Using pop songs

- - Using pop songs

Songs have long been a favourite resource among EFL teachers. In this article, Larry Lynch shares his ideas for getting the most out of music in the classroom.

Are your students sometimes bored in spite of your best efforts? Are you looking for some new and different techniques? Could you use a learning activity that would really wake them up? Would you like to get and keep the students’ interest? Even have them helping you? Then try this classroom-tested technique by using student-selected songs to teach listening comprehension.

Almost everyone loves music. It is a part of our language and life from before birth onwards. As babies, we hear lullabies. As young children we play, sing and dance to a myriad of nursery rhymes. As adolescents, we are consumed by the beat of popular music artists worldwide. As adults, every form of advertising we hear, every special event we experience, is in part, music.

Music pervades television, movies, theater, and even the nightly news. When we exercise, when we work, when we play, when we worship and even when we die, music is there to reinforce or alter every mood and emotion. A catchy tune is played, hummed or sung, at times in our head, as we go about our everyday lives. So, why not include music and songs in language learning as well?

Factors Contributing to Listening Comprehension of Songs
Use of new vocabulary, idioms and expressions - You'll need to address the new material offered in each song. This includes grammar, vocabulary and usage.

Pronunciation and accent of the singer - Every native speaker doesn't pronounce or sing with the same accent. Students may be exposed to an accent which is outside the realm of what they might normally hear in context.

Use of new grammar and structure - Song writers and singers are notoriously "loose" when it comes to use of grammar, structure, pronunciation, stress and other language factors applied to songs. The teacher must prepare for this.

Three Principal Song Selection Criteria
1. Use songs that are popular with the students whenever possible. Unfortunately, students frequently select songs for classroom use which are objectionable in some way making the song unusable.

2. Songs MUST have clear and understandable lyrics. Nothing is worse than a song almost nobody can understand. If you have trouble understanding the lyrics by listening, then another song needs to be selected.

3. Songs should have an appropriate theme. There's enough bad news, negativity and violence in the world already. Songs with any type of negative theme should be avoided. There are plenty of positive, upbeat, even humorous songs available. Use these.

Music pervades virtually every aspect of our lives. Students adore it. It contains numerous useful elements for language teaching and it's fun for both the teacher and students. So, why not include music and songs in your language learning classes as well?

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an ELT Teacher Trainer, English language learning expert author and university professor in Cali, Colombia. He has published more than 350 articles and academic papers and presented at numerous EFL teacher training and TEFL conferences throughout North America, South America and Europe. For comments, questions, requests, to receive more information or to be added to his free TESOL articles and teaching materials mailing list, e-mail


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Patricia on 30 July 2006

Hello, just to let you know that I have thought of using music in the classroom but I can't get hold of a good group of songs. Paul Simon has some very good lyrics in some of his music but it's not easy to find these days. I am all for music in the classroom. Thanks, Patricia.

Sheela on 30 July 2006

It is a great idea and undoubtedly a good technique but it would be good if you also tell us which songs to use and in which context.

Christian on 30 July 2006

I DO agree with you but are there any sorts of databases in which teachers could take their inspiration?

Jane on 30 July 2006

I don't know of a database of songs or anything like that but I've compiled my own list during my time in teaching. I usually hear something that has a lot of Past Simple or 2nd conditional in it for example, download it and then use it in class. I will survive is always a good one! - lots of past and future...

Angus on 30 July 2006

I use I've never been to me from the Priscilla Queen of the Desert soundtrack for Present Perfect practice. It's about things the singer has and hasn't done in her life, so virtually every other line is present perfect. The lyrics are very clear to understand too.

Jo on 30 July 2006

One song I use is If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next by Manic Street Preachers. It's good for first conditional - there's only one first conditional sentence repeated over and over, but if you use the rest of the lyrics as a comprehension exercise and get students to fit them into the context of this conditional sentence, it works well.
Another one is Vincent by Don McLean - not for anything specific, there are a variety of tenses and the lyrics are clear, so it's good for general listening comprehension.

