Teaching actively through songs

I have to design some activities for teaching teenagers through active techniques for my subject. It is quite a challenge as our teacher knows a lot about active methodologies and I want to do my best!

I think that songs are something we all like, we listen to different types of music, and we all start doing it since we are very little. For some people (like me) music means more than a “catchy” thing to hear, it goes beyond that, and music serves as a way to escape, to feel and to dream.

I think that songs are powerful tools we can use in the classroom as some songs contain structures that we are dealing with in class and teaching them through songs might be more interesting and challenging for our students. I agree with the fact that if we use songs in the classroom we have to design activities with a purpose and they have to be carefully planned.

Through songs we can teach effectively English but, as I am dealing in this subject with active methodologies, all the activities which I’ll be posting will be under the parameter of active techniques.

I have chosen this song because it contains vocabulary appropiated to discuss in class. This activity would be addressed to students of fourth of ESO because the song deals with love and I’m sure teenagers at that age start to be interested in dating. We should try to find topics they like or they are experienced in order to provide them with significant learning; if they are not interested in what it’s going to be taught, they won’t participate.

I have created activities on the 4 skills: listening, writing, speaking and reading which are divided into pre-listening, listening and post-listening activities.

Course: 4th of ESO (although it can be adapted)

Learning goal: To learn some colloquial expressions, vocabulary and the second conditional form. To practice spelling, listening, speaking, writing and reading comprehension.

“Hey There Delilah” by Plain White T’s

Hey there Delilah, 

What’s it like in New York City?
I’m a thousand miles away,
But girl tonight you look so pretty,
Yes you do,
Time Square can’t shine as bright as you,
I swear it’s true.

Hey there Delilah,
Don’t you worry about the distance,
I’m right there if you get lonely,
Give this song another listen,
Close your eyes,

Listen to my voice it’s my disguise,
I’m by your side.

Oh it’s what you do to me,
Oh it’s what you do to me,
Oh it’s what you do to me,
Oh it’s what you do to me,
What you do to me.

Hey there Delilah,
I know times are getting hard,
But just believe me girl some day,

I’ll pay the bills with this guitar,
We’ll have it good,
We’ll have the life we knew we would,

My word is good.

Hey there Delilah,
I’ve got so much left to say,
If every simple song I wrote to you,
Would take your breath away,
I’d write it all,
Even more in love with me you’d fall,

We’d have it all.

Oh it’s what you do to me,
Oh it’s what you do to me,
Oh it’s what you do to me,
Oh it’s what you do to me.

A thousand miles seems pretty far,
But they’ve got planes and trains and cars,
I’d walk to you if I had no other way,
Our friends would all make fun of us,
And we’ll just laugh along because,
We know that none of them have felt this way,

Delilah I can promise you,
That by the time that we get through,
The world will never ever be the same,
And you’re to blame.

Hey there Delilah you be good,
And don’t you miss me,
Two more years and you’ll be done with school,
And I’ll be making history,

Like I do,
You’ll know it’s all because of you,
We can do whatever we want to,
Hey there Delilah here’s to you,
This one’s for you.

Oh it’s what you do to me,
Oh it’s what you do to me,
Oh it’s what you do to me,
Oh it’s what you do to me,
What you do to me.



1. Watch the video of the song on YouTube and start a class-discussion:


1. Do you think the love story of the song is real or fictional? Justify your answer.

2. What kind of feelings does the video transmit to you?

3. Have you ever been in love?

4. Have you ever suffered from unrequited love?

5. Would you ever write a song like this to express your feelings?

This activity would be done in form of a THINK-PAIR-SHARE in order to be more active and have all the students involved. I think that if I do a normal debate, the ones who speak most will be all the time participating and the shy people wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about that issue. If this discussion is done by pairs I think you can get the most from your students.

Students have to watch the video of the song on Youtube and then discuss some questions in order to keep the class active and work with the communicative skills.

First, students are asked to reflect on the questions posted above and then I’ll give them some time to formulate an answer.

Then, students get into couples and discuss their answers to the questions.

Finally, the whole class will share some of the answers.

With this type of strategy, our students can practice the oral skill, they work with each other and they also develop interpersonal skills which are very useful for themselves and their future. We need to get the whole class participating and involved in their learning process in order to provide them with significant learning.

2. Read the following text and answer the questions:

It’s a simple premise—a guy, his guitar and an unrequited love for a girl who lives many miles away—and it’s made “Hey There Delilah” by Plain White T’s the summer’s top love song. But sweeter still is the story behind the catchy ballad. Five years ago T’s frontman Tom Higgenson, 28, met Delilah DiCrescenzo, 24, through a mutual pal in their native Chicago. “Something about her really drove me crazy,” Higgenson recalls. “So I said, ‘I have a song for you,’ trying to be smooth. That was a big lie.” They exchanged instant messages, and she’d ask about her song when they’d chat online. “In my wildest thoughts,” she says, “I didn’t believe he’d actually go through with it.” After all, DiCrescenzo, an All-American track star studying at Columbia University in New York City, already had a boyfriend and only saw Higgenson on one other (nondate) occasion before he wrote the song—at a Plain White T’s show in Manhattan in 2003. “He didn’t have enough material!” she jokes. But Higgenson did have two lines he loved (“What’s it like in New York City? … ‘Cause tonight you look so pretty”), and with DiCrescenzo’s prodding, he decided to fill in the blanks. Says Higgenson: “For the rest of it, I had to imagine, If I was with this girl, what would I want to say?”

