Turning Songs into ELA Games – The “Playlist” Activity

All of the lesson plans at TeachRock draw on the history of music to encourage engaging discussions and learning experiences. But music is also useful for quick “starter” activities or just to provide an alternate way of approaching an idea. The “Playlist” activity is a fun tool to develop analysis and argumentative writing skills in the ELA classroom.



Break students into small teams. Have each team pick a character from a literary work you’ve covered in class, but tell them to keep their choice a secret. Then, have the students collaborate on a short playlist of songs that become hints to that character’s name. Have each team present their “playlist” to the class and then have other students try to guess what character they’re referencing. For instance, my team chose:


1. “19th Nervous Breakdown” by The Rolling Stones

Why? This character’s story begins and ends in a mental hospital.

2. “My Generation” by The Who

Why? This character is part of the first generation of American teenagers.

3. “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon & Garfunkel

Why? This character has a demonstrated interest in older women.

What character do you think we were referencing? (Answer: Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye). The “playlist” activity is a creative way for students to develop analysis and characterization skills. This exercise can be adjusted for historical figures or periods and works well in Social Studies and History classrooms too.