Connecting Meaning to Common Themes Within Songs

Joe W. Moody, Kanda University of International Studies

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: Learner autonomy, critical thinking, vocabulary acquisition  
  • Learner English level: Intermediate
  • Learner maturity: University
  • Preparation time: 30 minutes of a pre-lesson/ homework
  • Activity time: 90 minutes
  • Materials: Pencils, paper, a dictionary, access to the internet (either in school or at home)

This activity promotes learner autonomy by allowing students to interact with the material in unique ways. The process should not be considered as purely an alternative to vocabulary acquisition, but as an approach to the development of a larger understanding of theme as an umbrella under which related words may be developed and acquired. This is similar to the creation of vocabulary word maps or concept maps in which students can attach significance to a word by connecting it to a larger idea. This activity requires students to attach the significance of the word to themes within popular music.


Teach a lesson that helps the students to understand common themes found within song structures. For example, you could create a concept map based on the theme of love. While brainstorming with the class, attach words such as heartbreak or happiness or marriage to the theme. Play song examples with accompanying lyrics of songs connected to themes such as love, death, not fitting in, and so on. Have each group (of 3 or 4) choose a theme and bring song lyrics to the next class that reflect the chosen theme. Each student in the group should choose a different song. From the song, have each student select and provide a definition for 2-3 words that connect to the chosen theme.


Step 1: Divide the class into groups of three or four students. The object of the group is to create shared meanings of terms relating to the chosen theme. It focuses on teamwork and student-led discussions.

Step 2: Then, groups present the song lyrics to the rest of the class and discuss how the song lyrics relate to the theme. Each group should present approximately ten words and their definitions.

Step 3: Following the group discussion, students pass the words (and definitions) they have chosen from their song to the person on their left. Each student makes visual representations of the words given. They draw pictures or cartoons showing their understanding of the words or concepts related to the words.

Step 4: Each student displays their art to the other members of the group and explains how it relates to the understanding of the word or concept.

Step 5: Students discuss how they can use these chosen words and visual representations to write a short skit based on the chosen theme. Each student should write their own lines in a shared script. All of the vocabulary words should be used.

Step 6: Finish the script as homework.

Step 7: Allow the groups time in the next class to practice their lines. Help with pronunciation and grammar when needed. Have each group present their skit in front of the class. You may decide to film the skits for the students. If the students have access to a movie application such as iMovie, they could take this a step further and record a short film based on the skit. Students can be assessed on grammar, pronunciation, and content.


The focus on meaning in these lesson activities could broaden students’ understanding of words related to a chosen theme. The teacher may use the follow-up activity to focus on a variety of skills. The students have many opportunities to assess their own abilities by observing their own pronunciation problems (if recorded) as well as grammatical issues. It also allows for students to get a broader understanding of the chosen vocabulary.