Songs can be a useful tool when teaching ESL because they give students the opportunity to listen to someone other than you, their teacher.
Often students become familiar with how one person sounds and may have difficulties understanding others. Songs can be a challenge for students because they are often faster than an instructor’s speech however they can also be enjoyable and serve to reinforce certain aspects of English.
How To Proceed
Grammar Often songs can be used to practice particular grammar points. Some textbooks spend enormous amounts of time on particular topics and creating new activities may become challenging so songs are something you can turn to. You can find song worksheets and suggestions for certain English grammar points right here, on BusyTeacher.org. Using songs in ESL classes has become quite common. For instance, when teaching the present perfect tense (here’s a great article on teaching it!), songs such as “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2 and “We Are the Champions” by Queen may be appropriate. Students are unlikely to grasp the entire meaning of the song but giving a brief summary or including the translation would be beneficial. When using songs, it is common to have a worksheet where students must fill in certain words. For this present perfect lesson, you can remove the present perfect verbs altogether and have students try to fill in the blanks with the appropriate words. If this is too challenging, including the present tense of each verb will assist students immensely.
Mad Libs Mad Libs are a great way to practice parts of speech. You can really use any passage to make a Mad Libs activity but it can be fun to use songs too. For example, you can use “Frosty the Snowman” to make your worksheet. Simply take the song and delete particular words leaving blanks for your students, this will be the second worksheet they receive. Then make up a list with parts of speech that correspond to the blanks. If the first blank is “Frosty the ________man” then the first word in the list would have to be a noun. To conduct this activity, give students the list with parts of speech and have them work individually, in pairs, or in groups to complete it. When they have finished, give them the second sheet and have them fill in the blanks with their words. Usually the result is very funny. Seeing as you used a song to create this activity, you can finish the class by listening to the song and having students write down the missing lyrics.
Holidays Using songs in your holiday lessons can be fun too! Songs such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer can be easily explained even to beginner and lower intermediate students. There may not be a particular point to using the song in your class besides to conduct a listening activity using a popular holiday song, but sometimes that is sufficient and your students are sure to enjoy it. If your students are willing, it may be appropriate to practice singing the song too. Some classes will enjoy such an activity and some certainly will not so it is important to gauge how your students will respond.
Discussion Certain songs can be used to lead into discussions. This type of activity would be appropriate for more advanced learners. You can use a song such as “Another Day in Paradise” by Phil Collins for this purpose. Initially, have students listen to the song and complete a fill in the blank exercise. Listening to the song several times would be appropriate but once the answers have been checked, have students read the lyrics trying to understand the meaning of the song. You can ask general questions to test comprehension. If you are not exactly sure what kinds of questions will be appropriate, you can start off with very simple ones such as “Is this a happy song?” and when students say “No” ask them why not? This can lead into a discussion about people’s indifference, homeless people, or something similar.
When choosing songs, please be aware of their speed.
The song “Last Christmas”, for example, can be useful however if you choose a version which is much too fast, students will not be able to follow along. This song, by WHAM, is a good speed for ESL learners. Organizing your worksheets so that the verses are clearly laid out will also help students because even if they get lost during one verse, they can be prepared when the next one begins. Songs should generally be played at least twice before checking the answers and then once again after the correct answers have been given so that students can listen carefully to parts they missed.
Songs are just another way to add some variety to your lessons and expose students to a different culture’s music.
Tara has worked with English Language Learners of all ages for many years and has taught in Japan, Cambodia, and China as well as online. When she is not teaching, she enjoys cooking, traveling around the world, and scuba diving. She is a member of the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Teaching-TESOL at the University of Southern California.
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