The 15 Best ESL Songs for Kids to Add to Your Lesson Plan
Music is a proven tool to help us retain information, which can be especially useful in the ESL classroom.
This is a particularly great technique to use with children.
It can get them up and moving and having fun in the classroom—they might not even notice they’re learning!
In this article, you’ll get 15 excellent ESL songs for kids, plus some tips and suggested activities to incorporate them into your lessons.
- 1. “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”
- 2. “Do You Like Bananas?”
- 3. “Princess Pat”
- 4. “Old McDonald Had a Farm”
- 5. “Six Little Ducks”
- 6. “The Alphabet Song”
- 7. “If You’re Happy and You Know It”
- 8. “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed”
- 9. “Baby Shark”
- 10. “The Wheels on the Bus”
- 11. “BINGO”
- 12. “The Days of the Week”
- 13. “Counting 1-10 Song”
- 14. “The Hokey Pokey”
- 15. “How’s the Weather?”
- How to Teach ESL Songs to Kids
1. “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”
Who doesn’t know this song? “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” is a great way to teach body parts to kids, and this version has a fun exercise twist your students will love to move along with.
Start by singing with them, then just do the actions while they sing. Afterward, you can have the class work together to write the lyrics by spelling out the body part words. Then pass out outlines of bodies and ask them to color and label them.
Follow-up activity: Introduce Simon Says as a follow-up game to this song. You can slowly introduce even more body parts using this game.
2. “Do You Like Bananas?”
This is a popular song for teaching food vocabulary in English. It introduces terms for several foods (mainly fruits and vegetables) and the fun words “yum” and “yuck.”
It also teaches the useful phrase “Do you like…?” and how to answer in the affirmative and negative. Once students have the words down, you can use the same format to present new food vocabulary simply by changing the words of the song or creating new stanzas.
Follow-up activity: Have a taste test in class (check for allergies with parents first!) and allow kids to taste, identify and state their preferences for a variety of different foods.
3. “Princess Pat”
“Princess Pat” is a common Girl Scouts song that has accompanying hand gestures which can be a fun way for kids to get up and moving in class.
Once you’ve sung it with them a few times, you can just do the hand gestures and have the kids fill in the blanks, allowing them to acquire the words themselves instead of merely following along.
Follow-up activity: In the song, Princess Pat has a “rig-a-bamboo.” It’s a made-up tool that isn’t described in much detail, aside from giving us hints that it’s red, gold and purple. Have kids draw their own rig-a-bamboo and present it to the class.
4. “Old McDonald Had a Farm”
Of the many songs for introducing animal vocabulary to kids, this one is a favorite among ESL teachers. The song allows the teacher (and eventually, the student!) to decide what animals Old McDonald has on his farm.
In this way, you can present additional animal vocabulary. Of course, there are some animals that you won’t be able to come up with sounds for, like a rabbit. Instead, you can use a movement for these animals.
Follow-up activity: Have kids draw and label their own “Old McDonald” farms with animal names.
5. “Six Little Ducks”
This is one of the more complicated songs for young English learners, but it’s fun to use with kids that have a slightly more advanced English level.
It includes a couple of numbers, some verbs and vocabulary (including the adjectives “proud,” “happy,” silly”) and fun words like “wibble” and “wobble.” Plus, of course, a lot of “quacks”!
Follow-up activity: Have kids create their own version of the song by replacing ducks with another animal. They’ll love standing at the front of the class and teaching their song to the class.
6. “The Alphabet Song”
This may seem like an obvious song for the ESL classroom, but there are many ways you can go beyond just singing it. Have students point to each letter on flashcards or a wall chart as they sing.
Or, have them create their own alphabet chart with a picture for each letter that they can use to point at. You can also give each student a card with a different letter and have them put themselves in alphabetical order, then sing the song while holding up the corresponding card.
Follow-up activity: Play a game where your students have to find objects in the classroom that start with each letter.
7. “If You’re Happy and You Know It”
This classic children’s song is a fun way to teach your students how to voice their feelings. It introduces useful vocabulary including different emotions and actions.
Have students sing along and perform the corresponding actions, such as clapping their hands or stomping their feet. This interactive approach engages young learners while enhancing their vocabulary and pronunciation skills.
Follow-up activity: To extend learning, you can encourage students to create their own verses based on different feelings. Then they can draw how they feel.
8. “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed”
This beloved children’s song teaches counting, sequencing and storytelling. This song’s catchy tune and repetitive structure make it a versatile tool for ESL instruction, helping young learners develop language skills while having fun.
Students can act out the song using puppets or drawings, enhancing vocabulary and physical coordination. Afterward, you can encourage them to retell the story in their words.
Follow-up activity: Use this song to talk about safety and consequences. Have your students come up with other potentially dangerous activities and how to be safe (use a helmet when riding a bike, etc.).
9. “Baby Shark”
While this song might start to drive you crazy after the 20th time playing it, it’s a favorite among kids and is great for learning English including family vocabulary.
