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English Songs for Children in the ESL Classroom

ESL teachers, find out how to make English songs work for children; why songs help and how to overcome
obstacles to using them in your ESL classroom.
Written by Shelley Vernon for

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 nonthreatening 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 dont 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
Check out the authors fun ESL songs with lesson plan ideas for every song!English Songs for Children
Written by Shelley Vernon for
September 2010 | Filed under Young Learners
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. Get her free samples now to make your teaching fun and improve the effectiveness of your lessons by up to eighty

The Benefits of Using Drama in the ESL/EFL Classroom

Chris Boudreault
solartrees [-at-]
(Lac La Biche, Canada)

As an English teacher, I have often been amazed at how effective drama is to capture the attention
of the students in the ESL/EFL classroom. Drama activities would sometimes have surprising and
unexpected results. ESL/EFL professionals need to use this medium more because the artificial
world of the classroom can be transformed into a quasi-real language situation and provides an
endless amount of opportunities for students personal growth. We cannot only teach grammar
and phonetics with drama but also it has the power to transform the actors as well as the
audience. We shouldnt underestimate this powerful teaching tool to reach our students.

William Shakespeare claimed that
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
As You Like It Act 2, scene 7, 139143

If so, then maybe we need to use drama more in the schools. Using drama in the ESL classroom is not a new
concept. Drama provides an excellent platform for exploring theoretical and practical aspects of the English
language (Whiteson,1996). The improvisation aspect of drama gives students opportunities for developing their
communicative skills in authentic and dynamic situations. By using drama in the English classroom, we can use
English with our students in intriguing and useful ways. The language can be used in context and makes it come to
life. Drama has the potential of making the learning experience fun for the students and even memorable because it
is interactive and visual.

There are many studies about using drama to learn English. Wan Yee Sam talks about the communicative approach,
drama techniques, value of drama in education, advantages and disadvantages (Sam,1990). Alan Maley and Alan
Duff are classic sources for the benefits of using drama techniques; how it helps to learn new vocabulary, builds
confidence, motivates the students and helps shift the focus from the teacher to the students (Maley,1982). Drama is
a special communication situation which makes considerable demands on the flexibility and skills of the teacher
(Kao,1998). We have Morrow (1981) who gives some guiding principles behind the use of the communicative
activities. Susan Holden (1981) adds some definitions as to what drama is and how it provides opportunities for a
person to express themselves. The personal nature of improvisation provides many outlets for self-expression. We
even hear that children need to play as an important developmental process.

Benefits of Using Drama

This is all very relevant information concerning using drama in the ESL/EFL classroom. We can sum up the benefits
of drama in language teaching as follows:

the acquisition of meaningful, fluent interaction in the target language;

the assimilation of a whole range of pronunciation and prosodic features in a fully contextualized and
interactional manner;
the fully contextualized acquisition of new vocabulary and structure;

an improved sense of confidence in the student in his or her ability to learn the target language. (Wessels,
Drama puts the teacher in the role of supporter in the learning process and the students can take more responsibility
for their own learning. Ideally, the teacher will take a less dominant role in the language class and let the students
explore the language activities. In the student centered classroom, every student is a potential teacher for the group.
Drama for second language learners can provide an opportunity to develop the imagination of the students. The
students can go beyond the here and now and even 'walk in the shoes' of another. It provides an opportunity for
independent thinking (McCaslin 1996). Students are encouraged to express their own ideas and contribute to the
whole. Creative drama will offer exercises in critical thinking and the chance for the students to be creative. A good
example of this is role-plays in small groups The ESL/EFL group will have many situations where they can develop
their own ideas as well as skills of cooperation when interacting with classmates. The group work builds social
awareness and understanding as we walk in the 'shoes of another'. Drama gives an excellent method for studying
human nature and working in harmony. The play acting provides the opportunity for a healthy release of emotion in a
safe setting which can work to relieve the tension of learning in a second language.

