Seven Songs for Teaching Past Simple

I have created a list of songs, which are perfect for teaching Past Simple tense in English. All of the songs are relatively new and popular, so they would especially be suitable for teaching teenagers. While the primary goal would be teaching Past Simple, you can always add a few more exercises in order to work on vocabulary or grammar.

Coldplay – Paradise
Past Simple is often used for retelling the events that happened in the past. This song is perfect for illustrating this usage. The verbs to teach: was, expected, flew, ran, closed, etc.

Passenger – The Wrong Direction
Seeing “When I was a kid…” at the beginning of the song lyrics, you know there has to be some Past Simple in there. Some of the verbs to teach in Past Simple: believed, hid, thought, broke, made, etc. This song can also be used for teaching would (I’d love, I’d jump) as well as nouns ending in –tion (inspection, direction, selection, connection, etc.).


Katy Perry – The One That Got Away
Apart from teaching Past Simple, with verbs met, got, planned, had, made, said, etc. you can also teach would for talking about future from a time in the past (I would make you stay, I would be your girl).

Torn – Natalie Imbruglia
This song is great for teaching Past Simple, as it has a lot of verbs, both regular and irregular (thought, saw, showed, came, adored, changed, had, crawled, etc.). In the additional exercises you can focus on describing how people feel (I am ashamed, I’m torn, I’m all out of faith, etc.).

Gotye – Somebody That I Used To Know
Your students will definitely know this song, having in mind how popular it was for a while. Start teaching Past Simple with the verbs said, felt, found, happened, etc. After that, you can teach used to for talking about things that happened in the past. In addition, compare used to with Past Simple for talking about past.

OneRepublic – Something I Need
A very nice song with lots of different verb forms. While you can start the lesson with Past Simple and verbs such as had, woke, stayed, could, etc. you can use other verbs to compare Past Simple with other tenses in English.

The Fray – Over My Head (Cable Car)
This song is suitable for teaching Past Simple (knew, needed, wanted, etc.). Additionally, you can teach prepositions (down, around, in, over, on, etc.).

Besides teaching vocabulary and grammar, songs are good starting point if you want to engage your students in a conversation. Therefore, after the listening activity, you can come up with a list of questions to start the conversation in your class. Some general questions are: What is the song about? What did you think about the song? Does the singer speak about personal experience? On the other hand, the song can only be an introduction, so for example, if you want to encourage students to use would in their answers, Katy Perry’s song is a perfect way to do so.

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31 thoughts on “Seven Songs for Teaching Past Simple

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  3. There’s one by Roxette too, called “The First Girl on the Moon”. It has lots of verbs but the meaning is rather obscure. Thanks for the post!

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  5. An Adele’s song is great too, in “I set fire to the rain” there’s more simple past verbs than you can imagine.

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