Your students will love learning the dance and will probably beg for this song when they enter the classroom. The accompanying movements encourage participation as well as vocabulary acquisition and coordination.
Follow-up activity: Guide students in creating their own “family tree” drawings, labeling family members in English. Students can then present their family trees to the class, practicing speaking and listening skills.
10. “The Wheels on the Bus”
This is another classic children’s song that isn’t new to the ESL classroom. It introduces transportation vocabulary and encourages movement with a catchy tune and lots of repetition.
To make it extra fun, have your students arrange their chairs into rows to pretend they’re on a bus. You can sit at the front and act as the driver. Young learners will get a thrill from this and be even more engaged as they sing and act out the movements.
Follow-up activity: Have students design and decorate their own paper buses, labeling different parts in English.
This song is a great way to practice saying letters and includes a fun component that requires active listening. As the song goes on, the letters are gradually replaced with different movements like clapping and jumping.
You can sing it through a couple of times, doing the corresponding movements with your students. Then let them try on their own and see if they can listen and understand the commands.
Follow-up activity: Work with the class to come up with a new version of the song with a different animal, name and movements. Try to use a name that includes all or mostly different letters than those in “Bingo” so they practice saying more letters out loud.
12. “The Days of the Week”
This is a fun song for teaching a key set of vocabulary that can be challenging for young learners. First, students will listen to the days. Then, they’ll listen and repeat. Next, they’ll sing it in different ways (quietly, loudly, fast).
This repetition helps them practice the pronunciation of these words without overcomplicating it with other lyrics. The different manners of singing keep it interesting so your students won’t bore of singing the same thing multiple times.
Follow-up activity: Using construction paper and crayons or markers, have students create their own calendars to reinforce the days of the week. If they can’t write yet, print out calendar templates and have them draw what they do each day.
13. “Counting 1-10 Song”
For young ESL students learning to count, a fun song is a great way to make it interesting. After they’ve learned 1-10, advance on to 10-20 and then eventually to big numbers. The Singing Walrus Youtube channel also has songs for counting in 2’s, counting by 5’s and more.
These resources allow you to stay consistent with the music theme as your students get better at counting. You can use them as a warm-up to your ESL lesson and keep repeating the same one each class until they’ve got it down.
Follow-up activity: Engage students in a hands-on counting exercise using a collection of small objects like buttons, beads or colorful counters. They can work in pairs or individually to count and arrange the objects to match the numbers from the song.
14. “The Hokey Pokey”
While they may not use the words “hokey pokey” in their daily lives, the rest of the vocabulary in this interactive song will be useful for your students.
Like many of the songs on this list, “The Hokey Pokey” promotes movement and has a catchy tune that’s easy to follow along with. And the theme of body parts and action words allows for many additional activities you can incorporate into an ESL lesson.
Follow-up activity: Have each student or pair of students create a different body part to put together into a giant “Hokey Pokey” person. For younger students, provide body part templates they can color and cut out.
15. “How’s the Weather?”
This engaging song teaches weather vocabulary and questions in a fun and interactive way. Students can sing along and respond to the question “How’s the weather today?” with appropriate vocabulary like “sunny,” “rainy” or “cloudy.”
It’s simple enough for very young students and the catchy tune will stick the vocabulary in their memory. You can precede or follow the song with weather-themed flashcards to further drill the words.
Follow-up activity: Have students create visual representations of different weather conditions, practicing vocabulary while expressing their creativity. This could be a simple drawing or something more involved like a weather forecast poster.
How to Teach ESL Songs to Kids
Teaching English songs to children can be an effective way to enhance language acquisition and engage young learners. Here’s how to maximize this tool:
- Select songs with clear pronunciation, simple vocabulary and catchy tunes that align with the children’s age and language level.
- Repetition is key; play the song several times, encouraging children to sing along, mimicking the rhythm and intonation. Avoid over-correcting during singing. If you do hear severe mispronunciation, feel free to provide some gentle corrections.
- As they become more familiar, introduce visual aids like lyric sheets or images that correspond to the song’s content, enhancing comprehension and vocabulary retention.
- Turn songs into interactive activities to further amplify learning. Incorporate movement, such as dancing or gestures, to stimulate kinesthetic learning and reinforce vocabulary.
- After singing, engage students in related exercises like fill-in-the-blank lyrics or drawing scenes from the song to deepen understanding while nurturing creativity. More advanced students can have discussions about the song’s meaning or themes, encouraging them to express their thoughts in English.
By combining music, movement and thoughtful activities, you can nurture language skills and a love for learning in young learners.
For more media to engage your students, you can use an immersive language learning program like FluentU. FluentU has a large library of video clips from authentic English media such as movies and music videos.
Each video comes with interactive subtitles to teach new words, and you can assign homework and track the progress of your students.
This is just a small sampling; there are many other songs you can add to your ESL lesson plans.
Think about how you’ll isolate and reinforce the vocabulary in whatever song you use so that your students can benefit beyond just enjoying the sing-along.
With some effective activities and a bit of planning, bringing English songs into your ESL classroom will be a huge hit!