end of Activity #5: Writing New Song Lyrics.
See You Again (Charlie Puth and Wiz Khalifa, 2015) Choose from the following activities. (One word of caution: The word damn in the line Damn, who knew? might make this song inappropriate for some student populations.)
Listening Listen to the song while reading the lyrics. Encourage students to focus on understanding the lyrics of the chorus, which are straightforward and easy to understand. Internet lyrics for this song tend to be accurate.
Post-Listening Read the poignant story behind the song “See You Again,” titled “The Prediction and the Promise.” It is written at the high-beginning level. Permission is granted to reproduce for classroom use.
Post-Listening Draw-Write-Share. Students imagine they haven’t seen their best friend in a year. When they see each other again, what will they tell their friend? They draw pictures of four events that happened in their lives during the past year and write a sentence about each picture. Then they share their drawings and their writing with a partner. (For more on this activity, please see Activity #3: Class Discussion on a Song’s Theme.) Permission is granted to reproduce the worksheet below for classroom use.
It’s been a long day without you, my friend. And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again. We’ve come a long way from where we began. Oh, I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.
Post-Listening Contrast the use of the present perfect tense vs. the past tense. The song repeats the sentence It’s been a long day without you, my friend three times. Call students’ attention to this line, and point out the use of the present perfect tense to describe an activity or situation that began in the past and continues into the present, contrasting the meaning of this sentence with the past-tense sentence It was a long day without you, my friend. For a follow-up activity, please go to AzarGrammar.com for the Chapter 4 intermediate-level worksheet submitted by the teachers at Edmonds Community College titled “Past vs. Present Perfect.”
7 Years (Lukas Graham, 2015) This song’s themes make it ideal as a springboard for several class discussions. Choose from the following activities:
Pre-Listening Discuss life’s best age. Structure the discussion with the Four Corners activity. Write the numbers 11, 20, 30, and 60–the ages the songwriter describes in the song–on four pieces of paper. Post one number in each corner of the room. Ask students, “Which is the best age?” Students stand next to their answer. Working together, students in each corner make a list of reasons why that is the best age. One spokesperson for each group reports the reasons to the class.
Listening Listen to the song while reading the punctuated, annotated lyrics below.
Post-Listening Discuss important years. The songwriter reflects back on when he was 7, 11, and 20 years old, so the song invites a discussion about important years in students’ lives. Structure the activity with the reproducible interactive worksheet below for levels high-beginning and above. (Students need to be able to form questions in the past tense.) I found the idea for this activity on the website of the Minnesota Literacy Council under “Tutor Tips” for volunteers, a great resource for practical, creative ideas.
Post-Listening Interview your future self. The songwriter imagines what his life will be like when he’s 30 and 60. To follow up on this theme, ask students to have a conversation with themselves at a future age. I found a great model for structuring the activity at lessonplansdigger.com.
Post-Listening Discuss “Rules to Live By.” The songwriter shares the advice his parents gave him at ages 7 and 11. Follow up by asking students, “What are two rules to live by–rules that all children should know?” They write their rules on a sheet of paper. Then they walk around the room and share their two rules with a classmate. They memorize one of their classmate’s rules and add it to their list. They share those three rules with another classmate. They memorize one of that classmate’s rules and add it to their list. They share those four rules with yet another classmate. They memorize one of that classmate’s rules and add it to their list. They return to their seats with their list of five rules. Students share rules they particularly like with the class. I found the idea for this activity in the resource book ZeroPrep by Laurel Pollard and Natalie Hess. (p. 22, “Building Up a Chain: Rules to Live By.”)
Stressed Out (Twenty One Pilots, 2015) This song works best with students at the intermediate level and above. Choose from the following activities:
Listening Listen to the song while reading the lyrics. Unfortunately, the lyrics on most lyrics websites are inaccurate. Punctuated, correct lyrics are below.
Post-Listening Practice the construction wish+ simple past to make a wish in the present, a construction that is used ten times in the song. (I wish I had a better voice, Wish we could turn back time, etc.) Permission is granted to reproduce the worksheet below for classroom use.