Should You? Pop songs in ESL lessons
Popular music can be a great way of grabbing hold of a class’s attention, and the human brain is far more adept at retaining information when it’s set to a rhythm and a catchy beat. Here are some songs that you can use in the classroom to illustrate certain points of language.
1. HELP – THE BEATLES
Type of lesson: Indefinite pronouns, i.e. somebody, anybody
Sample lyric: Help, I need somebody//Help, not just anybody.
Activity idea: Nominate a narrator to sing the two lines given. Then have the rest of the class indicate, with gesture, to a specific person when the word ‘somebody’ is sung, and then a gesture to encompass all of them, along with a shake of the head, when ‘not just anybody’ is sung. They can take turns in different roles.
2. A BOY NAMED SUE – JOHNNY CASH
Type of lesson: Narrative tenses, past simple, past continuous etc.
Sample lyric: Well I grew up quick and I grew up mean//My fist got hard and my wits got keen// I’d roam from town to town to hide my shame
Activity idea: For free practice, give the students some rhyming adjectives, and have them use the tenses they’ve learned to write a verse that tells a short story. It could be something as simple as their journey to school!
3. WHEN I RULED THE WORLD – COLDPLAY
Type of lesson: ‘used to’
Sample lyric: I used to roll the dice//Feel the fear in my enemies’ eyes
Activity idea: Practice the first two verses, and have the students draw a pictorial timeline that shows what he does now and what he used to do.
4. IF I HAD A MILLION DOLLARS – BARENAKED LADIES
Type of lesson: 2nd conditional
Sample lyric: If I had a million dollars//Well I’d buy you an exotic pet
Activity idea: Have the class work in pairs or small groups and discuss the premise of the song. What would they do if they had a million dollars?
5. CAT’S IN THE CRADLE – HARRY CHAPIN
Type of lesson: Listening comprehension
Sample lyric: My son turned ten just the other day//He said, “Thanks for the ball Dad, come on let’s play”
Activity idea: Allow the students to listen to the song and read along with the lyrics. Have them guess what the story of the song is and what message the singer is trying to get across.
With thanks to David Byrne!