Richard on 30 July 2006

Another one for conditionals is Stand By Me by John Lennon - there are some alternative conditional constructions in there like "If the sky that we look upon should tumble and fall" and "I won't be afraid, just as long as you stand, stand by me

Liz on 30 July 2006

Coldplay's Yellow works for irregular past tense verbs

Mark on 31 July 2006

I once used The Beatles song Blackbird with a textbook lesson on Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. It's very allegorical and filled with quite simple yet beautiful imagery. When the students finally made the connection between the explicit meaning of the song about a blackbird and the implicit connection to a social movement they were more than pleasantly surprised.

Noel on 31 July 2006

With a little imagination you can use just about any song for any grammatical form, vocab - esp. idiomatic. Lyrics are obtained easily from the many web sites and your peers may surprise you with their collective collections. Even better, I get my students to select some songs and I use those.

Vivi on 31 July 2006

Songs by Peter Paul n Mary are excellent choices. Also a favourite among my students oceans apart by Richard Marx. The new age songs usually have a lot of obsenity so I choose songs of a romantic nature or cheerful songs (the oldies).

Trish on 31 July 2006

Interesting article, I teach pupils with special needs and who also need (ESL). Music is very important to motivate, I often find that ones (songs, nursery rhymes) for special needs are not age appropriate. I will definitly give the Coldplay and Manic Street Preachers a go, however I will be pleased if they can remember the song and read, let alone the 'first conditional'. Cheers.

Angela on 31 July 2006

I use lots of songs in class. Every breath you take by Police or Sorry by Elton John for Present Simple; You're beautiful by James Blunt...

Ruth on 31 July 2006

Thanks for letting me know about this article. Can you please give me addresses for free downloads of music and lyrics? I'd appreciate that. Cheers, Ruth

Natasha on 31 July 2006

Do a Google search for "song lyrics" and you'll find hundreds of sites... pick your favourite...

Paqui on 1 August 2006

Songs are a source I've used lots of times in my class, and students love it. Sometimes at the beginning of the course I ask them to fill a form in order to know more about their levels, and some of the questions are about their favourite singers and songs; so when I am going to use a song in class I usually choose a song I know they like. Great article.

Nell on 1 August 2006

I use songs in my class very often. It is usually at the end of my classes when students/learners are quite tired or after revisions for tests or practicing certain grammar points. I try to find songs I think they might like or even know some of the lyrics already. And of course the aim is also to practice certain grammar structures with them.

I use Celine Dion Because you loved me which is great for past simple, both regular and irregular verbs. Also, Beatles Yesterday, Smokie Mexican Girl, Rolling Stones Anybody seen my baby, Bryan Adams Have you ever loved a woman, these are all good for practising present perfect. Bon Jovi In these arms is good for the second conditional. ABBA The winner takes it all, Bon Jovi Always, Whitesnake Is this love for mixed tenses - present simple/continuous, past simple, present perfect... Natalie Imbrulia Torn is good for past simple and present perfect and there are lots more. The Internet has all the lyrics so use it. It's great fun. You will love it and your students will definitely love it.

Carol on 1 August 2006

I usually use songs in the classroom. They are good icebreakers, grammar practice, listening comprehension (gap fill, put in order, etc...). Try esl lounge. This site has a songs archive you can use.

John on 3 August 2006

Stevie Wonder's Lately is great for present perfect simple and continuous. And sends shivers down my spine and students appear to like it. It's true that it's a little more rare and I agree with people who say that a popular song they may well hear on the radio or on MP3 would be motivational.

Peter Gabriel's Don't give up has a good social element (Thatcher's 1980s Britain, unemployment, hope) and runs through most tenses fairly clearly. Do as listening then gap fill.

Rasamee on 4 August 2006

I agree with the idea of using songs to convey the meaningful knowledge of structures. However, teachers should also be selective as we all know that there are some songs containing incorrect grammar. Songs are very exciting for adults in beginning level. They seem to catch the learners' interest and help expand their attention in class.

