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9 Highly Motivational Songs for Students in English to Boost Their Energy

Even if it’s not ideal, it’s completely normal for all of us to feel low on the motivation scale every now and then.

For those times when you and your students need a good pick-me-up, there’s nothing like a rousing, motivational song to get everyone’s brains moving.

That’s why I’ve put together this playlist of motivational songs for students in English that you can play for your ESL students. Whether you’re teaching beginners or advanced students, there are benefits to pressing “play” today—or any time you or your students need a boost!


1. “Don’t Worry Be Happy” – Bobby McFerrin

When you worry your face will frown
And that will bring everybody down
So don’t worry, be happy

I think almost everyone is familiar with “Don’t Worry Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin. Though it’s been around the sound waves for a while, it still makes a great motivational song for ESL students, particularly beginners, since the words are clearly articulated and the music isn’t distracting.

Before introducing this song to your class, start with a discussion question: What makes you happy? Encourage students to share, especially if they have any particular music that gives them a boost. Then cue it up for the class.

Before hitting “play,” though, take a minute to point out that McFerrin does have an accent. Depending on where you’re teaching English, this may or may not be an issue for your students.

The first time you play it, let students simply listen to the song. The second time through, however, challenge them to a lyrics shuffle. Give students a copy of the lyrics cut into single lines and shuffled. Ask students to arrange the lines in the correct order as they listen. Then give it a third listen so students can double check before going over the lyrics together.

As a follow-up activity, have students brainstorm things that make them happy, and then make a collage with those words and ideas. Let each person take a few minutes to share their collage with the class.

2. “Lean on Me” – Bill Withers

Call on me, brother, when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that you’d understand

“Lean on Me” by Bill Withers may be a classic, but it still has relevance today. No one can get through life without friends, and that’s doubly true for your beginning ESL students, who will love this song. Its simple melody and articulated lyrics stress the importance of working together, just like your students need to do on a daily basis.

Before you play the song, ask your students to talk about a person who helps them feel better on a rough day. Have them talk about their friends and family in groups of around three students each.

For this song, try using a cloze activity. Using the lyrics to the song, blank out every fifth word. Then have students fill in the blanks as they listen. Three times should be enough for them to fill in most if not all of the blanks.

As a follow-up activity, ask students to write a paragraph on why friends are important to them, or a paragraph that describes a good friend.

This song isn’t just for beginners, either. Your advanced students might enjoy the challenge of writing out the lyrics as they listen (like a dictation).

3. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell

Ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low enough,
Ain’t no river wide enough to keep me from getting to you, Babe

Who among us, your ESL students included, hasn’t faced daily challenges in our lives? “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” is great for giving you and your students a boost when you might feel like you’re hitting a wall.

When you review vocabulary before starting the actual lesson with the song, be sure you talk about “ain’t” and how it’s used in English—in casual speech but not in anything formal—and how it’s not actually a contraction.

After you cover that info, ask your students what obstacles they have overcome in their lives. You might be surprised at the answers your students give.

Play the song once for your students, and then play it a second time, asking students to write down any obstacles they hear in the lyrics.

As a follow-up, ask students to write a short note or card to a friend. They can express thankfulness for the friend being there for them in the past, or their own willingness to be there in the future when the friend needs them.

4. “We Are the Champions” – Queen

We are the champions, my friend
And we’ll keep on fighting till the end

Every high school sports team is familiar with “We Are the Champions,” and for good reason. Nothing says encouragement like a vow to fight till the end. Your students may already be determined to do that on the road to English fluency but if they’re faltering, this song will definitely give them a boost.

Before sharing this song with your intermediate students, ask them to share a mistake they’ve made and how that mistake helped them improve. That’s what this song is all about, after all.

Let your students give the song a listen and then give them a set of doctored lyrics. Include about 20 mistakes throughout the song (writing “we’ll keep on flying” rather than “fighting,” for example) and have students circle the mistakes as they listen to the song with the lyrics in front of them.

Follow up with a role play in which one student offers encouragement to another who has failed at something.

