ESL Music Vocabulary: Word List & Games

Instructor: Matthew Hamel

Matt has degrees in Journalism and Business and has taught a variety of courses at high schools and universities around the world.

This lesson introduces ESL learners to some music vocabulary and provides the framework for games that can be used with learners of varying levels and in a variety of classroom sizes. Prior music experience is not necessary to incorporate these games into an ESL learning environment.

Music Game #1: Instrument Charades

This is a warm up game that can get ESL students up and actively participating. Prior to playing this game, create cards with the names of the musical instruments listed below. If possible, include a picture on the card to avoid any confusion about new vocabulary. Be sure to adjust the difficulty based on student vocabulary levels.

  • Drums
  • Guitar
  • Violin
  • Flute
  • Trumpet
  • Piano
  • Cello
  • Saxophone
  • Trombone
  • Harp
  • Triangle
  • Harmonica
  • Recorder
  • Bongos

For added difficulty, use instruments like accordion, tabla (small drums), double bass, sitar or xylophone. It can be a lot of fun to see students act out unfamiliar or unusual actions.

If students are unfamiliar with charades, you can explain the basics before dividing the class into teams. With larger groups it's a good idea to get two or three games going in different areas of the classroom so that students won't become disinterested watching from the sidelines for too long.

Music Game #2: Lyrics Challenge

Using popular songs can be a great way to get ESL learners engaged. Songs are also a great way to teach listening skills and can encourage creative writing.

Before class, prepare 3-4 recordings of popular songs of different styles, and find the lyrics online. Copy the lyrics into a text editor, and remove some of words, leaving fill-in-blank lines for later. For advanced learners you can remove more words.

Warm-up: Elicit different styles of music from students, and write the answers on the board.

Before you play the first song, give each student a copy of the redacted lyrics and some time to fill in the missing words from memory. It's a good idea to hand out the lyrics for all of the songs at the same time so that if a student isn't familiar with one or two songs, they can focus on the ones they do know without waiting for the others.

Next, hand out a second copy of the lyrics with the missing words. This time, play each song once or twice, and have the students write down the words that they hear on the second handout.

Once the lyrics from memory and the lyrics from listening handouts are complete, they are several ways they can be used in the class. The following are a few examples.

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