What You Can Do With a Song: 5 Creative ESL Listening Activities

What You Can Do With a Song
5 Creative ESL Listening Activities

by BUSYTEACHER_admin 90,244 views

Practicing listening skills in class can be a real drag to a student, marking the correct answer in their workbook, while listening to repetitive dialogues voiced by the same people, over and over again. This is where the student’s mind begins to shut down and take a five-minute breather, and whatever happening outside captures their wandering attention.

Listening involves a great deal of concentration, and so when the brain has switched off and gone for lunch, the listening skills follow suit.

How can teachers avoid this from happening, you ask?

Well, the answer is simple. Why not try something a little different. Think outside of the box and provide the students with something that you may not have tried before.

Songs provide a great alternative to listening tasks, as they are effectively the same dull listening exercises, but dressed in disguise as something that’s entertaining and fun.

Another reason why songs are great in the classroom is that they can be used as part of an entertaining and amusing, yet thoroughly educational warmer that will set right tone for the remainder of the lesson.

You don’t have to do a song and dance about it? Just a song on its own would be fine, thank you.

Adding the occasional song along with an accompanied activity to your class every once in a while, you’re giving the students more variety in the class. This keeps their attention towards you, their brain’s switched on and a stronger ability to listen for detail in the long run.

Here’s some creative activities that are aimed to not only entertain students, but to inspire and educate as well.

5 Creative ESL Song Activities

  1. 1

    An opener for classroom discussions and debates

    Before getting started on a debate, a song could be played to give an idea of the situation. So for example, a classroom discussion on crime and punishment is on the cards, an oldie but a goodie like The Clash and Bobby Fuller Four’s ‘I Fought The Law’ (see the Green Day’s version here) provides a great little opener while getting the students thinking about the concept of “Fighting the law” and the law winning. This can also lead to some interesting topics such as why people turn to crime, justice, as well as the consequences of crime.

  2. 2

    Tense explanations

    As English grammar is heavily reliant on whether an action is completed or unfinished, songs can help paint a clear picture of the timing implications tense. A great song that provides a good example is Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Landslide.’ A much simpler explanation, for example between present tense and past tense is ‘Yesterday’ by the Beatles. An easy lesson plan for pre-intermediate level students is to print out the lyrics, play the song numerous times, and get the students to underline the present and past tenses in different colours. An adaption to this activity give the choice between the present and past tenses, with the students required to underline the correct form of the verb. Boring exercise made fun with the simple introduction of a song.

  3. 3


    There are literally hundreds of sounds out there that involve conditionals. Using a song like Beyonce’s ‘If I Were A Boy’ will not provide a clear image to the concept of conditionals, but also bring you to new levels of “cool” in the eyes of your students. The entire song details some of the things she would do if she was just a boy for one day. Getting your students to put their thinking caps on and be a little creative, get them to talk about if they could do something for just one day. The whole class will surely have a laugh at some of the hilarious responses.

  4. 4

    New Vocabulary Builder

    Songs can also be used as an aid to build the vocabulary of students. With songs on practically every topic on the planet, it’s incredibly simple to find a song relating to a specific topic and using examples from the song to teach the students. One example of this is a note taking activity using the song ‘New York’ by U2. If, for example, the topic of the class is cities, the students would be instructed to take notes about specific details in the song relating to one of the most famous cities in the world, New York. Note taking is an important skill for students as many will one day be faced with that challenge in their professional lives, while the song adds an element of depth to the class.

  5. 5

    Working out the context

    One of the great things about some of the more lyrical songs is that they don’t serve the answers up to the student on a silver platter. They involve the student to think about what is really going on, based on not just the words but also the feelings, emotions and other variables. One example of a song that really gets students thinking is the song ‘Father and Son’ by Cat Stevens. What makes this song quite a brain bender is Stevens’ singing both the parts of the father and the son. If students can work out the context of what is being said, the answers become blindingly obvious. An exercise like this works out great with a conversation class as the students can put forward their ideas about what is happening in the song.

So there you have it, a few simple activities that will acclaim from your students and add the all-important variety into your class.

All it takes is a little bit of adaption and some creative thought, and you will be almost as much of a genius as me.

A few final points of advice for using songs in the classroom:

  • If you use a cassette tape to play the song, anyone in the class born after 1995 will look at you in total confusion and puzzlement
  • Don’t play songs like Bob Dylan – Subterranean Homesick Blues, not even we know what he’s talking about there.
  • Listen to the CD before you play it in class. The last thing your four-year old kindergarten students need is to hear your mix tape of death metal or happy hardcore.

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