How to Use Song Lyrics to Teach Figurative Language


Children enjoy listening to music, and introducing songs into your classroom is one way to increase interest in a subject while boosting retention rates of that information. This certainly applies to figurative language, a topic that isn't always interesting to all students. In fact, many songs are effective ways to introduce various examples of figurative language simply because the lyrics tend to use symbolism and other poetic techniques to get their message across.

Examples of What Students Will Be Listening For

  • Before playing a song selection for your students, review the examples of figurative language you've been discussing in class so students have some idea of what they'll be listening for, suggests Randi Stone, teacher and author of "MORE Best Practices for Middle School Classrooms: What Award-Winning Teachers Do." For example, if your class is learning about onomatopoeia, encourage the students to listen for sounds that convey meaning. Play songs where artists imitate the sounds of items, such as the "Wheels on the Bus." If you're learning about metaphors, ask the children to listen closely for examples of singers making comparisons between unrelated objects, such as in "Firework," by Katy Perry.

Figurative Language in Songs

  • Before playing your musical selections, pass out a list of the types of figurative language your students should listen for. Include definitions and examples on this list so students have a clear idea of what they need to listen for, as well as to remind them what each type of figurative language means. Also, provide a copy of the lyrics to each song, since some lyrics can be hard to understand. You might start out the lesson by telling students what figurative language concept or concepts to listen for in each song. Once they get the hang of it, let them listen to the songs, more than once, if necessary, and identify the examples of figurative language they hear. Have the children share their findings with the rest of the class.

A Few Examples

  • Play the song selections you've made and ask students to write down examples of figurative language they hear. For example, "I Am A Rock," by Simon and Garfunkel is an example of a metaphor since the singers aren't really rocks. "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" is a good example of onomatopoeia, and "Rockin' Robin," by the Jackson 5, is an example of hyperbole. The concept of allusion can be found in "We Didn't Start the Fire," by Billy Joel, and "Love Story," by Taylor Swift. "American Pie," by Don McLean, has several examples of figurative language. When choosing your songs, listen to them ahead of time to be sure the lyrics are appropriate for your students.

Extend the Lesson

  • Extend the lesson by assigning your students to find a selection of music that illustrates a certain figurative language concept, and bring it to class to share. Students can bring in CDs or, if you have the technology in your classroom, use the computer or iPod devices to play their songs. Encourage the rest of the class to listen for examples of figurative language while listening to each song. Once the song is over, let the students name the figurative language concept they heard, then have them explain why they think it is important. The student playing the song then explains his example, including the definition of the figurative language concept he chose. This is an effective way to assess student understanding of figurative language once your unit has come to an end.


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