Lesson Plan: “Thriller” by Michael Jackson! (B2 to C1)

When was the last time you taught a song-based lesson in which the ‘listening’ component consisted solely of gap-filling? Let’s be honest with ourselves: gap fills are easy to create, easy to give instructions for and (tellingly) easy for students to do, even if they don’t actually have the strongest listening skills. But if a student only listens for the 10 words that complete the 10 gaps on a worksheet we gave them, did they really listen to the song at all?

For this lesson, I forced myself to come up with a variety of different tasks, gap-fill included, that would require students to put those top-down and bottom-up listening skills to work. The lesson also encourages learners to dig deeper into the song lyrics and imagine how they could appropriate the vocabulary they hear for their own personal use. Happy Halloween, everyone!

Level: B2 to C1 (Upper-Intermediate to Advanced)
Age: teenagers
Time: 60 minutes
Materials: song (YouTube or MP3), 1 class worksheet + 1 homework sheet per student ––– comment for files


  • By the end of the lesson, students will have practised strategies for upgrading story language to make it more descriptive. They will do this by using synonyms to upgrade standard language and comparing their ideas with descriptive song lyrics.
  • Students will also have practised meaning-building strategies (using contextual and grammatical clues to make sense of audio signals) and decoding strategies (discriminating between similar sounds, transcribing squeeze zones).

1. Speaking: Ask your students whether they like horror stories and why (not) – whether that includes books, films or just spoken-word stories around the campfire. Students share their thoughts in pairs. Listen and pick out one or two relevant ideas to share in open class.

2. Vocabulary: Tell students that they’re going to write a horror story with a little help from Michael Jackson. Display the first part of the worksheet and look at the first line together. Elicit synonyms for the word ‘bad’ and let the class agree on their favourite. Do the same for ‘waiting’. Ask students if there are any other words they’d like to upgrade. Then write the finished line on the displayed worksheet (‘YOU:’).

Thriller1 thateltblog.wordpress.com

3. Feedback: Play the first line of the song: It’s close to midnight. Something evil is lurking in the dark. Students write down what they hear. Elicit the line to the displayed worksheet (‘MJ:’). In pairs, students decide which of the three versions of the line is their favourite and what makes it so effective.

4. Vocabulary: Give each student a worksheet. Students work in pairs or groups to upgrade the next four lines. Monitor and feed in language where needed.

5. Feedback: Students listen and transcribe the real lyrics, stopping after each line to compare and evaluate the different versions of the ‘story’ so far. Again, focus them on why their favourite version is so effective. Does the vocabulary evoke certain imagery or provoke certain senses? Is it specific to horror stories or could it be transferred across genres?

6. Listening: This activity is intended as a brief respite from the main ‘upgrading vocabulary’ aim of the lesson. Students listen to the chorus in order to find and correct the mistake in each line. Let them check their answers in pairs, before displaying the answers for the whole class to check.

Thriller2 thateltblog.wordpress.com

7. Vocabulary & Feedback: Repeat the previous procedure for the second verse of the song. This time, students only need to upgrade the underlined sections in each line. (Again, make sure each listening session ends with a discussion of what makes the upgraded language better than the line printed on the worksheet.)

8. Listening: The next part of the song is a (surprise, surprise) gap fill, in which students listen and transcribe anywhere from one to four words. The missing phrases are chosen to test students’ ability to decode squeeze zones, but they are also useful phrases that students could easily transfer to different contexts. Again, let students peer-check their answers and listen again until they’re happy with their work.

Thriller3 thateltblog.wordpress.com

HOMEWORK: Students read the lyrics on the last page of the worksheet, which are narrated by a creepy voiceover in the song. They should try to guess the meaning of the underlined words using the context they have, before checking their ideas using the dictionary of their choice (I usually recommend wordreference.com) and writing the real definition down in their own words at the bottom of the sheet. The next lesson could start with a short vocabulary quiz featuring the new words and phrases covered in this lesson.

Thriller4 thateltblog.wordpress.com

Published by

Sanchia (@sanchiadanielle)

EFL teacher in southern Italy.

15 thoughts on “Lesson Plan: “Thriller” by Michael Jackson! (B2 to C1)”

  1. This a great idea and very original. I’d like to try it with one of my classes tomorrow.

    Would it be possible to take a look at the worksheet for it?


  2. Hi! I love this lesson idea and would love to use it with my Advanced class (to give them a break from all their exam preparation!) Is it possible to get access to the materials? Thanks 🙂


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