Read a Song: Using Song Lyrics for Reading and Writing

Read a Song: Using Song Lyrics for Reading and Writing

  • Resources & Preparation
  • Instructional Plan
  • Related Resources

Singing is a favorite pastime for many people and is part of popular culture. In this lesson, students make the connection that the words sung in a song are part of a book that can be read. They explore this connection through children's song storybooks and interactive websites. Students complete a project by writing new lyrics to a familiar song and creating illustrations related to the lyrics. During the lesson students engage in various levels of reading and writing activities.

From Theory to Practice

Musical activities can enhance a wide variety of literacy learning experiences including letter names and sounds, phonemic awareness, print conventions, background knowledge and vocabulary, and word identification.
Well-designed websites that are appropriate for young children create unique opportunities for developing and practicing basic and computer-related literacy skills.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • A collection of children's song storybooks
  • Computers with Internet access
  • Headphones (optional)
  • Markers, pencils, and crayons
  • The Itsy Bitsy Spider by Iza Trapani (Charlesbridge, 1993)
  • Chart paper
  • Suggested Songs for Changing Lyrics
  • My Song Lyrics Draft sheet
  • Read-a-Song Student Assessment Rubric


Preparation for Session 1

  • If you have a computer that can be accessed in the classroom, bookmark NIEHS Kids' Pages ; students will listen to "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" during the introduction.
  • Determine how you will divide the class into groups of two to three students.
  • Gather a collection of several different children's song storybooks (see Resources for Children's Song Storybooks ). At least one of these books should be "Old MacDonald Had a Farm." You will need enough books so that each group of two to three students has one to look at.

Preparation for Session 2

  • Explore the websites on the Websites with Songs, Lyrics, or Interactives list. Choose sites you think are most appropriate for your students, keeping in mind that you want them to listen to a variety of songs during this session.
  • If you do not have enough computers in your classroom, arrange time in your school's computer lab so that each student will have the time to go online to visit the websites you have selected. Ideally, students will have headphones to use while they are working. Bookmark the websites that you want your students to access on the computers they will be using.
  • Determine if you would like students to use the computers by themselves or with partners. If you decide to have students work with partners, divide them into pairs.

Preparation for Session 3

  • Obtain and familiarize yourself with The Itsy Bitsy Spider by Iza Trapani. (You may also choose to use another one of Trapani's books which include Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and I'm a Little Teapot .)
  • Review the list of songs on the Suggested Songs for Changing Lyrics sheet.
  • Make a copy of the My Song Lyrics Draft sheet for each student.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Practice definitional and comparative learning and increase their understanding of different types of texts by learning that the words sung in songs are called lyrics and by reading lyrics in books and on websites
  • Make the connection that words that are sung are also words that can be written and read by listening to, singing, and reading different songs
  • Apply what they have learned by composing new lyrics to a familiar song and illustrating the lyrics they write

Session 1 (45–60 minutes)


Shared Writing Note: During this part of the session, students will assist you in writing down the lyrics to the song "Old MacDonald Had a Farm." Adjust the level of participation to meet the literacy levels of your students. For example, you can do the writing yourself, ask students to supply the initial sounds to words, help spell all the words, have students write initial letters or entire words on their own, and so on.

Shared Reading

Song Singing

Introduction of Children's Song Storybooks

Partner Reading

Session 2 (45–60 minutes)

Note: The amount of time needed for this session will vary depending on computer access. If necessary, have students who are not using computers read some of the children's song storybooks you gathered or work on some of the Extension activities such as creating the song cards. It will be easier for students to listen to the songs if they use headphones at the computers. Students may work individually or in pairs during this session.

Session 3 (60–90 minutes)

Shared Writing Note: During this part of this session, you will want students to work with you to create new lyrics for "Old MacDonald Had a Farm." Emphasize the connection between the words that they are singing to the words that you are writing. Make sure that the lyrics follow the pattern of the song. The Suggested Songs for Changing Lyrics sheet has ideas about how to alter the song if students are having trouble coming up with their own.


Project Draft Note: Depending on the age and abilities of your students, you may want to provide further direction on your expectations for writing the lyrics. For example you may want to require older or advanced students to write all the lyrics on their own or even write multiple lines of lyrics. For younger or less advanced students, you could allow them to simply fill in a word or words to complete a lyric to a song (e.g., "If you're happy and you know it (fill in the blank).") Just make your expectations clear to students at this time.

Session 4: Completing the Project (20–30 minutes)

Session 5: sharing the projects (20–30 minutes).

  • Bring in a karaoke machine and have students sing along to music as they read lyrics.
  • Have students make song cards by writing the title of a song along with an illustration. The song cards can be used in the classroom to select songs for singing.
  • Place the collection of children's song storybooks in the reading area and have students browse through them.
  • If you, students, or parents play a musical instrument, play the music as students sing the lyrics to the songs.
  • Record the students singing the lyrics they wrote.
  • Scan or photograph the projects and post them on your class or school website. Photos of the projects can also be used to create a class slideshow or movie.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • What are the words we sing to a song called? (lyrics)
  • How could the lyrics to a song be shared with others? (They can be written down and illustrated.)
  • What is the connection between the words we sing and the words we read to a song? (They are the same.)
  • What did you like about this lesson?
  • What are some of the children’s song storybooks you like reading?
  • Which websites did you like visiting?
  • Assess if students met the objectives of the lesson when they are sharing their completed projects in Session 5. Use the Read-a-Song Student Assessment Rubric as a tool to guide your evaluation.

Students celebrate the power of words by reading aloud to their classmates and spreading the word of global literacy to their friends and family.

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Nine Teaching Ideas for Using Music to Inspire Student Writing

creative writing song lyrics lesson plan

By Natalie Proulx

  • May 10, 2018

Some of the greatest written works of our time have been inspired by music. Walt Whitman conceived of and wrote “Leaves of Grass” while listening to opera . Alice Walker, Langston Hughes, Ntozake Shange and Ralph Ellison were all moved by spirituals, jazz and blues . And Lin-Manuel Miranda’s rap musical “Hamilton” was born of his love of hip-hop . These writers understood what many educational researchers know — that music opens up pathways to creative thinking, sharpens our ability to listen and helps us weave together disparate ideas .

In this teaching resource, we suggest nine exercises to use music to inspire student writing — from creating annotated playlists and critical reviews to music-inspired poetry and personal narratives. Each idea pulls from Times reporting, Opinion pieces and multimedia on music to give students a place to start. The activities are categorized according to three genres: creative and narrative writing; informative and explanatory writing; and persuasive and argumentative writing.

How do you use music in your classroom? Let us know in the comments.

Creative and Narrative Writing

Exercise #1: Write a story or poem inspired by music.

One way you might let your students be inspired by music is to have them describe in words what they hear, a method Jean-Michel Basquiat employed in his poetry and paintings.

In “ Bowie, Bach and Bebop: How Music Powered Basquiat ,” Ekow Eshun writes:

In 1979, at 19, the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat moved into an abandoned apartment on East 12th Street in Manhattan with his girlfriend at the time, Alexis Adler. The home, a sixth-floor walk-up, was run-down and sparsely furnished. Basquiat, broke and unable to afford canvases, painted with abandon on the walls and floor, even on Ms. Adler’s clothes. The one item that remained undisturbed was Ms. Adler’s stereo, which had pride of place on a shelf scavenged from the street. “The main thing for us was having big speakers and a blasting stereo. That was the only furniture I purchased myself,” said Ms. Adler, who still lives in the apartment. When Basquiat was around, she recalled, “music was playing all the time.” On Thursday, the exhibition “Basquiat: Boom for Real” opened at the Barbican Center in London. The show focuses on the artist’s relationship to music, text, film and television. But it is jazz — the musical style that made up the bulk of Basquiat’s huge record collection — that looms largest as a source of personal inspiration to him and as a subject matter.

Invite your students to read the article and then listen to the Times-curated Spotify playlist “ The eclectic taste of Jean-Michel Basquiat ” as they view his art and read his poetry . Discuss what they notice about the musical influence in Basquiat’s work. How do the content, colors, textures and shapes in his paintings resemble the sounds they hear? How are these reflected in the words, phrases, mood and rhythm of his poems?

