Choosing English Music Videos for the ESL Classroom

By Peter Martin

In March I wrote about how I use music in class to teach English pronunciation in an unconventional way—by showing my students songs in Spanish. The idea in this post is similar, but less radical.

I also use English music, though of specific types. I don’t mean that I use only rock, or only rap, or any specific genres; I mean that I use videos that have elements helpful to ESL learners or songs I think the students will particularly connect with and enjoy.

First, I often try to use songs that have lyrics on screen. Almost any hit song can be found on YouTube with its lyrics displayed in the video by searching the song name and “lyrics” in the search bar. Most such videos are basic, with the lyrics over a black screen or over an image of the artist or group. Some, however, are very well done and more visually compelling. Here’s one great example I use for that reason, a video of Adele performing “Someone Like You”:

I also like to use videos with good visual hooks to get students more focused on the songs. These are songs that don’t come with lyrics displayed but which are interesting enough to make students focus on the videos. Most importantly about this is the ability to watch the performers singing, and follow their lips pronouncing the words. So with these kinds of songs and videos, I try to use ones in which the singers’ faces are easily visible throughout. One great example of an interesting video with easy-to-watch singing is Walk Off the Earth’s cover of Gotye’s song “Somebody I Used to Know”:

I also like to use songs that are international cultural touchstones, sometimes even if they’re not particularly valuable otherwise. There are lots of ESL learners around the world who are comfortable singing Michael Jackson or Bob Marley or the Beatles, and using an internationally famous song like one of theirs can bring a few minutes of productive levity to a class. Especially if you find videos of these songs without lyrics, you can use them in conjunction with lyrics sheets, from which some words are removed. Here’s an example I’ve made, using the Beatles’ “Let it Be.” I use a video from YouTube and I give them a lyric sheet that you can download by clicking here. (Of course, such lyric sheets can be used with any song you want.)

And in the vein of cultural touchstones, sometimes I go full corny, with songs that I don’t like at all, if I find a video of a song I think will amuse my students and offer them a learning opportunity. Along those lines, try “My Heart Will Go On” (the Titanic theme song).

Try ESL Library’s Famous People lesson plans on The Beatles.


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  1. Geraldine says:

    Sep 10, 2016 at 5:30 am

    Very helpful thanks

  2. mehaknoor says:

    Sep 17, 2015 at 7:21 am

    Your blog is good and your article as well … i appreciate you…..

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