Bring Out Your Inner Rock Star and Write ESL Songs That Kids Will Love!
Are you sure those old, outdated songs are the best songs for your English lesson?
Most ESL teachers think to themselves at some point, “I wish there was a better song I could use to teach my students English.” Native English speakers grow up learning numerous nursery rhymes and popular kids songs. Most cultures learn language through music, so it makes sense that we would want to teach ESL classes with music as well. Songs are one of the most powerful tools for learning, but unfortunately the songs we learned as kids aren’t always good choices for our own English classes. So why not write ESL songs for kids yourself?
When I first started teaching English in Japan as an ALT on the JET program, I realized that a lot of the nursery rhymes and songs I learned growing up had vocabulary that was too difficult, too fast, or not adequate for teaching English to non-native ESL students. So, I did what any other creative teacher with a passion for music would do, I started writing my own songs. This is how BINGOBONGO and BINGOBONGO Rock were born.
What are the ingredients for great ESL songs for kids?
The best ESL songs for kids should be very simple, easy to remember, and have an appropriate tempo for the level of the students. “Hello, Hello. What’s Your Name” is a good example of a song which meets these criteria. If your students are older or more advanced English speakers, then it’s more appropriate to write more complicated songs. For now, let’s assume that your students are young, low-level English speakers, and you don’t have much experience writing songs. Maybe you’ve heard complicated expressions like bridge, verse, chorus, pre-chorus, or instrumental break, but you don’t have to worry about any of those concepts for kids songs. The songs just have to be simple and fun.
If you can play some basic chords on any instrument, then you have more than enough skills to write great ESL songs. The best songs for teaching English are usually two or three chords with one repeating chord sequence or melody. Kids songs are perfect for new song writers because it allows them to focus on the melody and lyrics, without worrying about writing a complicated song structure. Even if you don’t feel confident playing an instrument in front of children, it’s no problem. My students love singing songs with or without music. Clapping to the rhythm of the song is a great way to control the tempo to speed up or slow down any song to match the students’ level.
Learn a couple songs and change the words
The best way to get a feel for how to write kids songs is to learn a few famous or well-known kids songs and melodies. After that, just change the words. “The ABC Song” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” are the exact same song, but you never hear kids complain. I have a YouTube video explaining how to play the alphabet song, which is a great song to learn for any class. I also made a video explaining how to play our hit BINGOBONGO Rock song, “Hello, Hello. What’s Your Name?” After you get a feel for the basic 2 or 3 chord progressions, go ahead and change the lyrics and melody as you like. You’ll find yourself creating new songs in no time at all.
The best ESL kids songs have simple lyrics
Once you have a grasp of the music and melody, all you have to do is come up with some great lyrics. This is one of the secrets to our songs. For example, in the song, “What do you have?,” we made sure to include all the patterns for “I have,” “You have,” “He has,” “She has,” “We have,” “They have.” Since children will listen over and over and memorize the words, we want to make sure they’re remembering useful English they can use in everyday conversation. We’ve even had parents of students tell us that they also enjoy the songs and use them to study English.
Other points to keep in mind when writing great English songs for kids
I’ve learned from experience that there are a couple of important points to consider when writing kids songs. Remember to make sure the song length and tempo are appropriate for your students. If the song is too fast or the lyrics are too difficult to understand, students might lose interest in the song, or even worse, memorize the English incorrectly. It’s always a good idea to test out new songs in class before making your final recordings.
Also remember that most young children don’t have a developed sense of music notes and scales, so if a song melody is too complicated, your students might not be able to sing it easily.
Now it’s your turn to write some hit ESL kids songs
Like they always say, there are no rules to writing songs, but hopefully this gives you some ideas for how to start writing awesome ESL songs for kids. Trial and error are important in the process of building experience, so don’t feel discouraged if it takes a little time. Stick with it, and in no time, your students will be singing and learning English from your original songs.