Kids happy and singing with text - Easy to adapt songs for any grammar

Most English teachers will agree that songs are a fantastic way to internalise grammar structures and useful language chunks. When I started teaching I used to search endlessly for songs that would fit in with my syllabus. It was really tough to find songs that included the language I wanted to teach, AND didn’t include lots of unknown vocabulary. I was lucky enough to attend a session on adapting songs to teach grammar early on, and I haven’t looked back!

In this post, I’ll share a few of the songs that I’ve adapted to suit different structures and vocabulary. They are all suitable for primary students, and some could even be used with teenagers. Hopefully, it’ll inspire you to go ahead and start creating too. You can even get your young learners inventing their own lyrics.

Have you ever song, halloween thumbnail
Based on the camp song, “You’ll never get to heaven”

Oh you’ll never get to heaven

This was one of my favourites when I was younger. It’s great for teaching English because it involves call and response and a lot of repetition. Your learners don’t need to learn lots of new vocabulary and they can participate almost immediately because each line of the verse has an echo. In other words, the teacher says the line and the students echo it back. The chorus repeats everything in the verse to a different melody and at a faster pace.

I adapted this song to teach ‘Have you ever…?’ with 9 to 11 year olds. We had reviewed past simple and this was a nice way to introduce them to present perfect for experience and tie in with our Halloween theme. You can see the complete version of my Have you ever..? Halloween song here, but here’s the first verse and chorus, so you get the idea:

I think this song could be adapted easily to other topics and structures. For example:

Everywhere we go

This is another great call and response song. It’s very popular as a football chant, camp song and easy to pick up. I’ve adapted this one in a few different ways.

Natural landscapes and animals vocabulary

While making a natural landscapes pop-up book we sang with different landscapes and animal vocabulary. For example:

In the jungle (in the jungle)

There’s a monkey (there’s a monkey)

There’s a monkey (there’s a monkey)

In the jungle

Woah (woah) – Here we go (here we go)

This was an easy chant to do, while they were working on their craft. I was able to get them to suggest different animals and landscapes as we went along.

Food – Natural science

Another way, I’ve adapted this song was to help teach Natural Science language about food. Part of it went like this:

Carbohydrates (carbohydrates)

Give you energy (give you energy)

Fruit and vegetables (fruit and vegetables)

Have vitamins and minerals (have vitamins and minerals)

Food! (Food!) Is very good! (Is very good!)

Together with my student, we created other verses to help her remember the new vocabulary.

Did you ever seen a lassie?

This is an old folk song that I adapted to use with my classes on Never Tickle a Tiger by Pamela Buchart. This is the original song:

The children were 5 and 6 years old, so I was less concerned with explicit grammar teaching, but I wanted to get them used to ‘Have you ever..?’, and I also wanted to recycle some of the action vocabulary in the story book.

This was a simple case of changing ‘Did you ever see’ to ‘Have you ever seen’ and substituting ‘go’ for different action verbs. We also changed the animal each time and had fun doing the actions.

Original version

Did you ever see a lassie, a lassie, a lassie,

Did you ever see a lassie,

Go this way and that?

Go this way and that way,

And this way and that way,

Did you ever see a lassie, go this way and that?

Adapted version for Never Tickle a Tiger

Have you ever seen a tiger, a tiger, a tiger,

Have you ever seen a tiger,

Bounce this way and that?

Bounce this way and that way,

And this way and that way,

Have you ever seen a tiger, bounce this way and that?

Some of the other action verbs we used were swim, dance, tickle, run, skip and wriggle. We made a flipbook to practise this vocabulary and made up our own versions of the song (signup to the newsletter if you’d like to hear when it is available for download).

It would be easy to adapt this for other structures too. How about:

We’ll be coming

This song is by the Tartan Specials, and again, very catchy. I’m from Scotland, but I’m no football fan! Still, football chants are great for adapting to teach English.

I adapted this one as a chorus for the Food song I wrote about above.

