How to Use Music in the Adult ESL Classroom

Written by sophie southern
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How to Use Music in the Adult ESL Classroom
Music helps adults retain vocabulary. (mp3 music download image by patrimonio designs from

Teaching English as a foreign or second language, often referred to as EFL and ESL, allow you to use fun and unique teaching materials in comparison to a traditional English class. Besides the benefit of learning about and experiencing another culture, you can use your English class as an opportunity to teach your students about your culture through authentic English materials. Songs are a particularly useful tool in the adult ESL classroom because most people can remember the words to songs they like regardless of the language. Songs also provide the opportunity for students to improve their listening comprehension skills and colloquial vocabulary.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Choose well-known songs that are easy to understand. The Beatles and Elvis Presley are perfect examples of musicians who use easy to understand, simple language that is repeated throughout the song. For beginner students, choose a song with a slower pace; for more advanced students choose a song with a faster pace. If you can't understand the lyrics perfectly by listening to the song once, choose another song.

  2. 2

    Avoid hip-hop and reggae for teaching English. Teaching slang and idioms is OK, but it is not a good idea to use music that is entirely based on slang or colloquial English. Most hip-hop songs use regional slang that will not be particularly useful to your students and Jamaican English is very different from the English spoken in other anglophone countries.

  3. 3

    Print out the lyrics beforehand and make notes on vocabulary and grammar. Pick out important words, phrases or expressions that you think will be useful to your students. If the song represents a particular cultural idea, design a class discussion around that. Create exercises and activities that use the language featured in the song. Ask your students if they have any questions about vocabulary words or expressions in the song that you didn't cover.

  4. 4

    Ask your students to listen to the song once and try to write down the lyrics. Pause every 10 seconds to allow them time to catch up. Give them a print out of the lyrics once the song has finished and let them compare with their original interpretation.

  5. 5

    Let your students choose from time to time. Students will often have their own songs that they would like to learn the lyrics to, which presents an opportunity for you to teach. Students are also more likely to be engaged and participate if they are learning something they are interested in.

Tips and warnings

  • Stay away from sexually or politically charged songs, particularly if you are teaching a conservative culture.

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