Two Song Ideas: “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “Imagine”

I used two songs in my ESL classes this week that both went well, so I thought I’d share the ideas here. I love using music in class, and most of my students seem to love it, too. To get an overview of how I use music in class, you can check out my previous post on the topic.

With my Level 2 class, I used the song “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” I had used the song before with higher-level students, but I realized that the lyrics are simple enough that my Level 2 students could handle it with some extra help.

I created a reading passage to introduce the students to several of the words in the song that I knew were probably unfamiliar to them. You can download the handout I made here. The reading is based on the idea of embedded readings, which was developed by Laurie Clarcq and Michele Whaley as a way to scaffold language for students in preparation for reading complex texts.

In class, I gave my students the handout and read it aloud for them, pausing to explain the new words. Then, I asked them the discussion questions on the handout to give them even more chances to hear the words in meaningful contexts.

Next, we listened to a version of the song by Susan Boyle. The lyrics are displayed in the video, so my students could listen and read the words at the same time. I was so glad I had used the embedded reading because, by the time they listened to the song, my students already understood almost all the words in it! After we listened to the song, I passed out the lyrics on a handout. We read through them and I explained the last few words that were new for them.

We also discussed the underlying meaning of the song a little bit. One of the reasons why I love using songs in my ESL classes is because I can try to find songs that contain complex ideas but convey those ideas in fairly simple language. That’s perfect for adult ESL students, who have the ability to think in deep, complex ways about serious topics but who often don’t have the language abilities to express those thoughts in English. This song helped my students to think about and talk about a meaningful topic. Of course, it was easier to have a discussion with my higher-level students than with the lower-level ones. But even with my Level 2 students, I asked them, “Do you think the song is only talking about walking in a storm? Or is it talking about other problems?” That led into a discussion about how we are “never alone” when we have problems, and we need to “walk on” and have “hope in our hearts” when we encounter those problems.

One of my favorite “tricks” with music is to play different versions of the song so my students hear the same words many times, but it feels new each time. Afterwards, you can ask students to compare the different versions and decide which is their favorite. For “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” these are the different versions I used, with links to the YouTube videos:

Of course, there are many other versions on YouTube to choose from. I chose to spread it out over two days of class—we listened to the first two versions yesterday and the third one today. (By the way, most of my students said they preferred the Josh Groban version!)

With my Level 3/4 class, I used the song “Imagine” by John Lennon. It is such a powerful song, and it led to a very interesting discussion in class. Like “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” this song also deals with a complex topic using fairly simple language. We talked about the meaning of the song, why it’s an important topic (even today, almost 50 years after it was written), and whether or not it’s possible to achieve a world like the one the song aims for.

Honestly, I was a little bit nervous to use it in class due to how the idea of religion is portrayed in the song. Since I know that my students have a range of views toward religion, I wanted to be sure to handle the topic in a way that was respectful to all my students. In our discussion during class, I briefly mentioned that this song was considered a little controversial because of the comments about religion, and I made sure to mention what I’d read about John Lennon’s views—that he was not opposed to religious beliefs, but he didn’t like the idea of organized religion. This seemed like an adequate way to handle the issue. A couple of students offered up their ideas about religion, but, for the most part, our discussion just focused on the general message of the song, not the specific topic of religion.

I had my students first listen to the original John Lennon version and then to the Pentatonix version. I love the Pentatonix version—not only because the a capella singing sounds so beautiful but also because of the extra layer of meaning they give to the song. In the video, the singers hold up signs to describe different aspects of their identity—their race, sexual orientation, gender, etc. So the video was a good way to extend our discussion of the song a little bit and think about other ways that the people in our world get divided.

Are there any other songs you’ve successfully used in your classes recently? Comment below if you have any good ideas!

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