English Songs for Children in the ESL Classroom

By Shelley Vernon

Many teachers already teach ESL using English songs for children to motivate and encourage their students. The benefits of ESL songs are many, but some teachers hesitate before including them in their curriculum. The successful use of songs lies in understanding what could cause obstacles, working around them and using songs that students can handle, making learning English easier instead of harder.

Benefits of English Songs for Children Learning ESL

1. Enhance language skills
Language skills are increased when vocabulary, grammar and syntax are learned through song. In the same way that children all over the world implement simple songs to learn the alphabet, days of the week and numbers or colors, songs can be used to help ESL students memorize phrases and words set to a melody.

2. Language in Context
The language used in simple songs is in context, enabling quicker comprehension. This makes the words and phrases more meaningful to the students, and gives them a frame of reference that is easy to retain. They absorb knowledge subconsciously during fun activities and can draw on that knowledge later.

3. Repetition without the drudgery
While memory by rote is a time-honored form of teaching language, adding songs to the mix allows a break from mere repetition and gets children involved on an interactive level. The songs used can be catchy and recyclable – many songs can be adapted easily to personalize them to a particular lesson, child or group.

4. Fluency and natural English
Songs rely on the concept that hearing a language is one of the best ways to learn it. They present the rhythms of language in a way that encourages fluency; when performed by a native speaker, the natural stresses and rhythms are clearly audible, helping students achieve not only the correct pronunciation but a natural flow of speech.

5. Multiple Intelligences
Auditory learners will find songs to be the perfect learning tool. Actions can be easily integrated into singing time for kinesthetic and tactile learners, and visual learners can also benefit from watching the group using actions or by the implementation of flashcards.

6. Enjoyment is always motivating!
Motivation is a wonderful reason to starting using English songs for children in your ESL classroom. Most children love music and singing, and this portion of classroom time can be used as a reward for a harder section of class being completed, or as a break when the class becomes bored or frustrated.

7. ESL songs are non-threatening and confidence building
Songs also can build the self esteem of the group as well as each individual student. They provide a non-threatening way for students to join in at their own comfort level without being singled out. Each can learn at their own pace, becoming more and more comfortable with the song with each repetition. Children allowed to learn at their own speed build confidence along the way.

Overcoming Obstacles to Using English Songs for Children

Many English songs require too large a vocabulary to be suitable for beginner ESL students. Also, some songs may contain inappropriate content for children (or in some cases, there may be cultural considerations). In addition to these two possible obstacles, you have to look at the speed at which the song is normally played and how complex the melody is.

You don’t want to use songs that you will have to play twenty times in succession before your students even begin to pick up the tune or words. If the selection is too difficult, the children will become restless, frustrated and bored, overwhelmed by what they are being asked to do. Basic is best – the slower, simpler and more repetitive a song is, the easier it will be for the majority of your class to pick up on.

Your best option is a curriculum that uses songs specifically developed for use with ESL classes, and ones that are tailored toward the age group you are teaching. Have a favorite song that is just a little too complicated for use in class? Put it on as background music during other activities, and the students can learn by absorption. Find easier songs for sing-along time.  Check these ESL songs ideal for preschoolers and young primary children: Easy English Songs for Children

Making English Songs for Children Work in your Classroom

1. To start, use games and flashcards to teach the key vocabulary included in the song you plan to use. Expand from there into simple syntax and grammar examples, letting the children use the words in sentences or phrases.

2. Preview the song by playing it during your vocabulary teaching sessions and gradually implement listening games, where children can point to or hold up a card when they hear a specific word.

3. Play the song only two or three times per session to keep it fresh and interesting. You can focus on learning only a line or two at first, then reviewing and adding another line or two during each subsequent class. You can turn the music off and practice the line slowly, then turn the music back on and practice each line in rhythm.

4. Add actions to the song if possible. Let your students help you brainstorm for actions to describe vocabulary words, and implement them in the song for a performance all can participate in.

5. After the song is learned to perfection, have your class perform for another class or a teacher and parent group. Then move on to a new song. You can still revisit the old song by using the lyrics learned to formulate reading, writing and spelling lessons.

Once you have successfully used this method, including English songs for children into your teaching curriculum will become natural. Your students will benefit and you will find them more attentive and eager to learn!

Written by Shelley Vernon for TEFL.net September 2010
Passionate about making teaching fun and the importance of teachers in the world, Shelley Vernon has written five best-selling books of games, stories and plays for children and adults learning English. Shelley Vernon has inspired thousands of ESL teachers with her resources.

One Comment

  • Janet Wagner says:

    Great ideas! I teach English and writing to young learners, and I haven’t considered the comprehensive use of songs in the ESL classroom. Thanks for posting these! I’ll try these suggestions out!

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