Sian on 5 August 2006

I have found this really useful before - especially using songs that match the grammar/topic being discussed in that unit. A nice example: If I had a Million Dollars by the BareNaked Ladies when teaching conditionals.

Cin on 8 August 2006

Everybody loves music so we teachers should take advantage of it. I try to make different activities while listening to the selected song. They can fill in the blanks, then complete the verses or choose the correct alternative, they can put the verses in order, etc. It's also a good way of introducing new topics. I love working with songs!

Helena on 20 August 2006

I usually use a song to know the students' level at the beginning of a school year. I usually introduce a topic with a song. There are plenty of them. For example, to talk about physical appearance, Beautiful by Cristina Aguilera; Human Rights, Where is Love by Black Eyed Peas; drugs, The drugs don't work by The Verve, environment, Animal Song, etc. Students love listening to them.

Irina on 1 September 2006

I absolutely agree with the idea of using songs in the classroom. However, it's a bit difficult to find a song that might be interesting for every student in class. Tastes differ, as you know.

Pinar Akcisak on 19 September 2006

Like the rest of the others, I also completely agree with the usefulness of using songs in classes, but we should take some important points into consideration while thinking about which song to select. Firstly, whether the song includes the grammatical structure we aim to teach, secondly whether the song appeals to our students' taste, and thirdly whether we can make a follow-up activity from this song, are crucial issues. I advise If you had my love by Jennifer Lopez for teaching Conditionals type 2.

Luciana on 20 September 2006

I absolutely agree with this idea of using songs in the classroom. I usually do it and I've had wonderful results. Students really feel motivated, they even dare to sing after doing the activity.

Alpaslan on 19 October 2006

I will not disagree with the use of songs in the classroom. I try to use it as frequently as possible especially in the grammar parts. I used Westlife's 'If I let you go' while teaching first conditional. Students loved it very much. I even heard them singing the song after the lesson in the corridors.

Liz on 13 December 2006

I am a fan of using songs in class, but I find that students are not as motivated by the song itself as by the fact that they prefer them to their course books. When I first started to learn English the internet did not exist and we were absolutely eager to know what songs were about. Today everybody can find the lyrics of their favourite songs on the web and even translations in every language. Students bring to class their own song lyrics and translations and share them with their classmates, which is good. But there's little work left for the teacher to do, I think. What's more, when you prepare activities around a specific song you know they like, they usually know all the language involved by heart, so there's no real effort there, just some fun.

Anonymous on 14 December 2006

Hi! Try visiting the Slovene page of BBC Learning English - Pop grammar (pop slovnica), just to give you ideas which songs to use. (For example - I've never been to me (Charlene) - Present Perfect). Have fun in classrooms!

Agung on 16 December 2006

Great article. You only show technique listening for music. Your article would be more excellent if you add some songs for examples.

Claudia on 7 February 2007

Hello! I am an English teacher at the beginning of her teaching career. Although teaching is hard stuff, I have my ways to make my English lessons as interesting and lively as possible. And to do that I, of course, also use songs to teach English. For example, just recently I have used one of my favorite songs, James Blunt's You're beautiful, and have made a whole lesson out of it. This song is great for past tense verbs (gap fill, the fill in the missing words while they listen), for discussions about love, partnership etc. Well, what I did was, I developed the lesson a bit further. I asked them to continue the story in the poem, and they wrote wonderful endings, of course using the past tense. In the end I asked them to imagine that James decided to call his ex, they arranged to meet, but she never came. The next day she called him and told him why she couldn't come on their date. They had to write her excuses: e.g. I couldn't come, because I had to take my mum to the hospital, therefore they had to use couldn't for past inability and had for past obligation (modals).

Finally, I would just like to say that songs are a great tool to use in a langugage classroom, but everything depends on the teacher and his or her ability to use them in numerous ways possible. The learners just love songs - the classroom lits up when they hear a song familiar to their ears... Use songs!