Drama Brings Literature to Life

Most teachers see the value of drama in offering training in speech. What is not obvious is how even abstract
learning is easier when acted or demonstrated. Drama can also be used to bring literature to life for the students. It is
more dynamic than simple text and helps the visual learners as well as recycles new vocabulary. While drama does
have a characteristic of recreation, the fun aspect should not be under-estimated. When the students are enjoying
an activity, they are learning and letting their guard down. The shyness and fear of using English very often blocks
learning. When the students are submerged in an active fun activity, they are more open to new concepts and
learning will occur. When the students are having fun, they let their second language guard down and become less
inhibited. The student will tend to relax and stop blocking out the new language. They will forget how hard it is and
start absorbing the ideas presented. Changing the students perception of the language learning from a negative to a
positive is a huge plus for the learning process.
A good example of the attributes of drama being used outside the classroom is the game of theatre sports. Starting
out in Loose Moose Theatre Company in Calgary, Canada (Johnstone,1999). This drama activity has grown to
become an international endeavour, taken up by practitioners the world over, which involves the audience as much
as the actors in creating a very spontaneous event. Theatre sports demonstrates how powerful a motivating force
role-playing can become for the actors as well as the audience. There are presently teams in many different countries
using different languages who put on an unrehearsed game for countless spectators and the appeal is only growing.

Drama as a Powerful Teaching Tool

In the ESL/EFL classroom, role-playing is a powerful tool. It teaches cooperation, empathy for others, decision
making skills and encourages an exchange of knowledge between the students. These aspects alone make roleplaying beneficial because the students are learning from each other. Yet, there are many other positive aspects to
the role-playing. Apart from the obvious development of communication skills, it encourages leadership, team work,
compromise, authentic listening skills and practice with real life savior-faire. However, it does not stop there. It
teaches cooperation, empathy, develops decision making skills, promotes the exchange of knowledge, builds
confidence and self-esteem, refines presentation skills, encourages self-acceptance and acceptance of others,
features of empowerment, pride in work, responsibility, problem solving, management and organizational skills,
begets creativity and imagination.
A good drama teacher can use the practice with role-playing to contribute to the self-esteem of the students, build
their confidence in using the target language (English) as well as develop many of the skills mentioned above which
will carry over to real life. It is certain that self-acceptance can be encouraged in subtle ways and acceptance of

Drama has the potential to empower the students, give them many opportunities to have pride in their work, it
teaches them responsibility, problem solving, management and directing proficiencies. The many activities of team
work force students to develop organizational skills and to think on their feet. These are tools that can be used in all
aspects of their lives. These skills will be useful in the future job market when the students need to work with others
or even in the future job interview when the potential employer asks an unexpected question and you need to think

Drama Reveals Aspects of the Human Condition

When you think about it, drama is a method to reveal aspects of the human condition, life is nothing more than a
grand series of improvisations (Price 1980). Through the games, the students begin to realize the importance of
shared space, time, attention, information and ideas. The games spark spontaneity and minimize self-consciousness
which often inhibits learning. The games are also good for developing concentration and trust in the classroom.
While the students are having all this fun, they are developing skills of coordination, imitation while focusing on the
task at hand. The improvisation enables the students to flex their emotional, mental as well as physical muscles in a
safe and controlled setting. A good example of this was a role-play one group performed where they displayed their
displeasure with the school principal. There was no harm done and all the students were feeling the same.

Final Reflections on Improvisations and Benefits of Drama

'Improvisation, then, is an organic experience where skills are constantly being refined. In particular, students
develop an increasing facility to meet changing or unknown stimuli with immediate responses. Ideally, improvisation
leads to a blending; the students create the personality traits as he/she simultaneously identifies with the character
as it evolves. Obviously, the teacher-director should never lose sight of the metamorphic and highly personal nature
of improvisation; therefore, there must never be the question of success or failure.' (Price, p. 6)
Drama in its purest form gives the student several avenues to self-awareness. It is one of the closest literary forms to
life itself. It is a dynamic process that reveals and examines aspects of the complicated lives we lead (Price 1980).
All of this leads me to believe that there are many subtle benefits to drama in the ESL classroom.
The benefits of drama to develop the imagination should not be undervalued. In our rote school routines of
memorization and compulsory subject matter, we sometimes do not spend enough time on encouraging our students
to use their imagination. It is the spark that makes the ordinary into something incredible. Imagination is the magic
force that is beyond facts, figures and techniques which can inspire new ideas. It is with imagination that the ordinary
is transformed into something significant. There is a need to cultivate this trait in our students. Imagination is closely
linked to dreams and inspire us to get up every morning. Drama has the capability to keep this alive and/or rekindle
what our routine daily lives are burying in ourselves. We need imagination to make a better world. In order to
accomplish anything worthwhile, we first need to imagine and dream it. We should not neglect this facet of human
sentience. It may seem like a trivial point, but dreams without imagination would be like life without colour. We would
all be worse off without it.