Next, have students listen to a song or playlist (perhaps one they created, one you created or one of these Times-curated ones) and, like Basquiat, let them write what they hear:

• describe the images that come to mind; • name the feelings and thoughts triggered by the imagery and sounds in the music; • mimic the pacing and rhythm through word choice, sentence structure and line breaks; • borrow the words, phrases or lines that resonate most; • or build on a theme or message.

Here’s an example of what one composer wrote as he listened to his own classical piece, “Become Desert”:

From the stillness around you a high glassy sound descends, like first light. Each new sound seems to breathe — emerging from and receding back into the stillness — and the glint of bells, like desert plants, here and there. Almost imperceptibly the music swells and continues falling in pitch. From somewhere above — like a gleam of metal, like sunlight emerging from behind a ridgeline — comes the sound of flutes. You are in a strange landscape. You don’t know how to read the weather or the light. You are unsure how long you will be here, or how challenging the journey may be.

To take this exercise a step further, students might use what they wrote while listening to music to develop a short story or poem. They might share their writing and song choices with the class so their classmates can analyze how music inspired their writing.

Exercise #2: Pen your own song or rap.

Invite students to write their own music about topics, events or themes you are studying in class. How can they summarize in song the role of the mitochondria , the main themes of “Romeo and Juliet” or the events that led to the Civil War?

Here’s an example from Julien Turner , 20, who produced this music video called “ XY Cell Life ” for a college biology class:

For inspiration, students might check out the Times “ Diary of a Song ” video series to see how songwriters and musicians like Zedd , Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber make hits. What stands out to them about these songs? What are the artists’ processes for making music? How do they write lyrics and sounds that resonate with an audience? How do they communicate content and emotion?

You might have students simply write lyrics — like these students who wrote “Hamilton” hip-hop verses and these young people who summed up the year’s news in our annual “Year in Rap” challenge .

Or, invite them to make their own music videos or recorded songs. In this case, you might refer to use our lesson plan “ Project Audio: Teaching Students How to Produce Their Own Podcasts ,” which has a helpful section on audio editing and advice for gathering non copyrighted sound effects and music.

Exercise #3: Share what music means to you.

What role does music play in your students’ lives?

What are they listening to right now? What musicians and bands mean the most to them? What music inspires them? What song lyrics do they consider literature? Which artists do they believe are the future? Which do they think will stand the test of time?

We have published over 1,000 writing prompts for students , including many, like the questions above, dedicated to personal and narrative writing about music. You might have your students choose a question that speaks to them and read the related Times article. Then invite them to share their thoughts, stories, opinions and experiences in writing.

You can search “music” to find our newest music-related writing prompts here , which are open for comment indefinitely.

Informative and Explanatory Writing

Exercise #4: Connect songs to current events.

Music has always been a reflection of and window into society, culture and history — and the current era is no different. Hip-hop, folk, classical and even opera music draw on current events and politics for source material.

What connections can your students make between the music they listen to and current events? How does learning more about the context in which a song was written help them better understand it?

You might start by having students read and analyze how journalists make connections between music and current events every day. Take Childish Gamino’s latest video, “ This Is America ,” for instance. In a roundup of the best writing about this music video, Judy Berman writes:

But Glover’s graceful moves aren’t exactly the point. There’s plenty of messaging about race, violence and the entertainment industry in the song and video — which helps explain why fans and critics have devoted so much time to dissecting its references and debating its meaning.

And Doreen St. Félix from The New Yorker relates the video to the present day:

The video has already been rapturously described as a powerful rally cry against gun violence, a powerful portrait of black-American existentialism, a powerful indictment of a culture that circulates videos of black children dying as easily as it does videos of black children dancing in parking lots.

You might have students read the roundup or one of the articles it excerpts, or let them choose another topic or genre that interests them, such as:

Beethoven’s 200-Year-Old ‘Fidelio’ Enters Today’s Prisons Mouse on Mars at M.I.T.: A Symposium Becomes a Dance Party Eminem Lashes Out at Trump in Freestyle Rap Video New ‘Hamilton Mixtape’ Video Takes Aim at Immigration Celebrating Women’s Rights, ‘That Most American of Operas’ Watch 5 Moments When Classical Music Met Politics Can North Korea Handle a K-Pop Invasion? Review: Beyoncé Is Bigger Than Coachella

For whichever article they choose, students should consider: What current events does the music they read about reference? How do these allusions contribute to the artist’s message? What other themes in the music can they relate to what is happening in the world?

Then, challenge students to pair a song of their choosing with one or more Times articles and write an essay that explains the relationship between the song and the current or historical events.

Students might start by annotating song lyrics themselves or referring to Genius to find explicit connections and discover underlying themes that in some way relate to society, culture, history and politics. Students may also choose to research the artist to find out more about his or her background, beliefs and politics.

For help in writing the essay, what we call a text-to-text pairing , we also have a whole lesson plan that guides classes through the process of generating and writing about relevant connections between their studies and the world today, as well as dozens of example essays written by teenagers .

Exercise #5: Create an annotated playlist of songs related to a topic.

Every Friday, The Times publishes “ The Playlist ,” a weekly tour of notable new music and videos. Times pop music critics choose about a dozen of the week’s most popular or intriguing songs and music videos and write a short commentary for each. They even create a Spotify playlist of the songs each week.

You can use “The Playlist” as a model for students to compile their own annotated playlists — playlists with explanatory text or commentary for each song — related to a topic you are studying in class. It might be straightforward, such as songs that reference historical or current events, use a particular literary device or exhibit a specific musical technique. Or, the playlist could be more symbolic, like pieces that tell a story when played together, demonstrate a theme from a novel or capture the essence of a time period or setting. (You might use one of these as an example of a theme-oriented playlist.) Playlists could even be autobiographical, with students selecting songs that express aspects of their own identities.

Students can read through several of the past columns and listen to the playlists to determine what makes for compelling commentary. For example, on Billie Eilish’s and Khalid’s “Lovely,” Jon Pareles writes:

“Lovely” is the song of someone inextricably attached or trapped: “I hope someday I’ll make it out of here,” Billie Eilish sings with Khalid — not in dialogue or counterpoint, but in unison, as if they’re each others’ partner and burden. “Wanna feel alive outside/I can fight my fear.” The backdrop is piano and strings lingering on two chords; the melancholy never lifts, and at the end Khalid and Ms. Eilish share a chilling greeting: “Hello-welcome home.” J.P.

And on First Aid Kit’s “Fireworks,” Mr. Pareles writes:

First Aid Kit, a duo of sisters from Sweden who usually favor a folky, countryish approach — they’ve got a song named “Emmylou,” after Ms. Harris — turn to a gauzy retro sound in “Fireworks,” a song always about ending up lonely: “Why do I do this to myself every time/I know the way it ends even before it’s begun.” With a 1950s slow-dance beat and echoey guitars, it’s already nostalgic for the next failed romance. J.P.

Ask students: What do they notice about h ow the commentary is written? What does the writer include and why? How is it organized? What makes it interesting (or not)?

After students have curated their own playlists, they are ready to write song annotations. Some ingredients they should include in their writing are: a claim explaining how the song relates to the topic or theme; evidence from the song (e.g., lyrics, instruments, rhythm or melodies) illustrating their claim; and analysis that explains the significance of these aspects of the song.

Students can share their final playlists on Spotify so that everyone in the class can listen to and comment on them.

Exercise #6: Profile an artist in an imagined interview.

The Times Music section regularly profiles artists from different genres, time periods and corners of the globe. Students can use these articles and interviews as mentor texts before doing research and writing their own mini-biographies of a music figure they admire.

In an “imagined interview,” students, working individually or in pairs, play the part of both interviewer and interviewee. They do background research on an artist they select, come up with a list of questions and answers for the interview, and then write a profile on their subject.

To start, have students read one of these interviews with musicians:

Khalid, the Teenager With 5 Grammy Nominations: ‘They Got It Right This Year’ Jay-Z and Dean Baquet, in Conversation John Mayer Has More to Say: The Outtakes Bruce Springsteen on Broadway: The Boss on His ‘First Real Job’ Adele on ‘25’: Song by Song In Hip-Hop, Inspiration Arrived by Way of Kirk Franklin Gwen Stefani on Spirituality, Insecurity, Pharrell and ‘Truth’

Ask students: What types of questions did the interviewer ask? What subjects did the two discuss? What questions were missing from the interview that you wish were asked?

