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Best ESL Songs for English Learners

By VIPKid  |  June 1, 2021

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Music and songs are great instruments (no pun intended) for language learning! In this post, we’ll cover how music helps ESL learners, how to incorporate music in ESL learning strategy, and some of our favorite ESL songs to use with students. 

How Music Helps ESL Learners:

Students learn through music without realizing it. There’s a reason we all learned the ABC’s in song form! Studies show that people of all ages are more likely to memorize song lyrics than plain text. Whether your ESL students are beginner, intermediate, or advanced, music and songs help you as a teacher create engaging lessons. Learning new vocabulary through music is a fun and effective way to learn – and to teach!

Music also allows you as a teacher to smoothly move between activities. By playing or singing a song as you switch gears in your classroom, students will naturally understand that the previous activity is finished and it’s time to move on. (Everyone remembers the cleanup song!) For online English teachers, using music intermittently can help break up the lesson and keep things from dragging on for the students.

How to Incorporate Songs Into ESL Lessons:

Weave songs into your routine

This is a great strategy for incorporating songs into your lessons, particularly for beginner ESL students. Whether it’s a song for cleanup time, a “good morning” song, or a memorable tune to transition into a new activity like circle time, use songs that are relevant to what you want to accomplish. 

Music that kids can easily remember and sing along to advances their English comprehension, and it helps you as a teacher set an expectation for your classroom routine.

Use music time as a reward

Unsurprisingly, students would rather listen or sing along to music than do typical classroom activities. As an ESL teacher, you can use this to your advantage! Use post-lesson music time as an incentive for students to get their work done well and on time. As VIPKid teachers know, this strategy even works well in the online classroom!

You can use any song, whether it’s relevant to lesson material or not, as a reward. In large group classes, you can even let students who have been on their best behavior or shown marked improvement pick which song they want to hear! And as a bonus, they’ll be practicing their English skills without realizing it.

Draw what you hear

For online English learners especially, this is one of the most effective methods of using ESL songs. There’s no worksheet or special instructions required! Play a song of your choice and have your students draw what they hear in the song’s lyrics on a piece of paper. After they’re done, ask them to show what they drew and explain its meaning. It’s a great way to teach your ESL students to listen to the actual message of the song instead of just humming along to the tune. 

This works great for all levels, whether it’s a fast-paced song with loads of idioms and metaphors, or a slower beginner-level tune. Whether you teach online or in the traditional classroom, try this activity with your students!

Break down lyrics

With more advanced ESL students, you can listen to more advanced songs and incorporate them into your lesson material. Take advantage of songs that use a lot of imagery and symbolism. You can give students the full lyrics ahead of time, or ask them to fill in missing words as they listen. After listening to the song a few times, discuss what they think the lyrics mean. 

Looking for a list of songs you can use in your English lessons? We’ve got you covered. Here are some of our suggestions for different ESL levels:

Songs for beginner ESL students:

These are typical songs you think of when it comes to English learning. Use slow songs with lots of repetition that students can memorize easily, even if they don’t understand what the words mean right away. In due time, they’ll grow to learn new vocabulary and associate different songs with specific activities.

Here are some of our favorites:

  • “Head Shoulders Knees & Toes”
  • “The Wheels on the Bus”
  • “My Favorite Things”
  • “Stand Up, Sit Down”

Songs for intermediate ESL students:

For intermediate ESL students, use either more advanced “classroom songs” or simple, slower pop songs. These are songs where the words are slower and easy to understand, but they don’t repeat the same lyrics over and over again like the beginner ESL songs. 

Some of our favorite intermediate ESL songs are:

  • “I Want to Hold Your Hand” – The Beatles
  • “What A Wonderful World” – Louis Armstrong
  • “Lemon Tree” – Fools Garden
  • “I Wanna Be Like You” – From The Jungle Book

Songs for advanced ESL students:

When you’re teaching more advanced ESL students, your music options open up quite a bit. Obviously these songs will be faster paced than songs for intermediate ESL students, but don’t focus only on speed. Instead, choose songs that use a good deal of metaphors and other figurative language. This will be more of a challenge for your advanced ESL students and help them learn new ways to use vocabulary they probably already know. When you use these songs in your lessons, ask your students to focus on what the lyrics actually mean instead of just the words themselves.

These are some of our favorite songs for advanced ESL students:

  • “Jolene” – Dolly Parton
  • “Someone Like You” – Adele
  • “Friday, I’m In Love” – The Cure
  • “Someone You Loved” – Lewis Capaldi

What songs do you use in your ESL lessons? Tag us in a post using your favorite classroom song on Instagram @thevipkidlife!

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