Teaching ESL with Music: Creative Ideas for the Classroom

Teaching ESL with Music: Creative Ideas for the Classroom

Music is an effective and enjoyable way to add some fun to your ESL classroom.

Many students like the variety and change of pace, and the repetitive nature of songs makes music a valuable educational tool for language teachers. So how can language teachers use music in the classroom when they’re not experienced with music education? You don’t have to worry about teaching any music theory, instrumental techniques, or vocal lessons. Just take advantage of music to teach language in ways that are fun and fresh using these ideas for the ESL classroom.

Write a Class Song

Have your class brainstorm to create a list of popular tunes, writing each title on the board in front of the room. Once you have at least five listed, have students vote on which one they would like to work with for the class song. Write the name of the winning tune at the top of the board and leave it up for as long as your class is working on the song.

The next step is to come up with a title and theme, so make this an assignment: each student must turn in at least one title and theme idea. Based on the number of stanzas in the original song that fits your tune, have students write a topic sentence for each stanza. Once these are turned in, give each student feedback and have them make revisions before “pitching” their best title and theme to the class. Schedule a day of short presentations and hand out a voting sheet with each student’s song title listed. Ask students to rank their top five titles and announce the winning title and theme once you’ve counted up the votes.

Now that you have the basics of your song down, it’s time to write the lyrics. Divide your students up into groups and assign each group one stanza of the song with the winning topic sentence as a guideline. You might want to plan a short lesson on syllables so that students can figure out how to fit their stanza of lyrics to the tune. Once you have all of the stanzas turned in, make copies of the whole song and sing it in class. This works best if you have a soundtrack of the tune without the original lyrics, but if not, try it a cappella or collaborate with the school’s music teacher.

Fill In the Missing Lyrics

Write some popular song titles on the board and have students vote on their top five choices. Make lyric worksheets for these songs, leaving blanks for some of the words. Have your students listen to each song in class, playing the recording three times to let them fill in as many blanks as possible. Next, call on students to write the correct words for the blanks up on the board. After each word is written, ask the class if they agree or disagree with the student’s answer. If anyone disagrees, he or she writes an alternative answer on the board. Keep going until you have all the blanks filled in correctly.

Learn Seasonal Songs

Learning seasonal songs is a great way to introduce new vocabulary while having fun in the classroom. For spring, summer, fall, winter, Christmas, and Halloween songs, check out thebestsongs.net, download the lyrics, and make copies for your students. Most can be downloaded on iTunes, so you can play them for the class as you learn to sing them. Before you start singing, have students take turns reading a stanza of lyrics out loud as everyone else writes down any unfamiliar words. Once you’ve gone through all the lyrics, guess the meanings of the new words and use the dictionary to define them. Now you’re ready to start singing – remember that repetition is a helpful internalization strategy, so multiple tries are encouraged.

Create Songwriter Profiles

Have students listen to a song in class with copies of the lyrics provided, then hold a discussion about the songwriter. Based on the song, what do students think about the gender, age, culture, geographic location, mood, life experiences, family, and/or religion of the songwriter? Ask students to cite specific lyrics that support their inferences. At the end of the discussion, allow students to point out lyrics that might indicate other things about the songwriter.


This is a guest post by Maria Rainier. Maria is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, researching various online degree programs and blogging about student life. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

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