You Will Survive: Teaching With Songs – Part 01

Music has always played a very important part of my life. My dad used to play in a forró band, my older brother is an accomplished guitar player and later in life I ended up becoming a professional singer.

Songs were present in my classes a lot and in 2012 I decided to gather up some interesting activities I had tested in my own classes and set up a talk to give at Braz-TESOL Chapter one-day seminar in October about “fresh ways” to teach with songs.

My session was called “You will survive” because all the activities were based on Gloria Gaynor’s 1979 smash hit. My aim was to offer alternatives to the widely popular “fill-in-the-blanks” listening activities (although they were mentioned and adapted).

Here are two of these activities.

1. Crossword puzzle.  Level: A2 +

– Select some words from a song that you want to work on and write a simple definition.
– Students work in pairs or small groups to try to provide the word. Dictionaries are allowed.
– Play the song once. Stop at each sentence so that students have time to check and provide the correct answer.
– Play the song a second time.

Here’s an example with “I Will Survive”:

At ___ (1) I was afraid, I was petrified
Kept thinking I ___ (2) never live without you by my side
But then I spent so many ___ (3), thinking how you did me ____ (4)
I grew strong, I learned how to get along.

1 –  …, second, third, fourth
2 – Past tense of “can”
3 – Part of the day when it’s dark (plural)
4 – If you’re not right, you’re …

– Before playing the song say, “I’m going to play a song and I’d like you to pay attention to the topic of it.” Students will notice it is the text they have just read and will have the chance to compare.

2. The e-mail. Level: A2+

– Short discussion (no longer than 5 minutes): Start the activity by asking general questions about the topic in the song. For example, “Have you ever broken up with someone?” or “Has someone ever broken up with you?” “How did you feel?” “How did it happen: did you write an e-mail, Facebook, text message?”

– Rewrite the story of the song (a paragraph preferably) as an e-mail, see below.

“Mark, I have to tell you something and if I don’t, I think I’ll die.

At first I was afraid, really, I was petrified. I kept thinking that I could never, ever, live without you by my side. I spent so many nights thinking how you did me wrong. I grew strong and, it was not easy, but I learned how to get along.

It was hard and it took all the strength I had so I wouldn’t to fall apart. Don’t think I’m a drama queen, but I tried very hard to mend the pieces of my broken heart…”

– Short discussion: “How do you think the person who wrote this e-mail is feeling?” “How do you think Mark is feeling?” “What led the writer to break up with Mark?”

– Tell students that you are going to play a song and they have to listen for the gist of the story of the song. They will soon have an Ah-ha moment when they realize that the text they had been reading is almost the same as the song.

– You can provide the lyrics and sing along with them if you want.

– As a follow-up, you can ask your students to write a dialogue between Mark and his girlfriend, and ask them to give it a grand finale, either for good or for bad, let their creative juices flow!

At this very session my dear friend Sara Walker gave invaluable insight:

As a follow-up activity, why don’t you try something like “breaking up with someone using text messages” or something of the kind?

Definitely some food for thought, thanks Sara!

Part 02 will come soon with more activities using music.

By the way, I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment and tell me how you would do these activities. Any pre- or follow-up activity you have used and worked? Share it with us!

And teachers, you will survive!


Magalhães, V. & Amorim, V. “Cem aulas sem tédio” Instituto Padre Reus 1999
Murphey, T. “Music and Song” OUP 1992

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Adir Ferreira

Adir Ferreira has been an English teacher for 22 years. He is also a teacher educator, blogger and professional singer. Adir is based in Bebedouro (SP); you can access his blog at and email him

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