5. “Pocketful of Sunshine” – Natasha Bedingfield

Do what you want but you’re never gonna break me
Sticks and stones are never gonna shake me

Like it or not, sometimes things look bleak, and that’s when we need a little encouragement, a little light. That’s where “Pocketful of Sunshine” comes in. As your advanced students listen, they can imagine their own happy place that gives them a boost when the going gets tough.

Start by asking your students to discuss their favorite type of weather and share why they like it. Then start the song activity.

This song is a fast one, especially for ESL students who are trying to listen to the lyrics. So the first time through, just let students listen. The second time through, ask students to draw while they listen to the song. Make sure to stress that students should draw how they’re feeling. You’re not looking for great artwork necessarily, but rather emotion on the page. Give each person a minute to explain their picture to the class and share how the song made them feel. Then listen to the song a third time with the lyrics in hand.

As a follow-up activity, ask each person to choose an emotion and make a collage depicting that emotion. Then ask each student to write a paragraph that explains their collage and post the paragraphs under the posters in your room.

6. “Livin’ on a Prayer” – Bon Jovi

Whoa, we’re halfway there, whoa, livin’ on a prayer
Take my hand and we’ll make it, I swear
Whoa, livin’ on a prayer

Call me a sucker for a classic hair band, but on a bad day Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” always puts a smile on my face. I expect your advanced ESL students will feel the same.

You’ll need to take a few minutes to explain some of the informal pronunciation in this song (gotta, livin’), but no doubt your advanced students will be ready for the lesson.

Start your lesson by asking the students what gives them strength when they want to give up.

This song tells a story, the story of Tommy and Gina. As students listen to the song, ask them to take notes on the couple’s story. Where do they start in life? What happens? How do they encourage one another? Your students will need multiple opportunities to listen to the song. Play it by ear (pun intended) in deciding how many times your class needs before discussing it as a class.

As a follow-up activity, ask students to write out the story of Tommy and Gina and include an ending to the story. Ask volunteers to share their ending with the class.

7. “I Will Survive” — Gloria Gaynor

Go on now, go, walk out the door
Just turn around now
‘Cause you’re not welcome anymore
Weren’t you the one who tried to hurt me with goodbye?

“I Will Survive” is a timeless classic originally performed by Gloria Gaynor in 1978. This song is about resilience and empowerment, and remains a hugely popular hit, making it an excellent choice as a motivational song for your students.

The song’s catchy melody and upbeat tempo engages students, making learning using the popular hit enjoyable, and providing a good boost in energy.

The positive message promotes a growth mindset, encouraging students to embrace challenges and strive for success in their language learning journey. It instills confidence, motivation, and a can-do attitude, which are essential qualities for ESL students to overcome language barriers and achieve fluency.

Try these song activities to help your students engage with the song and it’s meaning!

8. “Can’t Stop The Feeling” — Justin Timberlake

I can’t stop the feelin’
So just dance, dance, dance
I can’t stop the feelin’
So just dance, dance, dance, come on

“Can’t Stop the Feeling” was released in 2016, and is an infectious pop song that can be a fantastic way to increase the energy in your ESL classroom.

The song’s catchy melody and upbeat rhythm create an enjoyable learning experience. The repetitive chorus, with its simple yet uplifting message, makes it easier for students to remember and retain vocabulary from the song going forward.

The music video for “Can’t Stop the Feeling”also features people dancing happily along to the song, so playing the video in your lesson can help get your students up on their feet.

Try using the common vocabulary in the song as part of your lesson with some verb games, and help your students reinforce what they’ve learned with this catchy hit!

9. “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” — Kelly Clarkson

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
Stand a little taller
Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone

Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” was released in 2011, and went on to become a huge hit that is popular with people all over the world.

The song focuses on the idea that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” which makes it a great motivational tune to uplift your students.

The saying is a very popular one in English, so you could take this as an opportunity to teach your students about other common sayings in English, exploring what they mean and when they might be used.

This hit continues to be hugely popular among millions of listeners, so will also, along with the rest of the songs on this list, improve your students’ pop culture knowledge too.


When it comes to encouraging your students, some music may be all you need. But these motivationa songs for students in English will do double duty because the message gives a boost as well.

So, hit “play” and feel good! And for more ideas on using music in your ESL classroom, check out this post.

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