The Power of Transformation with Drama

We all present ourselves in everyday life as we want to be perceived. Erving Goffman (1958) talks in detail about how
we present ourselves in everyday life from a sociological perspective. We are all acting out theatrical performances
to present ourselves in regard to how we wish to be seen. When we are in the presence of others, we are to some
extent on stage. We will act and communicate in our own interests to influence the people around us to act voluntarily
in accordance with the individuals plans (Goffman,1959). We are in essence, recreating ourselves all the time as our
social world evolves. In everyday life, first impressions are so very important. So, how we are perceived often
depends on a blink of a moment which may define us for a long period if not forever. Our communication skills are so
important in how we are seen by others. Our words and body language project subtle messages to those around us
and others respond in accordance to what they perceive as "us". In life, we are all playing many roles, therefore, we
are wearing many masks.
In a sense, and in so far as this mask represents the conception we have formed of ourselves- the role we are
striving to live up to- this mask is our truer self, the self we would like to be (Goffman, p.30).
We know that an individual will attempt to induce the audience to see them in a certain way. The more convincing we
are in our own roles only help to create the persona that we wish for. The better we are at communicating our ideas
helps ourselves to become who we want to be.
Therefore, it makes sense that dramatic skills can help us become the person we want to be. In this way, drama has
a wider reach than simply making us more fluent in a second language. It has the potential of making our lives better
as we will be better understood and may help us become the people we want to be. Drama is all about how we
present ourselves. If the student can communicate better, the more likely others will see him/her as he/she wishes to
be seen. Therefore, the skills of drama can help the student become the person that he/she wants to be.
ESL Conversation: Prepare Before Role Playing
Before the first few role play activities, it is important to make the students feel relaxed and comfortable with both the topic and their ability to talk about it.
Rather than having one group perform in front of the class, divide the students into small groups to practice the role play without the stress of their peers

The first few topics should be easy something the students are familiar with and interested in discussing.

An example could be food. Before the activity, the teacher should brainstorm words and phrases with the students that they will be likely to use during the


English as a Second Language Activity: Role Play for Advanced ESL

First Day ESL Activity: Introductions of English Students
Tips for Successful Speaking Activities in the ESL Class

Types of food
Names of food
What do you like?
Why don't you like it?
It tastes great!
It doesn't taste good

Because students usually have a large food vocabulary, the teacher will be able to fill the board with their ideas and give them confidence in the topic. The
class can also practice saying the phrases aloud for pronunciation, and discuss meaning before role play begins.

If the students are still feeling shy, the teacher can supply (or have them create) flashcards with these words/phrases that they can use during the role play
for extra confidence.

ESL Role Play: Acting, Moving, and Talking

Once students have participated in a few guided role play activities, the teacher can have them suggest more topics they'd like to talk about. If they are stuck
for ideas, another option is to act out a movie scene.

This requires a little bit of prep on the teacher's part, but students will love it. Choose a short clip from a movie (in English) between two or three characters.
The teacher should provide a transcript of the lines of each character to the students. After watching the scene, have the students act it out in small groups.

Encourage them to include expression hand movements, facial expressions, whispers, shouts as it's not only important for understanding the language,
it's fun!

Another option is to choose another setting for the role play outside of the classroom. This could work especially well for trying to incorporate new vocabulary
into conversation. For example, take the students out into the hall when learning how to ask directions, and have them tell one another how to find the
restroom, the library, the office, etc.

Get ESL Students Talking!

The more comfortable ESL students become with role play, the more the conversation might go off-topic. This is great, as it shows that the students are
comfortable with their new language and following the conversation!

Read more at Suite101: ESL Role Play Activities: How to Encourage English Conversation in the Classroom |