1. How did Tom and Delilah meet?

2. What is the story behind the song?

3. What does the expression “trying to be smooth” mean in the text?

4. Can you explain the meaning of the words in bold?

5. Was Tom able to go on a date with Delilah? Why? Why not?

In order to do this activity which at first may sound too typical what I would do is to use an active technique called  CHALKBOARD SPLASH.

First they have to read the text (so they practice reading skills).

Students write their answers in small pieces of paper and then the teacher collects them all and stick them into the blackboard or a poster. Students can check their answers, correct each other, see if they answered the same way… In this way they are practicing writing skills and if we make them comment orally and establish connections between the different notes we can transform the activity into a more communicative one.

Either the teacher can collect and stick the notes or the students themselves, having your students moving around the classroom is quite funny and new for them but you have to make sure they won’t make too much noise. Our teacher in the masters’ class says that English lessons are noisy! I totally agree as I work in a school with kids and we are most of the time singing, jumping, dancing… it’s crazy!


1. Listen to the song and correct the words in bold. Write the correct word in the provided space:

Hey there Delilah how‘s it like in New York City     __________________

I’m a thousand kilometers away                               __________________

But girl tonight you look so lovely, yes you do        __________________

Times Square can’t shine as bright as you, I assure it’s true       ___________________

Hey there Delilah don’t you worry about the future       _________________

I’m right there if you get sick give this song another listen   ______________

Close your eyes, listen to my voice it’s my gift                    _________________

I’m of your side  ____________________

With this activity students can improve their listening skills. They have to listen to the song and correct the words in bold and write in the provided space the correct word. They need to pay attention carefully in order to not miss out the information. They are focusing in uses of the language. Throughout the activity we can ask them by the meaning of the lines, of the words they don’t know. We can even play a little game through it! Once all the students have written the words, they way in which the activity will be corrected is the following: they have to act out the words the words they corrected and classmates have to guess! The first line and the last one are difficult as you can’t mime a preposition or a relative but if you’re students are imaginative you can give it a try!

2. Find some examples on the second conditional and explain when we use it and the structure. Why do you think the singer uses the second conditional form in some lines?

Hey there Delilah, I’ve got so much left to say

If every simple song I wrote to you

Would take your breath away, I’d write it all

Even more in love with me you’d fall, we’d have it all

A thousand miles seems pretty far

But they’ve got planes and trains and cars

I’d walk to you if I had no other way

Our friends would all make fun of us

And we’ll just laugh along because we know

That none of them have felt this way

I like this activity because students have to look for information in the text and figure out the structure so they’re reflecting upon what they already know. I have added the question where they have to figure out the use of the second conditional form through the meaning of the song so they are applying knowledge to real life as we use the second conditional to talk about unreal or hypothetical situations. Students can then upload their answers and reflections on Edmodo (http://www.edmodo.com/)so they can see their classmates’ answers, to comment on each other…etc. It can give feedback to the teacher as you can check if your students understood.


1. Imagine you are deeply in love with a person and you wanted to tell him/her how you feel. Write a letter, poem or a song to express your love.

Students have to write a poem, a song or a letter to express their feelings imagining they are in love. I like very much this type of writing activities because there are students which are quite creative and if they can choose the genre they can be even more. If there is someone in class who plays an instrument he/she can write the song and then perform it in class or even record himself through (http://vocaroo.com/), (http://soundcloud.com/) or any other type of recorder; the one who chooses the poem can read it in front of the class and the same with the letter. They can also upload them on Edmodo.

We can collect the class’ poems, letters and lyrics in the song and create a virtual book we can share in our platfom Edmodo. You can use this amazing tool to do it: (http://www.flipsnack.com/en/)

Maybe some students who are shy don’t want to share the activity with the class but if we tell them that it’s okay if they make mistakes, that I’m not going to judge them in front of the class and that no one is going to laugh they might feel more comfortable.

Whenever you give your students the chance to choose the product you get is better. I’m sure they’ll love this type of activities and they’ll learn a lot.

2. Write an interview to Delilah DiCrescenzo asking her how she felt when she discovered that there was a song about her.

This activity can be done in many ways. First students have to create the interview, so it’ll be written. Then they can do like a role-play in pairs and perform it in class and it can also be recorded and uploaded on Edmodo. They can create the scenery, bring clothes and dress up. It’ll be fun and they’ll like it a lot!

If they don’t want to appear in the video they can record only their voices and share it on Edmodo. They can also create a comic or a scene to represent it virtually in small groups with (http://www.bitstrips.com/), (http://goanimate.com/) or any other!

I hope you find all of these activities interesting and easy to apply in class. I think they are quite motivating and the purpose of all of this is that students learn effectively integrating the four skills and working actively. You just need to be creative and change the way in which you teach if you want your students to be fully involved in the learning process.


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