If you plan on having students write narratives based on their imagined interviews, they should also read at least one example of how Times writers write narratives based on interviews. Here are a few:

The 5 ‘Handsome Girls’ Trying to Be China’s Biggest Boy Band ‘I Could Barely Sing a High C’: Pretty Yende Finally Conquers Lucia For Milford Graves, Jazz Innovation Is Only Part of the Alchemy Dua Lipa Was Raised on Pop Bangers. Now She Writes Them. Valee, Kanye West’s New Signee, Is a Rapper Who Just Might Build You a Koi Pond Rafiq Bhatia Is Writing His Own Musical Language Ashley McBryde Takes Nashville, No Gimmicks Required

While reading, they should consider the following: What information did the reporter include and why do you think they made these choices? How did they effectively weave in biographical details to tell a story about the artist and the music?

Next, assign students to choose their own musical artist to interview and profile. The following steps can guide students through the process:

1. Do Your Research : To learn more about the artist you selected to interview, do an in-depth study of several song lyrics or an album, read published interviews with the artist, watch a video or listen to radio interviews to see how the artist speaks.

2. Prepare Your Questions : Consider this artist’s particular music and biography. What more do you want to know about the artist and his or her music? What in the songs or videos you studied struck you that you would like to ask about? For more inspiration, our lesson plan “ Beyond Question: Learning the Art of the Interview ” provides additional advice on how to conduct good interviews.

3. Conduct Your Imagined Interview : Based on your research of artists — their background, their music and the way they speak — imagine how they might respond to your questions. Be creative, but try to stay true to who the artist is. Alternatively, you could role-play the interview in partners, where one person is the interviewer and the other is the artist. It might be helpful to record the interview and take notes.

4. Write Your Article : You may choose to write your interview in a question and answer format , or create a narrative .

5. Share the Final Product : Share your imagined interviews with your classmates and reflect on the activity. Was your writing convincing to readers? What did you learn about writing artist profiles?

Persuasive and Argumentative Writing

Exercise #7: Review an artist, album or song.

Which artists, albums and songs can your students not stop talking about — either because they love them or hate them? Channel that energy into an argumentative essay using our culture review-writing lesson plan . In this lesson, students read Times reviews and heed advice from Times critics to write their own. They practice developing a clear claim, citing evidence and writing with a strong voice.

You might allow students to choose one of their favorite (or least favorite) artists or songs to practice writing passionately and knowledgeably about a subject. Or, challenge them to explore a genre of music they might not normally listen to and see what they can learn.

Consider having your students submit their finished pieces to our annual student review contest . They can read winning reviews from past years here .

Exercise #8: Weigh in on the latest criticisms, trends and news in music.

Music today incites opinions not just about the artists and albums themselves, but also about universal themes, like the music industry , social media , morality , the human condition , culture , the past and the future. “ Popcast ” is The Times’s podcast dedicated to discussing these very criticisms, trends and news in music.

You can invite students to weigh in on the music-related topics they care about most in a group writing activity that mimics the conversational style of this podcast. Here, they learn how to make a claim, develop it with evidence, write counterclaims and respond directly to one another in an informal and fun way.

First, you might start by having students listen to one full episode or excerpts from “ Popcast ” to analyze how the discussion unfolds. What background information is provided? How do the critics talk to and respond to one another? How do they open and close each episode?

Popcast Poster

Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar Break Boundaries

Or, you might have students examine what a conversation like this looks like in writing. “ Kendrick Lamar Shakes Up the Pulitzer Game: Let’s Discuss ” by Times music editors provides a good example. The conversation begins:

JON PARELES To me, this prize is as overdue as it was unexpected. When I look at the Pulitzers across the board, what I overwhelmingly see rewarded are journalistic virtues: fact-gathering, vivid detail, storytelling, topicality, verbal dexterity and, often, real-world impact after publication. It’s an award for hard-won persuasiveness. Well hello, hip-hop. ZACHARY WOOLFE … But there is also wariness, which I join, about an opening of the prize — not to hip-hop, per se, but to music that has achieved blockbuster commercial success. This is now officially one fewer guaranteed platform — which, yes, should be open to many genres — for noncommercial work, which scrapes by on grants, fellowships, commissions and, yes, awards. PARELES That response is similar to many publishing-world reactions when Bob Dylan got the Nobel Prize in Literature — that a promotional opportunity was being lost for something worthy but more obscure, preferably between hard covers. A literary figure who had changed the way an entire generation looked at words and ideas was supposed to forgo the award because, well, he’d reached too many people? Do we really want to put a sales ceiling on what should get an award? The New York Times and The New Yorker already have a lot of subscribers … uh-oh.

Then, in small groups, have students come up with their own music topics worthy of debate. For inspiration, they might browse some of the past “Popcast” episodes.

You might then have them brainstorm some initial ideas and conduct research in the Times Music section to deepen and broaden their knowledge about the subject.

Next, invite them into a written conversation about their chosen topic. One student initiates the conversation and then each person in the group takes a turn responding to what each other writes — acknowledging their classmates’ remarks, voicing their own opinions, making connections and citing evidence to support or disagree with others.

Exercise #9: Write an editorial on a music-related topic.

Many musicians and music aficionados also contribute Opinion pieces to The Times, where they write passionately and persuasively about music’s influence in their lives, culture and society.

What music-related topics do your students care about? Do they believe music should be a required subject in school? What do they think today’s artists say about the world they live in? Can and should musicians’ work be separated from their personal lives?

Have your students write an editorial on a music-related topic that matters to them. We’ve written several lesson plans on teaching argumentative writing, including “ For the Sake of Argument: Writing Persuasively to Craft Short, Evidence-Based Editorials ,” “ I Don’t Think So: Writing Effective Counterarguments ” and “ 10 Ways to Teach Argument-Writing With The New York Times .”

You can pair any one of these lessons with music editorials as mentor texts, like the ones below:

A Note to the Classically Insecure The Real Song of the Summer Three Cheers for Cultural Appropriation The Heartbreak of Kanye West Is Music the Key to Success? Graceland, at Last The Songs That Bind

Students can also search for their own examples in the Music or Opinion sections. Or, refer to the many music-themed argumentative writing prompts we have published.

They might consider entering their finished editorials into our annual student editorial contest . And they can read essays from past winners here .

Other Music-Related Resources from The Learning Network

Lesson Plan | The Ten-Dollar Founding Father Without a Father: Teaching and Learning With ‘Hamilton’

Lesson Plan | Teaching With Protest Music

Teaching Close Reading and Compelling Writing With the ‘New Sentences’ Column

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Lindsay Ann Learning English Teacher Blog

Analyzing a Song – So Simple Every Student Can Do It


December 13, 2022 //  by  Lindsay Ann //   2 Comments

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English teachers, teaching your students how to analyze song lyrics needs to be a “go-to” strategy, a step toward deeper analysis of more complex texts .

Whether you’re teaching poetry, persuasive essays, or some other writing unit, analyzing song lyrics will give your students an opportunity to look at the different ways that language can be used to capture emotions and tell stories .

This close reading process will also help improve their vocabulary and grammar skills while they are having fun!

Here are some tips on how to teach students to analyze song lyrics so that they can gain valuable writing knowledge through a familiar medium they love!

Analysis of Song Lyrics

Taylor Swift makes analyzing song lyrics in the classroom easy peasy. Like her or not, you can count on her to write songs that tell a story, are layered in deep meaning, and littered with Easter eggs that are fun to try and collect (even for the non-Swifties). 

Taylor Swift’s “ Anti Hero” is a fun student-friendly song to bring into the classroom to practice analysis skills.

With callbacks to songs on other albums in lines like “I have this thing where I get older but just never wiser,” you can challenge students to analyze the development of a theme across multiple texts (helloooo higher level DOK and those really tricky to meet standards!).

Lyrics like “I’m the problem; it’s me” coupled with the title setup an opportunity to teach the concept of anti-hero (I especially like the idea of teaching about anti-heroes after teaching about the hero’s journey) and challenging students to analyze how Swift herself could be seen as this archetype by analyzing other songs and conducting online research.