Gosia on 13 March 2007

I use I'm Too Sexy by Right Said Fred with my teenage students and they seem to like this song. It's funny and the lyrics are understandable. It is always good to check some interesting facts about the songs at:

Baran on 14 April 2007

It's very good to read these comments. I also use songs in my english classes but I have difficulty in finding songs not lyrics. Is there anyone who can help me.

Adriana on 10 May 2007

I always use Affirmation by Savage Garden to work on several topics and values with higher forms. It's a great song which enables all kinds of discussions. Try it!

Baran on 19 May 2007

Which song can be used to teach passives in the simple present???

Silvana on 29 June 2007

Hi! I am an English teacher from the Philippines. When I was with at high school I used songs for my grammar lessons. I remember Sad Movies a very good song for past tense. My students appreciated my choice even if they were unpopular songs to them because they were the songs most of their parents hum at home. Then I usually wind up the lesson with the class singing the song and myself strumming the guitar for them. Songs indeed are a very useful tool for effective English teaching. Thank you.

Wichien on 29 January 2008

I'm a teacher of EFL in Thailand. Most of my students love songs, but they like only listening to them, they don't want to learn language... what should I do?

Mary on 13 March 2008

Tom's Diner by Suzanne Vega for prepositions of place or present continuous. Hand in My Pocket adjectives.

Patricia on 4 May 2008

Wonderful site! For present continuous, Sailing by Rod Stuart. For present perfect Have you ever seen the rain... When I'm sixty-four by the Beatles is a lot of fun and students love it !!

Suzsiven on 19 July 2008

My favourite for present simple is Morning Train /9 to 5/ by Sheena Easton!

Tav on 18 September 2008

I am personally a fan of Barenaked Ladies song "If I had a Million Dollars". Its slow and humorous, plus the kids have usually not heard it before but like it.

Andy on 26 September 2008

It's quite hard to find group songs, as many have said, that appeal to a broad, teenage audience. They do come up with some crackers if you let them share with you. We did one last year called The game is won, can't remember the artist (Lucie Silvas maybe). Good, simple pop song with a positive message. Just a note though The drugs don't work is not about drug use as such but the death of Richard Ashcroft's mother - as in the drugs cannot save her. Made all the more poignant in that it was number 1 the day Princess Diana died and is far more emotional than Elton John's rehashed effort with Candle in the Wind (this is the kind of music we should be consigning to the dustbin of history! in my humble opinion, though the students would possibly disagree and I hope they would!

Shona on 1 October 2008

All the Leaves are Brown... in the song California Dreaming, is good for beginners as it has a very basic vocabulary."

Gza on 11 October 2008

I use the following songs: I still haven't found what I'm looking for by U2 for the present perfect, Terrifying by the Rolling Stones for comparatives and Yellow Lemon tree for present continuous to contrast both of its usages."

Onur on 10 November 2008

Using songs for teaching is definitely useful, however, you don't have to teach something while your students listen to a song. You can just let them relax and feel more comfortable. And also you can make them listen to a classical instrumental music while they are reading a passage. This will definitely make them stress-free. Chopin's Romantic Piano is just an example!"

Vickie on 8 December 2008

I teach absolute beginners and "SING A SONG" by the carpenters was great for teaching OPPOSITES."

Kamila on 16 January 2009

For the second conditional I recommend "All I want is You" from Juno Sountrack. The pace is fast but it's packed with the second conditional, and its a great song :)

Lisa on 24 February 2009

Rasamee - Given the terrible grammar a lot of native speakers use, I think it's wrong to protect our students from the fact that there are a great many grammatical mistakes out there. I love using songs that have bad grammar in class - it gives the students a chance to correct a native speaker's "mistake"!! I try to select songs that have few mistakes, but it's nice to have 3 or 4 for the students to pick out. It builds their confidence knowing that they can use better English than a native speaker. I would perhaps combine the grammar mistakes with a word mistake exercise. Giving the students the lyrics of the chosen song but with a certain number of mistakes (perhaps changing past participles to infinities if I'm doing a present prefect exercise, or deleting prepositions if I'm working on preposition use for example) and adding at the end..."oh, there are 3 more grammatical mistakes, can you spot them?"