Original version

We’ll be coming, We’ll be coming,

We’ll be coming down the road.

When you hear the noise the Tartan Army boys,

We’ll be coming down the road.

Adapted version for Food song chorus

A balanced diet, a balanced diet,

A balanced diet’s what we need.

It’s really neat, when you’re careful what you eat,

A balanced diet’s what we need.

This could easily be adapted to practise Present Continuous for activities happening now:

We are watching, we are watching, we are watching the TV, But if you say hello, we will stop and then we’ll go, we are watching TV now.

Swap in different activities. For example: playing tennis now / reading our books / washing dishes now.

What will we do with a drunken sailor?

This is a great energetic song with a rousing chorus, so it’s a great one to get new language patterns and vocabulary stuck in your students’ heads. It’s also quite fast-paced, so it can be a good way to work on connected speech and weak forms in a natural way.

I think this one works really well for a progressive story-type narrative. Here are some suggestions for different verses and choruses:

Daily Routines

Verses:

I get out of bed and go to the kitchen x 3 / Early in the morning.

I have my breakfast then brush my teeth x 3 / Early in the morning.

I wash my face then I get dressed x 3 / Early in the morning.

I put on my coat and go to school x 3 / Early in the morning.

Chorus: Hey ho, That’s what I do x 3 / On a normal school day.

Past simple with The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Verses:

One day, there was a caterpillar x 3 / On a Sunday morning.

It ate an apple and then two oranges x 3 / On Monday and on Tuesday.

It ate three plums and then four strawberries x 3 / On Wednesday and on Thursday.

It ate five oranges but still felt hungry x 3 / On Friday afternoon.

It ate lots of food and then felt sick x 3 / During all of Saturday.

It ate a leaf and built a cocoon x3 / On the second Sunday.

Out came a beautiful butterfly x 3 / It flew and then laid eggs.

Chorus: That’s the story of the hungry caterpillar x 3 / The butterfly lifecycle!

Future with ‘going to’ and infinitive of purpose

Verses:

They’re going to go to the mountains x 3 / To have a lovely picnic.

First they’re going to make the picnic x 3 / To take to the mountains.

What are they going to take to the mountains? x 3 / To have for their picnic .

They’re going to make a cheese salad sandwich x 3 / To take to the mountains.

How are they going to get to the mountains? x 3 / To have a lovely picnic.

ETC.

Chorus: What are their plans for Saturday? x 3 / They’re going to have a good time.

Where’s your Mama gone?

I think this was the first song I adapted in my early teaching days.

I had a group of 7 year olds that were learning, ‘Have you got?’ in part of a unit about pets. This is how we adapted it:

Original version

Where’s your Mama gone?

Where’s your Mama gone?

Where’s your baby gone?

Where’s your baby gone?

Far, far, away

Adapted version

Have you got a pet?

Have you got a pet?

Have you got a pet?

Have you got a pet?

Yes, I have.

No, I haven’t

I just added in the ‘No, I haven’t’ to the same tune as ‘far, far, away’! We sung it for all the different pet vocabulary we were studying, with different students singing the short responses depending on their true answers.

This song could work well with other structures too:

Basic question forms, e.g., How old are you? (I am 7); Where do you live? (in a house/ in a flat); When is your birthday? (on the 9th of August) etc. The rhythm might feel a bit odd at times though! Try it out for yourself.

Past simple: I went to the shops (yesterday); I played with my friends (last weekend); I read a story book (two days ago)

Other songs you can adapt

Another song I like to adapt is “In and out the dusty bluebells”. You can see this in my other article on 8 easy to adapt action songs. With a little bit of imagination, you can adapt almost any song to suit your purposes. You’ll probably have noticed that I find camp songs, football chants and other folk songs to be very useful. Another thing to think about is songs that are well-known in your students’ language. They work really well because the kids already know the melody and they will enjoy the familiarity of it. If you’ve got any songs you like to adapt to practise language points, I’d love to hear about them. You can share your ideas in the comments below.

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