“Anti Hero” also has what appear to be two references to pop culture ( 30 Rock and Knives Out ) that had even the swiftest of Swifties stumped online. These references are an accessible way to introduce the idea of allegory. 

Taylor has really teed up the song analysis practice in English classrooms to be endless with so many rabbit holes to go down at every turn! 


Song Meaning “Hallelujah”

Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” has a deep meaning making it a popular choice for teaching song analysis.  The meaning of Hallelujah is about someone who was deeply in love and is mourning the guilt of the loss of that love .

The song can teach students how to analyze lyrics by pointing out that even though it doesn’t say so explicitly, this is a song about a break-up .

They can also learn other aspects of reading literature, like examining tone and form. Analyzing song lyrics enables students to apply what they’ve learned as they read other texts or songs.

After reading a poem or listening to a song’s lyrics, students should be able to answer questions like: 

  • Who is speaking? 
  • How do you know? 
  • What do you think the speaker’s feelings are?
  •  What does this tell you about their personality? 
  • Do these feelings make sense for the situation?


Good Songs to Analyze

When choosing good songs to analyze remember these three things:

  • Choose a song that tells a story
  • A song with a deep meaning or theme that challenges students’ inferential thinking skills works best
  • Pick songs that students will know and be excited to listen to (that means that while “We Didn’t Start the Fire” is technically a great song for analysis, it might not be the most engaging for your students)

Here are some songs for teaching song analysis that will not only help you teach important analysis skills but also engage and delight your students:

  • “ Pray for Me ” by the Weeknd ft. Kendrick Lamar
  • “ Thunder ” by Imagine Dragons 
  • “ Bohemian Rhapsody ” by Queen (this one is suitable for older students)
  • “ Born This Way ” by Lady Gaga
  • “ Getting Older ” by Billie Eilish 
  • “ Drivers License ” by Olivia Rodrigo 
  • “ This is America ” by Childish Gambino/Donald Glover
  • “ Matilda ” by Harry Styles
  • “ Victoria’s Secret ” by Jax (does have some profanity – I’ve linked the “clean” version)
  • “ Vacation ” by The Dirty Heads (does say “shit”)


How to Analyze a Song

Teaching students how to analyze a song is similar to teaching poetry or literary analysis, but using songs disguises the learning as a fun activity making it really engaging and accessible for all learners.

Start by having students listen to their song twice .

  • Instruct them to listen through for the first time just for enjoyment and to follow along with the printed lyrics (or digital if you have a way for students to access the lyrics online).
  • Then have them listen a second time but this time have them highlight and circle words and phrases that they think are important and interesting. 

Challenge students to consider the following questions during their second time listening and to annotate the lyrics as they go:

  • Who’s telling the story? What’s their perspective? How do they feel? What’s making them feel that way?
  • What’s the mood of the song? Do the lyrics or the music contribute more to the mood?
  • What figurative language do you notice in the lyrics? Why might the songwriter have chosen to include that figurative language?
  • What could the songwriter be saying about human nature or society through their lyrics? How could you write a theme statement about these lyrics?

Once you’ve gotten your students started with the analysis process, make sure to involve your students. Ask them what they notice and use their insights to build discussion. Have them write a summary of the song or write a detailed analysis or work on a more creative, visual response.

creative writing song lyrics lesson plan

Song & Poem Analysis Paired Text Lesson Plans

Make close reading, textual analysis and literary analysis of songs (and poems)  less intimidating  with these detailed, CCSS-aligned  close reading song analysis lesson plans for paired texts . Integrated close reading, text-based writing, speaking, listening, and inquiry skills, make these lessons both  engaging and worthwhile.

To help you save prep time, I’ve put together some awesome lessons for you HERE , including:

  • Carrie Underwood’s song “Cry Pretty” & Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ song “Growing Up”
  • William Ernest Henley’s poem “Invictus” & Imagine Dragons’ song “Whatever it Takes”
  • Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise” and Tupac’s song “Still I Rise”
  • Stephen Dobyns’ poem “Loud Music” and Incubus’ song “Dig”
  • “Anti-Hero” by Taylor Swift
  • “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” by Green Day and “Brick by Boring Brick” by Paramore
  • “Hotel California” by the Eagles and “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin
  • Protest Songs
  • “Mad World” by Tears for Fears and “A Million Dreams” sung by Pink / The Greatest Showman

Wrapping Up

When students analyze songs, they think about its overall impact.

What makes this song great, and why do you like it? What is it about this song that makes it stand out?

Thinking through these ideas with easily-accessible texts makes transferring their skills and knowledge to literature (ya know, the kind with the capital L ) easier.

They’ll have practice analyzing craft moves like figurative language and allegory, but they’ll also have practice with those more complex reading strategies like making inferences and connections .

Have a song you think would be perfect to analyze in the classroom? I’d love to hear about it! Drop me a comment below to share! 

Hey, if you loved this post, you’ll want to download a  FREE copy of my guide to streamlined grading .

I know how hard it is to do all the things as an English teacher, so I’m excited to share some of my best strategies for reducing the grading overwhelm. 


About Lindsay Ann

Lindsay has been teaching high school English in the burbs of Chicago for 18 years. She is passionate about helping English teachers find balance in their lives and teaching practice through practical feedback strategies and student-led learning strategies. She also geeks out about literary analysis, inquiry-based learning, and classroom technology integration. When Lindsay is not teaching, she enjoys playing with her two kids, running, and getting lost in a good book.

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Advice for Teaching Poetry through Song Lyrics

Teaching poetry through song lyrics is a great way to get a class to pay attention to a sometimes tedious lesson. By breaking down and closely examining lyrics to contemporary songs, teachers can introduce students to the basic mechanics of writing poetry using sentences they already know.

Many parts to poetry, like rhyme schemes and alliteration, are important fundamentals students need to understand. And starting lessons off by using words and phrases already familiar to students to explain these concepts helps the process go smoothly.

Use students’ favorites

A teacher could teach poetry through song lyrics from the 16th century, but would that be interesting? Probably not. That’s why it’s important to engage the students through using popular music that they enjoy. For this kind of lesson to work, a teacher needs to know what kind of music the class likes. Not every class is the same, so using a set grouping of bands or songs won’t work.

Teachers can ask students a few things to get started, like:

  • What books they enjoy reading
  • What popular movies they’ve enjoyed lately
  • What they do in their free time
  • What bands and types of music they like

A teacher can do this through a questionnaire at the beginning of a semester or school year to find out more about the students. These questions will give clues about the types of music that come into play with those interests. For instance, a class that really enjoyed the Spider Man moves will likely know the song Hero by Chad Kroeger. Tying this song into a lesson plan could be beneficial, or, if there is an off day at school, letting the students watch the film, and then reintroducing a lesson with music from it in the following days, could be a great way to keep in a theme that students will enjoy.

Teaching the lesson

One way to teach a poetry lesson with music is to play the song upon the arrival of students to class. This is good for a number of reasons. First, it calms students and gets them quiet for class time. Second, they will likely catch on to the rhythm and some lyrics, but it won’t be enough to ruin the rest of the lesson plan.

Now, a teacher can introduce a lecture through a handout. Play the song again, asking students to focus on the lyrics. You can use this system to help students learn sound devices, rhyming schemes, beats, and more that are all important parts of poetry creation.

The lesson might include a number of poetry devices, such as:

  • personification
  • rhetorical devices/questions
  • onomatopoeia
  • epistrophes
  • alliterations

Teaching poetry through song lyrics in this way is a great way to capture students’ attention while still providing the lesson on deeper grammar and language devices.

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10 ESL Song Activities to Liven Up Your English Classroom

Almost everyone loves music. To take advantage of this, consider using songs and music as the basis for new ESL song activities.

Because many popular songs tend to be pretty simple in terms of lyrics, using them can work for any level of ESL student—even beginners.

No matter what level your students are at, there’s a song at their level that is listened to by millions of native English speakers.

So check out this list of ideas for ESL song activities here. I’ve included ten activities, great choices for songs to use and how you can choose your own great songs for your classroom.

10 Effective ESL Song Activities

1. active listening and writing, 2. readalong, vocabulary and grammar, 3. fill in the blank, 4. slang practice, pronunciation, 5. phrase practice, 6. singalong, 7. summarize the song, 8. rewrite the lyrics, 9. lyric challenge, 10. song skits, great song choices for esl activities, intermediate, how to choose your own song for esl activities, why are esl song activities helpful.

Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)

To set up for song ESL song activities , make sure you have a high-quality recording of the song and good speakers to play it on, such as a Bluetooth speaker that links to your smartphone. Try playing the song in your classroom before students arrive to make sure that your equipment is working properly and that the song can be clearly heard even in the back of the room.

If you have video equipment, you can always play the music video version of the song to help students visualize the culture of the song. A video projector will also be useful if you have a lyric video.

Start by playing the song without showing students any of the words. Have them simply listen to try to understand as much as they can on their own. To encourage active listening, have them write down:

  • Phrases that they recognize.
  • Words that they don’t know the meaning of.
  • A couple of sentences to summarize the song’s main idea.

If your students are beginners, they may need to listen to the song a couple of times to accomplish this. By writing down key words and phrases, your students can test themselves and see how they did compared to the actual lyrics. You can then discuss the song with your students and ask them what they understood and see what questions they have.

Next, you can play the song while showing your students the lyrics. This can be accomplished either by playing the song as a lyric video on YouTube or by printing out the lyrics from a website like AZLyrics .

You can then discuss the results with your students. How did they do? Did they understand the meaning of the song? Were there any words that surprised them? What was clarified after they saw the lyrics?

Feel free to play the song with the lyrics a couple of times so that their ears can begin to recognize the words as performed by natives. Songs can be difficult to understand, but by allowing students to concurrently see and hear the words, they will learn how to recognize those phrases aurally.

Prepare a worksheet for your students using song lyrics with key words removed so that they will have to fill in the blanks. Remove important vocabulary words, verbs and/or prepositions . For beginner students, you can make a word bank at the top so that they can see how to spell the words rather than having to generate the words on their own.

See how many blanks they can fill in on their own, and then play the song so that they can check their work. Are there any words that they still can’t understand? Make sure students know the meaning of all new words and understand how they are used in the song. You can then have students practice these key words by writing a few of their own sentences with them.

Songs are a great way to introduce useful slang expressions that are a lot of fun for students to learn. Prior to the lesson, pick out several slang phrases from the song that you wish to teach your students.

To introduce a phrase, have them first try to infer its meaning based on the context in the song . You can then explain its exact meaning and give a couple of examples of how you might use the phrase.

Then have students practice these phrases with a partner, making a short conversation where they include as many of the new slang words as possible. You could even have them write their dialogue down on paper and then read it in front of the class to practice speaking and listening.

This is a very important activity because it can make a huge difference in students’ confidence when speaking English. Pick out key words, phrases and slang from a song you have played for your students to work on for pronunciation . Then say each word or phrase and have students repeat after you.

Pay special attention to problematic syllables and sounds. Depending on your students’ native language, they will struggle with different aspects of English pronunciation. These are the areas to really hone in on.

Don’t simply have them repeat the word and then move on; instead, critique their pronunciation and even explain how they can sound more like you . This may require communicating exactly how your mouth and tongue are forming the word. Have students practice the specific sounds they are struggling with. Make sure they are using appropriate intonation and placing emphasis on the correct syllable.

Have them imitate all aspects of your speech and keep working with them until they can say those key words like a native. When they get the hang of it, you can even introduce different English accents, like American, British and Australian!

Have your students put their pronunciation skills to the test by singing along to the song . No song lesson is complete without a singalong! Your students should strive to sound as much like the singer as possible, which, depending on the singer, can be a pretty amusing exercise . This means paying attention to the pitch and rhythm of the song, as well as the pronunciation of each word.

The many parallels between language and music really come into play here. Since the chorus repeats itself several times, this is a great way to learn new vocabulary through repetition  and commit words to memory.

Sing along as a class and see if there are any brave souls who would like to sing the chorus solo. Split students into groups and have different groups of students sing different parts of the song for an added challenge.

Songs provide great insight about their culture of origin. Some songs are even about specific locations or cultural phenomena. Even a more generic song often speaks profoundly about the worldview of that region.

To glean these insights, have students summarize the main idea of the song either by writing a few sentences about it or having a class discussion about the song’s theme .

Do students like the message of the song? How is it similar or different from their own culture? Are there specific experiences they have had that relate to the lyrics of the song?

If there are any cultural elements of the song that are particularly foreign to your students, take the time to explain them. This is a good time to show students the music video of the song so that they can see the culture that it takes place in.

This is a fun challenge to test your students’ songwriting abilities! Put students in small groups and challenge them to rewrite the lyrics using the melody of the song, but changing the words . This is a good opportunity to incorporate other cultural themes or vocabulary into the lesson even if the song isn’t directly applicable.

You can give each group a specific topic or key words that the new lyrics should include. For beginner students, this will be challenging, so you can have them just rewrite the chorus. For more advanced students, you can give one verse of the song to each group so that the entire song is complete but each group is only responsible for one part. Then have each group sing their part to the class.

Many songs have an instrumental or karaoke version on YouTube  to sing along to.

This is a fun memory game that can help students learn the song’s vocabulary. It is a good activity to do after you have already been working with a song for a little while so that students are familiar with the lyrics.

Students will sit in a circle and take turns saying one of the lines of the song . Each student needs to contribute a new lyric, and if they can’t remember any, then that student is out and it goes to the next student. You can check off the lyrics as they name them to keep track of what has been said. Eventually, there will only be one student left and that student is the winner.

Alternately, you can challenge students to memorize the song, and then go around in a circle and have each student say the next lyric in order, attempting to go through the entire song. Any student who doesn’t know the next lyric is out, and the next student has to come up with it. The last student left is the winner!

This activity is a good way to make sure students truly understand the different phrases and vocabulary of the song by using them in real-world communication scenarios . It’s a good final activity because it challenges students’ writing, comprehension and speaking abilities. You will choose specific vocabulary words, verbs and phrases from the song for your students to incorporate into a skit.

Alternately, if your song does not use a lot of commonly spoken vocabulary, you can have your students write a short story instead of a conversation. Divide students into small groups and have them write a short script that incorporates the key words. Beginners can make a simple skit out of a few key words; advanced students can make an elaborate skit with many key words.

Have them perform their skits for the class once they are complete. Look over their skits before they perform to make sure they are using the words properly.

A good song choice varies widely depending on the level of your students and the subject matter of your lesson. Visit this post to see a list of songs for teaching ESL students of different levels , and check out these suggestions to get started: 

For beginner students, you will want a song that uses simple vocabulary words, present tense verbs and clear pronunciation by the singer.

  • “The Good Life”  by Three Days Grace has very simple sentence structure and would be a good way to introduce “I want” and “I need” phrases. You could also practice making sentences using “I know” and “I don’t know.” You could even try a classroom discussion on what makes a good life.
  • “Feeling Good”  by Nina Simone is another good song for beginners. It has a lot of basic nature vocabulary words and would also be a good way to teach “I feel” phrases.
  • “New York State of Mind”  by Billy Joel is a great song for beginners, particularly to teach American culture. It cites several US cities and geographic features and is a great way to talk about the culture of New York in particular.

At this level, you can use songs with a bit more complexity. Showtunes are a good option because they exist within the context of a narrative, which makes for good discussion.

  • “Waving Through a Window”  by Ben Platt has a good mix of present tense verbs and present participles, along with simple vocabulary and useful colloquialisms. Plus it has a relevant message about being an outsider that can make for a good classroom discussion.
  • “Let It Go”  by Idina Menzel also includes some present tense verbs and present participles, along with plenty of weather vocabulary words. It can also be used to have a discussion about being yourself.
  • “What You Own”  by Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal is a good way to introduce American culture, including the struggles of living in America. It has some great colloquialisms, as well as present participles and imperatives.

You can challenge your advanced students by selecting songs that are at a faster tempo and include a variety of verb tenses, along with colloquialisms.

  • “See You Again”  by Wiz Khalifa includes past, present and future tense verbs and is rapped at a fast tempo. It features useful slang expressions and a message of loss and friendship.
  • “Roar”  by Katy Perry has a good mix of past tense verbs and present participles. It has a message about standing up for yourself and overcoming obstacles.
  • “No Boundaries”  by Adam Lambert has lots of common vocabulary words regarding time and nature. It also uses a variety of verb tenses and talks about achieving your dreams.

