Listening for key words in songs

Marta J. Sabbadini, British Council, Cameroon

This is a fun activity which helps students listen out for key words. It's particularly useful for encouraging students to recognise familiar words even in difficult texts. This activity works well with all kinds of songs, and can be used to introduce a song, or simply as an enjoyable warmer or cooler.

You will need to choose a song for your class and have copies of the lyrics. You also need to produce a set of cards per group of 4 / 5 students, so work out how many you need for your class. The sets of cards (each in an envelope) should consist of around 20 words, some taken from the song (words your students will recognise), whilst others are not from the song, but are similar in meaning / sound to the words from the song.

You can download example cards here for 'The World's Greatest' by R. Kelly

Key words from the song >> 61k


  • With each group around a table, I tell students that I'm going to give them some words from a song. They have a few minutes to lay out the cards and decide what they think the song is about. If students need help brainstorming, I ask a few questions;
    • 'Do you think it's sad or happy?'
    • 'Is it a love song?
    • ''Why? Which words make you think that?'.
  • I then tell my students that in fact only some of these words are in the song, and that they'll listen to the song to find out which.
  • If they hear one of the words, they should grab that card. I clarify here that this is not team-work, but a competition. At the end of the song, they'll check their cards and get +1 point for correct cards and -1 point for wrong cards.
  • I play the song once for students to listen and 'grab'.
  • I then ask students how many cards they've got. I hand out the lyrics (or have one copy large enough for all to see) and ask students to find their words.
  • Each group announces the student with the highest number of points for the class to clap.
  • Following this activity, I can then go on to use the song for a variety of purposes, for example as a text for reading comprehension or language work, or for the class to sing together.

Note: this activity can be used at all levels - it just depends on the words you put on the cards. 'Difficult' songs can be made do-able if the words chosen are simple and easy to pick out. Similarly, an 'easy' song can be made more challenging for high level students by choosing words that are difficult to hear, or putting in words with very similar sounds.