How to write your own songs for language learners

I remember back when I was getting my masters in FL education. One of my first assignments in my elementary methods course was to write a song. Sitting in the classroom I remember thinking ... "You want me to do WHAT???" I mean, song writing is for professionals whose forte is music. I don't have a musical bone in my body. I did the assignment. As far as I recall I didn't get a bad grade. But it sure wasn't the best song I've ever written.

Now I LOVE writing songs for use in the classroom. A song is an awesome cue for what is to come next in your lesson. I like to start the class with a hello song, and then, as I change focus in my lesson, I use a new song. Kids pick up on new vocabulary or review previously learned vocabulary through the songs. They are very age appropriate at the elementary level, and if you choose the right tune (lean away from babyish tunes), they can also work great with upper levels.

These are my steps for song writing for the language learning classroom.

1. I start by brainstorming what type of vocabulary I want to include in my song. For example, if I wanted to write a Halloween song, my list might look like this: 
Spanish version: brujas, fantasmas, murciélagos, gatos negros, calabazas...
French version: des sorcières, un chat noir, des araignées, une chauve-souris, des fantômes.

2. Next I choose a tune. This step was super easy for me when my kids were toddlers. I got lots of song tune ideas from listening to Barney episodes or any of the children's CDs we had. I remember one CD with a Broadway focus especially gave me a lot of ideas. I love to use traditional tunes from the culture of the language I'm teaching. I also often go to Google and YouTube for tune ideas. Here is one site I like.
Today I googled Halloween songs and I've chosen the theme to the movie Ghostbusters.

3. Now comes the part where you need to put steps 1 and 2 together. Sometimes it helps to start with the chorus and get that part down. You don't have to use the entire song - if it works better with your lyrics to just repeat the chorus 2-3 times, then go with that. 
I've decided to use the beginning part of the Ghostbusters theme ... the part that goes "If there's something strange, in your neighborhood. Who are 'ya gonna call? Ghostbusters!
For my chorus I'm using:
Spanish version                                 French version
Es Halloween.                                   C'est Halloween (C'est l'Halloween ~ Canada)
Es Halloween.                                   C'est Halloween (C'est l'Halloween ~ Canada)
¿Qué vamos a ver?                            Qu'est qu'il y a ?

Now I'll use vocabulary from my list I brainstormed in part 1. I'll need to choose words with the correct number of syllables to match the syllables in the word "Ghostbusters" from the song - and I may need to add a definite or indefinite article or some other word to increase the number of syllables.
"Fantasmas" and "une chauve-souris" both work perfectly, but I might say "una bruja" or "muchas brujas" to increase the number of syllables.

I keep my songs short and sweet. I'll stop here and just repeat the chorus, adding more vocabulary words & letting the students shout out the vocabulary words like they shout out "Ghostbusters" in the original song. 

You can also find many songs available for sale. Here are some of my (and my students') favorites:

Have you written a song your students love? Do you prefer to buy music for language learning? Share your favorite songs (either written by you or purchased) in the comments below!

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