If your students are very advanced, you can always have some fun with a challenge song! These move very fast and can help take your students’ listening skills to the next level.

  • “Hope”  by Twista is rapped very fast, and is filled with slang and speech that can be challenging to understand. It also features a timely message of hope in the midst of a struggling world.
  • “Lose Yourself”  by Eminem is about struggling to make the most of an opportunity. It also has plenty of slang and is a good way to introduce inner-city culture in America. It features different verb tenses, and you can use the censored version to avoid inappropriate language.
  • “Nothin’ to Lose”  by Josh Gracin doesn’t have particularly complex lyrics, but it flies! It also includes a variety of verb tenses, plenty of colloquialisms and is a great way to introduce your students to an American Southern accent.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in building a lesson around a song is finding the right song . Besides choosing one that you and your students will enjoy, there are other factors to consider so that your lesson is successful:

  • Vocabulary. To choose a good song for a lesson, you will want to pay attention to the song’s vocabulary. It should have some words that your students don’t know yet, but they should know enough to understand the general meaning of the song. This will allow them to learn new words based on context.

It’s also great to find a song that is topical for whatever you are teaching. To search for a song with certain words, use a website, such as , that allows you to find a song by its lyrics. For example, if you are teaching the days of the week, you can type in the days of the week and will show you all the songs that include those words in the lyrics. You can then look at the lyrics of each song to see which one has the best vocabulary for your students.

  • Grammar. The next important consideration is finding a song with grammar that is appropriate for the level of student you are teaching. If you try to teach a song filled with past and future tense verbs but your students only know the present tense, they’ll be confused and won’t be able to learn a lot of the song’s grammar.

To easily review a song’s grammar, you can use a lyrics website, such as AZLyrics . Simply type in the song and it will show you the lyrics. You can then look and see what kinds of verbs, prepositions and idiomatic expressions are in the song. Since many songs include a mix of verb tenses, look for a song with a good amount of what you are currently teaching.

  • Clarity. When you have found a song that is level-appropriate for your students, the next step is for you to actually listen to the song. There are some songs that contain very simple grammar but are nearly impossible even for native speakers to understand due to the speed of the song, the quality of the recording or the accent of the singer. Good lyrics are only part of the equation. The song also needs to be performed in a way that your students will be able to understand.
  • Popularity. When in doubt, you can start by looking at songs that are at the top of the charts, because these are typically at the lowest reading level. Websites like YouTube, Billboard and iTunes all have music charts that show what songs are most popular. YouTube even has a Billion View Club  for songs that have been played over a billion times. It’s likely your students will be familiar with these! You can also look at Billboard’s Hot 100 to see the current 100 most popular songs. iTunes Charts also shows the songs and albums that are currently most popular.

If you’re looking for an effective way to teach ESL with great music videos and other video content, then be sure to check out the language learning program, FluentU . The program has a large library of authentic videos made by natives for natives. In each video, there are interactive bilingual subtitles that lets you click on any word to learn more about it.

Music is a language in itself, and experts are now making the case that language is developed as a type of music. Both rely on the use of sounds to express thoughts and emotions, and both require timing, pitch and proper emphasis. Because many of the same skills are used in music and speech, language and music acquisition occur side by side, and language acquisition is aided through music . Here are some other ways that music helps language learning:

  • Music makes your lessons fun and relevant. There is no motivator quite like enjoyment. Even students who are struggling to learn English will go above and beyond to learn phrases that are important to them. By teaching a song that your students like, you can ensure they will relate to the lesson and have a desire to learn the words. Who doesn’t want to be able to tell their friends that they know all the words to the new Beyoncé song?
  • Music gives your students the opportunity to hear native speakers. Songs are a natural listening activity that students don’t even realize they are participating in! By listening to a song sung by a native English speaker, students will begin to develop an ear for how natives speak. They will begin to recognize different English accents and learn how to pick out phrases that are difficult to understand. 
  • Music teaches new words and grammar. By picking a song that is slightly more advanced than your students’ current abilities, you will be able to introduce them to many new words and phrases. You will even be able to show them how grammatical structures are used, such as verbs and prepositions. It’s one thing to hear your teacher tell you about a past tense verb, but something else entirely to hear Taylor Swift using it in a popular song. 
  • Music helps your students practice pronunciation. The great thing about music is that you can sing along! This allows students to practice pronouncing words by imitating the singer to sound like a native speaker. This eliminates any guesswork as to how the words should sound. A good song can be enjoyed again and again, which means that students can continue to sing along outside of class for continual learning. Since many popular songs are quite catchy, it might even get stuck in their head, leaving them no choice but to learn the words.

Next time you hear your students talking about the latest Justin Bieber song, you can have some fun and turn it into an in-depth lesson.

Just make sure to choose a song you don’t mind getting stuck in your head!

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creative writing song lyrics lesson plan

British Council

Ways to use song lyrics to improve comprehension, by miguel míguez, 05 july 2017 - 11:07.

'You can use songs to develop broader comprehension and critical thinking skills.' Mariana Vusiatytska, licensed under non-exclusive copyright and adapted from the original.

Mariana Vusiatytska, used under licence  and adapted from the original .

Winner of the  TeachingEnglish blog award Miguel Míguez explains how teachers can use song lyrics in the classroom.

Song lyrics are great for developing broad comprehension skills

Teachers often use songs in the language classroom for comprehension exercises like 'gap-fills' (finding the right word to fill a gap in a sentence), re-ordering words so they make sense, or matching related words. In these exercises, students have to listen for words or phrases connected to a specific grammatical focus or semantic field. This approach involves working with individual sounds, words and phrases, rather than the text as a whole.

But you can also use songs to develop broader comprehension and critical thinking skills. Rather than focusing on individual words or sounds, students can make predictions about meaning, and then confirm or reject these predictions as they read or listen to the lyrics.

The focus is on the students: how they interact with the text, and what they bring to the reading or listening process.

Why song lyrics work so well for comprehension tasks

Instead of having students simply recognise facts, we want them to delve more deeply into a text. They can compare information, make connections with other parts of the text and their knowledge of the world, or use the information to create something new (such as a letter to the singer, or rewriting the story from a different point of view.)

There are four reasons songs are so useful for improving higher-order comprehension and critical thinking skills:

1. Lyrics are short – songs are very short texts, yet they can express a lot. This short length makes song lyrics ideal to develop specific skills intensively, or to zoom in on a particular learning approach.

2. Lyrics usually follow a similar structure – songs are often predictable in their structure, especially pop songs, which are most often used in the language classroom. They may raise questions and give background context first, before building up to a chorus that might answer those questions and express how the singer feels. Because students are often familiar with the structure of song lyrics, it allows them to concentrate on meaning and overall comprehension.

3. Lyrics may express emotion – students can identify with the singer’s feelings or relate to their situation, which often encourages meaningful discussion in class.

4. Lyrics are often vague – the language in song lyrics is often open to interpretation. Mysterious references are perfect for critical thinking skills, since they generate a lot of discussion and place students at the centre of the learning process, by making the content personal. And when the text can be understood differently by different people, the number of creative follow-up tasks is not only higher, but always much more engaging.

Examples of ways to use song lyrics in class

These qualities make song lyrics perfect for comprehension tasks that promote critical thinking. Don't just ask your class to simply recall information from a song, or listen for a specific set of words. Instead, get them to analyse the meaning of the song lyrics, compare the lyrics with other similar texts, such as poems or short stories, or make personal connections. There are lots of creative possibilities.

In the examples below, we will look at some ways to help students develop their reading, listening, speaking and writing skills, using the 1995 song  Lemon Tree  by the German band, Fool's Garden. The song is about a person who is bored and alone, waiting for someone’s help. It begins:

'I'm sitting here in the boring room It's just another rainy Sunday afternoon I'm wasting my time I got nothing to do I'm hanging around I'm waiting for you But nothing ever happens and I wonder'

Receptive skills: reading and listening

Here are a few ways students can develop reading and listening comprehension skills, such as inferring or deducing the meaning of unknown words:

Students can use song lyrics to identify the main idea of the text, then find the words that helped them to reach that conclusion. In Lemon Tree , for example, words such as 'boring', 'nothing', 'lonely' and 'tired' support the singer's expression of sadness.

