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TESOL: Using Songs with Adult Learners

Why teach English with songs? Songs are an excellent tool for students to have fun while learning English. Many ESL teachers think that using songs in the classroom is only for young learners, or as a means for motivating teens. While it is true that children learn most by doing and singing, and teens love learning the lyrics of their favorite singers or bands, songs work equally well with adult learners.

Songs are not only for teaching listening skills. They can be used for grammar, vocabulary, and integrated skills lessons to teach and practice the target language in a motivating and enjoyable way.  Songs are not an unstructured fun way to pass the time. They can follow different TESOL lesson planning frameworks used in ESL textbooks and structured school curricula.

This OnTESOL graduate blog will show you how to use songs to teach English to adults.

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Teaching English with SongsLinguistic Purpose

When you plan to teach English with songs, make sure that it has a linguistic purpose. Whether it be vocabulary, a grammar topic, pronunciation, or simply integrating any of the four skills of the language.

In other words, do not play the song to just have the students read or sing it along. Give the song a linguistic purpose. When you focus the listening activity on certain information, you are helping your students improve their listening skills in a very measurable way.

Advantages of Teaching English with Songs

Using songs in the ESL classroom has some advantages:

  • improve student motivation;
  • reinforce grammatical structures;
  • enhance pronunciation and vocabulary;
  • help memorize patterns making learning easier;
  • build fluency.

Disadvantages of Teaching English with Songs

There are some potential problems with songs:

  • can be very fast for ESL learners;
  • contain slang or ungrammatical sentences (he don´t…);
  • have a difficult vocabulary that even upper intermediate students will not understand.

Overcoming the Challenges of Using Songs

If ESL students find it difficult to complete the listening tasks because of the speed of a song, play the song at least three times and stop it at different verses to give them time to complete the activity. Another solution to this is to sing the song at a slower speed before checking the answers.

Always explain that songs may not have the correct grammar or pronunciation. You can also get them to listen to the song and find the ungrammatical structures or mistakes and correct them in Standard English.

For problems related to vocabulary, you can prepare them by pre-teaching the new vocabulary and get the students to make sentences or create a story using the new words, which could also be a way of speculating on the theme of the song.

Which Lesson Planning Framework to Use with Songs?

Watch the pre-recorded TESOL tutorial above to learn how songs can be used with various ESL lesson planning frameworks to supplement the ESL textbook. You can also take a recognized TESOL course to learn how to create ESL lesson plans using songs and other other authentic material.

Fun Activities for Teaching English with Songs

Below are some ideas on how to use songs with your classes. For most activities, you have to rewrite part of the lyrics, add words or phrases, or create questions. The most commonly used activity with songs is “Fill in The Gaps”. It is a good ESL activity providing you do not overuse it; your students may get tired of doing the same activity with every song they listen to. Also, make sure that you choose the right word to leave out for them to complete the gap.

If the song contains a repetitive pattern such as conditionals, and you have chosen the song to review said grammar topic, then delete the verbs in the main clause or the if-clause, so that the focus is the conditional structure. If you are teaching a beginner class, you will want to leave out fewer words or put the words in a box from which they can choose.

Other ways of exploiting songs are the following:

Listen and…

  • put the verse in the right order;
  • put the verbs in brackets in the correct tense/or, form of the verb (for example, gerund or infinitive);
  • identify the past tenses in the song (or, any other tense or grammar topic, for  example, conditionals, modal verbs, reported speech…);
  • reorder the verses;
  • reorder the letters;
  • correct the words/mistake;
  • question on the theme, the message or meaning of the song to encourage discussion;
  • write to the protagonist and (give advice, or tell him what you think);
  • write the story in the song.
  • put the underlined words under the right column according to … (pronunciation, vocabulary related to any specific category, or a grammatical pattern);
  • complete the blanks with the words in the box;
  • choose the right word;
  • answer the questions;
  • match the verses;
  • check the words that you hear;

Teaching English to adults can be fun with songs!

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2 thoughts on “TESOL: Using Songs with Adult Learners”

  1. I need very easy, basic songs for helping adults with almost no English. (Most are native speakers of Arabic or the language/s of Afghanistan).

    Some children’s songs would be helpful, too.

    We have a piano in our class space and I can read music.
    I appreciate any suggestions,

    Thank you, Linda Carroll English language volunteer tutor

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