Just a thought.

Alejandro on 15 March 2009

I've recentrly worked with "Doth I protest too much?" by Alannis Morisette to revise -ed adjectives with my upper-intermediate students. Love songs! Students usually approach these activities with enthusiasm!

Anonymous on 28 March 2009

Has anyone seen this site?
This is an Australian music producer who writes pop songs that also have lyrics that contain a lot of grammar in them. I think it's fairly new...

Joey on 11 April 2009

Help me out please! I need a song to teach adverbs... Does anyone know a song? If you do, please let me know... thanks =)

Anonymous on 5 July 2009

I need a song for the past perfect simple or continuous... my students are having a hard time comparing it to other verb tenses and I want to practise it from a musical perspective! Finding a song is hard, as it's an uncommon tense for music... Thanks!

Rich Zellers on 6 August 2009

I created a video of songs using the present perfect tense (only parts of 12 songs). It's at this link on Youtube: - feel free to use it. Also, if you want a printable word doc. copy of the parts of the lyrics that I used, email me at If you do visit the site, please rate. Thanks, Rich

Cibele on 25 August 2009

These tips were a great help for me. My students love learning through songs. If you need some songs, you could use "How do I live" by Leann Rimes to teach conditionals; "Every breath you take" by the Police and Sting to teach simple present; "Can't fight the moonlight" by Leann Rimes to teach the use of "can" and "be going to"; "I will always love you" by Whitney Houston to teach the use of "will"; "Can't take my eyes of you" (not sure of the singer) to teach adverbs... well these are all I can think of now.

Anonymous on 1 October 2009

I agree with you that music is a great back up when it comes to teaching Grammar. It would be very useful, however, if you posted a list of songs containing such and such structure. Right now I'm looking for a couple of songs containing Present Perfect Tense lyrics. I'd appreciate it if anyone could give me a hand here!!!!

Marine on 19 October 2009

Try for lesson plans based on popular songs and their lyrics. You'll find a selection of free worksheets... and the full database is due to launch spring/summer 2010.

The site also publishes lists of songs to use in teaching grammar points ( and in class discussions (

Alex on 2 December 2009

I had the same ideas when I was studying French. They have so many nice songs. So to make it easier for me and organize all the songs and lyrics in one place and also add some fun exercises I developed an application called "Sing and Study" -

Not limited to English but to any language you want , no ads and it's very easy to enter your own material. Enjoy.

Jane on 9 January 2010

Hi... can someone help me? I need a song with regular past simple to practice pronunciation of the -ed sound. I think it could be fun to use music to do so. Thank you!

Ngaire on 31 January 2010

I Will Survive" has present perfect and past perfect (as well as simple past and future).

Anonymous on 11 April 2010

I taught my students "Lemon Tree" when I was teaching the present cont.tense and they loved it! It's a great song. And it became the song of my class. It's a must!

Anonymous on 30 May 2010

I work with teenagers who have only a basic level of English (a tricky group to find appropriate songs for!). I used a chorus-only version of Hot and Cold by Katy Perry for basic vocabulary/opposites.

J. Schill on 6 June 2010

I use Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful" to teach adverbs and adjectives. It also helps to explain that sometimes prepositions can serve as adverbs! I have used Carrie Underwood's "Jesus Take the Wheel" to teach subjects and predicates as well.

Nicole Naditz on 24 July 2010

Thank you for your concise, step-by-step approach. You and others may be interested in the curriculum guide I created giving numerous ideas for how to use authentic music in the language classroom. It was the grand-prize winner of the Jane Ortner Educating Through Music Award, 2010. You can access it (and related resources) at http:/ It is a completely free resource and was created to be shared (and is also available at the Web site of the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, California). Please feel free to share with others!

Bas on 1 November 2010

I've used these songs in a primary school (11-12 year olds) in the Netherlands:

The Cure - Friday I'm in love (to practice the days of the week) Neil Sedaka - Calendar Girl (to practice the months of the year) Bill Haley - Rock around the clock (to practice the numbers 1 - 12)

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