Inferring, or reading between the lines, is a skill that works particularly well with songs due to their often-vague language. When making inferences, students usually have several options, so long as they can say why they have come up with each interpretation. For example, who is the 'you' in the line 'I’m waiting for you'?

'I'm waiting for you But nothing ever happens and I wonder'

In the chorus, the singer sings:

'I'm turning my head up and down I'm turning turning turning turning turning around And all that I can see is just another lemon tree'

Why is the singer turning his head up and down? Is the lemon tree something positive or negative? Students can often deduce the meaning of unknown words by using context clues. These clues will help students deal with new vocabulary in any type of text. By looking at the words, phrases or sentences around an unknown word, it is often possible to get an idea of what the word means.

Consider the line: 'Isolation is not good for me'.

Is 'isolation' a positive or a negative word? Look at the sentences before and after the word (‘nothing ever happens’, ‘not good’.) Are there any other words in the text with a related meaning? (e.g. ’lonely’, ‘nothing to do’, ‘nothing ever happens’.) Students could also deduce the meaning of ‘waste’ in the line 'I'm wasting my time' by looking at the surrounding words and phrases (‘boring’, ‘rainy’, ‘nothing to do’.)

Productive skills: speaking and writing

Ask students to write a story based on a few words from the song lyrics, and then compare it with the actual story in the song. What type of story do you think students could come up with using the title of the song Lemon Tree , and a few other words?

Ask students to make connections between the song and their own experiences. Can your class think of times when they felt the same way as the singer in Lemon Tree ? What was the reason? How did they solve the problem?

These personal responses to song lyrics can produce meaningful classroom debates and creative writing. Students could write a letter to the narrator of Lemon Tree , giving advice on how to solve his problem. They could continue the story, or even write a piece from the point of view of a friend who is trying to help.

Engaging students in critical thinking skills helps students understand texts better and improves language learning by making the texts their own. Songs are a perfect way to teach many of these skills.

Miguel is a teacher of English at a state bilingual secondary school in Madrid, Spain. He regularly shares lesson plans and ideas on his blog . 

Find out about the selection process for the TeachingEnglish blog award , and visit our  TeachingEnglish website  for more lesson plans and activities.

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Writing song lyrics

Preview of Creative Writing Assignment - Song Lyrics Soundtrack of My Life - Video Intro

Creative Writing Assignment - Song Lyrics Soundtrack of My Life - Video Intro

creative writing song lyrics lesson plan

Christmas Writing Activity: Revising Lyrics of Christmas Songs

creative writing song lyrics lesson plan

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Writing Prompts for Middle and High School - Song Lyrics , Journals

creative writing song lyrics lesson plan

Song Lyric Literary Analysis Essay Writing with Mini Lesson PDF

creative writing song lyrics lesson plan

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creative writing song lyrics lesson plan

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creative writing song lyrics lesson plan

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creative writing song lyrics lesson plan

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Patriotic Pride ( Song Background, Lyrics , Writing , and Scavenger Hunt)

creative writing song lyrics lesson plan

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creative writing song lyrics lesson plan

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Preview of Song Analysis Lesson Plan - Paired Text Writing & Song Lyric Analysis

Song Analysis Lesson Plan - Paired Text Writing & Song Lyric Analysis

creative writing song lyrics lesson plan

Lyric Writing & Song Arrangement Worksheets

creative writing song lyrics lesson plan

RACE ( Written Response) Strategy Educational Parody Song -- Lyrics & Posters

creative writing song lyrics lesson plan

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creative writing song lyrics lesson plan

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creative writing song lyrics lesson plan

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Preview of Writing Song Lyrics for Ice Ice Baby

Writing Song Lyrics for Ice Ice Baby

creative writing song lyrics lesson plan

Creative Writing Digital Assignment - Song Lyrics Soundtrack of My Life - Video

Preview of Narrative Writing Lesson (Story Elements Lyrics linked to Song Included)

Narrative Writing Lesson (Story Elements Lyrics linked to Song Included)

creative writing song lyrics lesson plan

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Preview of Collaborative Writing Using Song Lyrics: Story Starters for Winter Holidays

Collaborative Writing Using Song Lyrics : Story Starters for Winter Holidays

creative writing song lyrics lesson plan

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creative writing song lyrics lesson plan

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creative writing song lyrics lesson plan

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Writing Song Lyrics Cross Curricular Music Project

creative writing song lyrics lesson plan

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creative writing song lyrics lesson plan

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Reading and Writing Haven; English Teaching Ideas

Music in the Classroom: 13 Ways to Use Songs in ELA

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music” (Aldous Huxley). Think about the last time you felt truly inspired. Was music a part of the experience? Music has a way of bringing dull moments to life, putting words to the indescribable, and healing troublesome situations. Considering all of the mental and physical health benefits of music, it only makes sense to use it while teaching. But how? In this post, you’ll find eleven meaningful ways to use music in the classroom.


Use music as a bell ringer. Pose a question on the board that relates the song to whatever skill students are currently learning. Songs make for engaging mentor texts. Try “Fly” by Nicki Minaj for parallelism or “Jolene” by Dolly Parton for repetition, figurative language, or characterization.

We often use timers in the classroom. When students have a few minutes to respond, when you’re transitioning between activities, or when students are cleaning up after an activity, use music! Add some spice to your timers and help students finish tasks on time with songs for a change of pace. A simple way to manage this is to ask students for their favorite *clean song at the beginning of the year. Then, create a playlist ( YouTube and Spotify are simple options ) so that you can quickly pull it up and select a different tune each time.


Research shows students need brain breaks. Intentionally insert dance breaks or yoga stretches into your lesson plans! You don’t have to play the entire song…just enough to lighten the mood and relieve some stress. Show students how to stretch their forearms and their necks as they relax their minds.


Using music in the classroom is the perfect avenue to reinforce figurative language. Show students the difference between figurative and literal, and help them see how a text’s impact would be lessened without it. “Stereo Hearts” by Gym Class Heroes is excellent for metaphors, “Love Song” by Taylor  Swift for allusion, and “Grenade” by Bruno Mars for hyperbole.

Mix grammar reinforcement into whole-class reviews, small group interventions, or station activities after direct instruction. Playing songs like “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen can help students to analyze a variety comma rules in an authentic text. Listening to music is just one more way we can give students an opportunity to hear fluent language, which ultimately builds their reading and writing fluency skills.


When reading literature, we can allow students to analyze how songs relate to the setting, conflicts, character, and theme of the text. Doing so helps them to dig deeper into the story and make connections. How does Alanis Morisette’s “Ironic” echo how Mathilde feels at the end of “The Necklace” or Della and Jim at the end of “The Gift of the Magi”? Or, what is the connection between the themes of Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt” and St. Vincent’s “Digital Witness” ?

13 engaging ways to use music in the classroom #MiddleSchoolELA #HighSchoolELA #MusicintheClassroom


Find songs that have narrative structures, and use them as mentor texts to review story elements before reading or writing fictional works. This behind the scenes look at Disney highlights some of the ways popular songs are intentionally created to impact narrative elements.


Music in the classroom is fun when paired with vocabulary. Play a clip from a song, and ask students to write a short paragraph or talk with a small group to explain how some of their vocabulary words relate to the lyrics. For instance, while playing “Popular” by Ariana Grande, students might write about words like  introspection, insights , epiphany , or  renegade.  Find a song your students would enjoy, and let them think outside the box to make connections.

Use music in the classroom to teach poetic elements. After all, it IS poetry! How does the song writer use rhythm, rhyme, and figurative language to enhance the listening experience? Make studying poetry relevant and engaging while asking students to think analytically. Doing so can ease the transition into complex texts. Grab this free handout for any song to get started.


Raise the level of thinking in the room by using songs to teach the concepts of mood and tone. Finding analogies for complex concepts helps to make abstract terms more concrete. Students often get confused with tone and mood. Trying to find ways to help them, I reflected on what has helped me to internalize these concepts. I think of them in terms of music…a sound amplifier. Mood is how I feel while listening, but tone is the author’s voice in the work. I use an equalizer to help students see how the mood and tone fluctuate throughout a song, poem, or other fictional text using this visually appealing activity .


