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Creating ESL Lesson Plans that motivate young learners [with songs!]

Let’s get honest for a second.

ESL lesson plans usually consist of us following whatever it says to do in our textbook. We ask our students to sit still and be quiet for an hour while they do their work and if they’re lucky they’ll get a game of hangman before going home.

But you’re here because you want to create something truly engaging for your young learners.

At ELT Songs we want to help you with that by using the power of song to help kids get excited about speaking English.

So let’s see how you can create engaging ESL lessons with songs that your young learners will absolutely love!

Setting Proper Goals for your ESL Lessons

Before you plan anything get clear on what you want to achieve in the class. You can use the SMART method for setting goals for each of your lessons to make sure that your goals are actually attainable.

The SMART goal setting model looks like this:

  • S: specific
  • M: measurable
  • A: attainable
  • R: relevant
  • T: time-bound

Let’s take a typical lesson like teaching location prepositions like “on “at” “in” etc. A SMART goal for this lesson might be:

  • Learn the 5 main location prepositions (at, in, on, under, above) [specific]
  • Children should be able to orally respond to a question “where is…?” and use the appropriate preposition. [measurable]
  • This vocabulary should build on last week’s lesson of objects in the classroom [attainable/relevant & builds upon past knowledge]
  • They should be able to produce the desired language after a 45 minute lesson and will have homework on the topic two days later to help them retain it [time-bound]

Make sure each lesson plan has a specific goal to keep everything on track.

Recap & Introduce Vocabulary

Before showing kids the video or playing the song it’s important to do a quick recap activity from their previous lesson. Learning something is one thing, but it’s important to help reinforce what they’ve learnt so they actually retain it.

Once you’ve done a recap activity it’s time to introduce the main vocabulary for your lesson.

We recommend using flashcards to do this because they require no preparation time and there are so many games you can play with flashcards! Once you model the vocabulary and pronunciation get your students to repeat after you.

To make it more engaging they can say it “properly” first, then you can use funny voices like, “now let’s say it like a monster!”

Next you can try these flashcard games:

Vocabulary splat!

  • Create a “runway” in front of your white-board (or wall)
  • Stick three flashcards to the board and get two students to line up at the start of the “runway”
  • Call out one of the words from the flashcards
  • The two students have to run up to the board and the first to touch the correct flashcard wins

Hot and Cold [vocabulary edition]

  • One student chooses a flashcard and then they go outside while you and the other kids hide the flashcard
  • When the student comes back in they have to search for the hidden flashcard
  • If the student is far away from the flashcard the other kids say the word on the flashcard quietly
  • As the student gets closer and closer the other kids start shouting the target word more loudly until the student finds it
  • When the student finds it they have to shout out the word that the flashcard represents

Incorporating Song into your ESL Lesson Plan

When choosing what songs to use in your lessons it’s important to bear in mind that kids these days are bored with out-dated nursery rhymes or uninspiring 2D animations.

Make sure you’re choosing songs that use the vocabulary you want to teach and mirror the type of high quality content that your students watch at home – then you’ll be sure to maintain their attention and enthusiasm.


Tell your class that you’re about to play a video and listen to a song. You can ask them to guess what type of words they think they’re going to hear in the song so that they produce more target language and can anticipate what’s to come.

Once you’ve had a listen, ask them what words they’ve heard in the song – they’re usually only too happy to show off how much they’ve understood thanks to your great warm-up activities.

At this point you can listen again and encourage them to sing along and do the actions (we recommend incorporating movement into songs because it helps your students recall the vocab).

Now that they’ve listened for the gist of the song you can help them learn the lyrics and dance moves (that’s why we encourage you to choose music resources that have video also).

You can even break the class into two groups and get them to have a “dance-off” using the moves and lyrics from the song (this may require some shuffling of tables and chairs but the hilarity is worth it!)

Tip for making your ESL lessons more inclusive: choose music resources that incorporate sign language into the video so kids can learn how to communicate with those with hearing problems. It also adds an extra layer of kinaesthetic learning.

Working on Reading & Writing Skills

All good ESL lesson plans are varied and focus on all the core skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing). Now that you’re done with the listening and speaking activities it’s time for some table work.

You can create your own worksheets or you can find video resources that come with their own worksheets – the latter will obviously save you a lot of preparation time. Make sure that you go around the class and help the kids with the exercises and check their understanding with open-ended questions.

Let’s look at our prepositions example; a good open-ended question might be –

“Look at that picture. Where is the mouse?”

Encourage them to answer as fully as possible like, “The mouse is under the table.”

To save you time correcting each worksheet you can go around the class checking in on the children and at the end you can ask them for the answers – children love it if they can go up to the board and write (or draw!) the answers.


Make sure your worksheets include “fast finisher” activities so that the faster kids don’t get bored and distract the other students!

Wrapping up

A solid ESL lesson is goal-orientated, varied and uses the type of high quality resources that children actually want to engage with. Remember that your students themselves can provide a wealth of ideas for you – ask them what games they like to play and think about how you can incorporate their ideas into your lesson plans.

They’ll love you for it!

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