45 Free ESL Songs for Teaching English (Including Supporting Activities!)
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What a wonderful teacher music is! If you’re one of the gifted and talented teachers that can hold a tune and strum the guitar, your gifts will shine through in a classroom. However, if you’re like the rest of us who dare only sing in private or at karaoke night, fret not – you can still incorporate music into just about any lesson plan.
With each concept, grammar rule, vocab list or societal custom you chose to teach, you should always leave a little room for something light and creative. Keeping your students happy keeps them interested, engaged, and will result in them actually learning to speak and understand English.
In this article, we will provide you with links to ESL song lyrics, videos, and activities you can use with students of any age. And the best part is—you don’t have to be a great and talented singer to do this. You just need a bit of creativity and a passion for fun!
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General ESL Songs
Playing songs in the classroom is a sneaky way to get your students to do ESL worksheets and practice their reading and writing skills. You can get as creative with the activities as you like.
You can start with simple activities such as gap fill worksheets, where students must listen to the song and on their worksheet, fill in the missing lyrics.
Another fun activity you can do is have students create their own bingo cards using words from the song. You can use songs like the popular hit by U2, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” for this activity, link below, as an example. Students will be allowed to create their own bingo boards from the set of given words to choose from on the worksheet.
Songs are an excellent way to introduce new vocabulary. If you play a song for your class that either contains vocab words you’ve been teaching or want to teach, you can create more activities for your students after playing the song. You can create crossword puzzles or word searches. After the students have familiarized themselves with the vocab words, you can always play a vocabulary themed classroom game such as these!
ESL Songs for Adults
While ESL sing-a-long songs are fun for the younger learners, they may not be met with the same enthusiasm by teens or adults. Fortunately, music can still be incorporated into your lesson plans with just as much enthusiasm for a much-needed break from lectures, reading or worksheets.
With just about any grammar subject or lesson, you can find a song out there that uses that same grammar rule in the lyrics. Verb tenses are an easy place to start using songs, as it isn’t too difficult to find a song that takes place in the past tense, present tense, or future tense. For example, if you are teaching past tense, play “House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals. If you are teaching future tense, play “I Mua” by Nahko and Medicine for the People (a bonus here is that a beautiful and peaceful music video accompanies the song, found on YouTube, and this opens up plenty of discussion about Hawaii, travel or vacation). For teaching possessives, play “Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight and the Pips: Her world is his, his and hers alone, as well as “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz.
“I Am a Rock” by Simon and Garfunkel is a great way to introduce your students to the concept of metaphors. The songs by Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder and Adele provide insight into common idioms used in the English language.
Before playing any song for your class, make sure you carefully evaluate the fluency level of your students and discuss any words that your students might not understand the meaning of. It might be a good idea to give your students the print-outs and lyrics before playing the song and allow them to read it through and give them the opportunity to ask about any words they don’t understand.
ESL Christmas Songs (and Other Holidays!)
When you think of ESL songs for the holidays, most people will immediately think of Christmas carols. And while those are a popular component of the English language, there are plenty of other times throughout the year you can bust out a good song to liven up the lesson plan.
Teaching the classic “happy birthday song” is an obvious one to use whenever someone has a birthday. You can sing this one for any age class, not just the youngsters. Halloween time also provides an opportunity to listen to some spooky tunes and accompanying worksheets and activities. As with all the other categories of songs, songs around the holidays will inevitably open the door for more discussion about holiday customs and personal stories.
ESL Songs for Beginners & Kids
Initially, this article may have led you to believe that if you don’t have a beautiful singing voice that you never have to sing in the classroom. The exception to that rule is with kids. But, the wonderful thing about kids is that they really don’t care if you’re wildly off key and tone deaf. So, if you’re looking for some entertaining activities to do with your younger group of learners, teaching them simple little songs can actually be a very useful and powerful teaching tool.
For example, let’s say you have a very energetic group of youngsters that can sometimes be a bit difficult to calm down and get them to listen once they’re all riled up. Teaching them a simple song that you sing when you’re trying to get the class to focus can be very helpful. Take the Dinosaur song for example. It introduces new vocab words that rhyme (jaws, claws, etc.) and simple commands, “Sit back down!” It’s a short and simple song so it won’t be too hard or require too much time to get the students to memorize it. So now when the class starts to get out of hand, start singing!
Singing as a group forces the students to participate in the same activity, and it redirects their attention to something positive and productive.
ESL songs that have a physical action such as the Hokey Pokey will help students follow directions in a fun and simple way. It also elicits responses, and even though it may seem very rudimentary, it can have a profound impact on their comprehension levels.
Just as with using songs in the adult ESL classroom, ESL songs for children can increase vocabulary and provide an excellent segue into discussions about related topics.