After visiting the Ron Clark Academy in 2008, I was so encouraged by how teachers use music in the classroom to enhance memory. One of the biggest takeaways I had was finding ways to put ELA concepts to music. On the plane ride home, I spent time finding popular songs and experimenting with replacing the lyrics with words that would help students remember what we were learning.

But, a more effective way to do this is to have students do the work! After modeling an example, put them in small groups or pairs and give them the chorus to a popular song. ( They can also pick one themselves if they can do it quickly. ) Then, ask them to change the lyrics (but try to keep the same number of syllables to match the music) to words that will help them remember the topic.


Engage students in a meaningful reflection on their year by combining writing, grammar, and music. Students tend to get a little stir-crazy at the end of a semester or year. However, we still want them to be focused and honing their writing skills. One solution I’ve found is to ask them to create a playlist to reflect on a period of time (i.e. – a year, a semester). You can read about the lesson I use in this post , or just grab the activity here!


This year, I’ve been using Garage Band to help students create short pieces to dig deep into thinking. Can students use Live Loops to create a song that echoes the way a character feels? the mood or tone of a text? the plot twists and turns in a narrative? the personality of a character or relationship between two characters? If you don’t have access to Garage Band, there are other apps and online programs you could use instead. Do a quick Google search for free music creation apps, or ask your students for suggestions.

Songs make for high-interest mentor texts that you can use to practice almost any language arts concept or skill. Using music in the classroom is a simple way to engage students, make learning relevant, enhance classroom culture, and raise the energy level in the room. So, try sprinkling it into your lessons!


11 ways to use color in ela class, 10 engaging lessons for ela.

Music in the classroom! Here are 13 specific ideas for making it meaningful in ELA. #MiddleSchoolEnglish #HighSchoolEnglish #MusicintheClassroom

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The Lyric Writer's Workroom

Songwriting tips, techniques, and ideas

7 Ways to Write Better Songs through Creative Writing

Disclosure: the book recommendations below are Amazon affiliate links.

Want to write better songs? Try writing something that’s not a song.

At age eight, my pal James and I wrote a story about a werewolf terrorizing a small village – and a boy in a wheelchair rescuing the town through smarts and daring.

Thanks to the help of our dedicated teacher, my coauthor James and I attached a spiral binding and set to work illustrating. We used a box of scented markers. The werewolf smelled like cinnamon. The blood of the villagers smelled like cherries.

By the time I was ten, I’d set my mind on becoming a novelist. I read novels, wrote stories, imagined characters, and drew whole maps of imaginary worlds. I trudged to school each morning with haggard eyes because I’d been awake all night, reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings under the covers with a flashlight. When I discovered Writer’s Digest books, I read them voraciously. Little by little, my writing improved.

My love affair with fiction lasted twelve years. Novel writing wasn’t the path I chose after all, but the writing skills I built have been vital to me as a songwriter.

To Write Better Lyrics, First Write For the Page

I’m willing to bet that at some point in your life, perhaps as a child, you wrote a poem or invented fictional characters just for the joy of it. We can rediscover this simple joy of writing.

To become a truly fluent songwriter and prepare yourself for all the challenges each new lyric poses, first it helps to be a good writer in general. Why not get your hands dirty by trying to write a little something creative in your spare time? You could try your hand at:

  • Prose (writing blog posts and such)
  • Letter writing
  • Fiction (short stories and novels)
  • Speechwriting

We’ll examine each mode of literature below.

I hope that you won’t worry yourself too much about whether your story, letter, or poem will “be any good”; the real goal is to get into an enjoyable habit of daily writing practice.

Keeping a personal journal is a great way to kick start the writing habit.

To begin journaling right now, just note the day’s weather, record your present mood, jot a few notes about whatever’s on your mind, and recount the day’s events. Easy, right?

As a songwriter, you can make a journal even more useful. You can use a songwriting journal to:

  • Write about what a book you’re reading
  • Write about music you’re listening to
  • Scribble down ideas as they occur to you
  • Write exploratory fragments

Journaling is a great way to make sense of your day, it creates a record for future reference, and it’s a pleasure. It’s also a good way to warm up for other forms of writing practice, including those below.

Prose: Blog posts, etc.

The lyric is a very short and restrictive form of writing, so writing prose can feel liberating — like emerging from the underbrush into a bright, spacious clearing. There’s plenty of room to explore any idea in prose, no matter how complex.

Writing essays, articles, and blog posts for an audience is a great way to practice expressing ideas clearly. Revising your prose is especially helpful – writing multiple drafts of the same piece will make you a better writer.

Additionally, browsing through an accomplished writer’s content could help you to come up with your own ideas as well as develop a distinct style and format. Developing your own uniqueness may make you stand out, and being cautious while implementing inspired ideas could prevent you from being called out for plagiarism. With the help of copywriting software such as the writing tool , you could ensure that your content is 100% unique and true to your ideas.

Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style is a classic guide to writing clearly and well – if you choose to get a copy, please make sure it’s the version with E.B. White’s chapters on style.


When’s the last time you received a handwritten letter from a friend?

It can be a pleasure to sit and write a letter to a friend – it’s reflective like journaling, but it also connects you to another person. There might be somebody in your life who’d very much enjoy receiving a letter from you.

Writing longhand can be very satisfying, and it can create a keepsake for your relationship with the person you’re writing to. If you prefer, though, you can always just type and email the letter.

In an age when everyone seems to feel pinched for time, receiving a thoughtful, leisurely letter from a friend is a surprise. Letter writing in our present day and age is a very personal gift.

For inspiring examples of letters written by interesting people, check out the website Letters of Note .

Lyric writers often write from personal experience, but sometimes writing a better song means modifying – or entirely inventing – characters, places, and situations. Writing fiction is a great way to practice creative writing outside of the tight constraints of lyric writing.

Writing a short story is great practice in using language to describe vibrant characters, settings, and situations. If fiction intrigues you, Writer’s Digest Press prints some excellent books and eBooks about writing .

Rhetoric is the study of effective speaking and writing. And the art of persuasion. And many other things. – Silva Rhetoricae

“Rhetoric” is a word we often use to describe the bluster of executives and politicians. Look into its history, though, and you’ll find that the art of rhetoric is actually a serious discipline reaching all the way back to ancient Greece.

One of the best things about the art of rhetoric is that rhetoricians have labored for centuries to notice, describe, and categorize figures of speech that reach beyond the more famous ones, like simile and metaphor, into lesser-known but useful devices like epizeugma – repetition of a single word for emphasis – or anesis , which involves writing a line that adds a poignant twist to everything written before it. Anesis is a great way to make your listener’s heart sink (in a good way).

For many more poetic devices like these, and for an introduction to the art of rhetoric, there’s a lot to explore on the website Silva Rhetoricae .

Whether they’re listening to a song about a love affair’s highs or its fiery lows, listeners have a taste for dramatic situations.

Writing a stage play or a screenplay is a great way to develop your ear for dialogue. It’ll also give you great training in inventing emotional situations and conflicts between characters.

Of all the forms of writing listed above, this one is probably the one that tests your patience the most. It requires that you really slow down, breathe, and closely examine individual words, even individual syllables. It’s got the most specific, detailed structural demands, and requires that you choose your words very, very carefully.

Poetry has a rich tradition of poetic forms that force the writer to tie their vocabularies in knots, searching for hours through thesauruses and dictionaries and rhyming dictionaries in search of a word that fits the poetic rhythm, the poem’s topic, and the rhyme scheme. It forces the writer to endlessly iterate the same idea in different forms, going down dead ends often.

In my opinion, there’s no better writing practice for lyricists. Composing poetry is slow, it’s difficult, and it doesn’t always work out. But when it does, it’s a thing of beauty. When you do finally write a gem, it feels like a huge payoff.

The best introduction to poetry that I’ve found is the chapter on poetry in Minot’s Three Genres: The Writing of Fiction/Literary Nonfiction, Poetry, and Drama . It’s a college textbook, so it’s expensive – but it’s also 464 pages long, and provides a great introduction to three major genres of literature. It’s worth the expense, and if you’re on a budget you can easily find a used copy.

A songwriter stands to learn a lot by being a man, woman, or androgyne of letters. Dabble, experiment, study, and have fun… There’s a lot of joy to be found in filling up text files and spiral bound notebooks.

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