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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How to teach English using music

If have you ever wanted to teach using songs, here are few ideas how to organize a lesson. When it comes to teaching English (or any other language for that matter) you have to plan your lesson carefully so that you avoid any problems that might come up along the way.  zznote

The first thing you should do is to choose the song. Although this might sound quite easy, from my personal experience, it may be the most difficult part when preparing a “music lesson”.

zznoteYou have to pay attention to:

  • What do you want to teach?

Setting up the goal of your lesson will help you decide which song to use. You should choose the song depending on the topic you are about to teach. For example, if you want to teach conditionals you should choose a song with a lot of “if”s in the song lyrics. If your goal is to teach adjectives, choose a song that has a lot of adjectives in the lyrics (check out one of the previous articles for some ideas: Five cool songs to teach adjectives in English.)

  • Who are your students?                                                        zznote

After you have set up your goal, and narrowed down the list of potential songs, now it is the time to narrow it down even more. The age and the cultural surrounding can have a tremendous impact on the outcome of your lesson. Don’t try to teach adults using some children songs, as it is doomed to fail. On the other hand, if you are teaching beginner level students, you should choose a song with a lot repetition. Have in mind that if the students don’t like the song, or if they feel uncomfortable in some way, they will be reluctant to participate in any activity, and let alone to join discussion.

zznotezNow that you have chosen the song, here is how to make the lesson based on the lyrics:

Warm up – get students involved by discussing the title or performer. Have they already heard of that song? If yes, what did they think of it? If not, can they guess what the song is about?

Gap fill – leave out some of the words and give the lyrics to students to fill in. If the words are relatively familiar to your students you don’t have to provide the words that are to be used. On the other hand, if you believe that the words are too difficult for them, you should write all the missing words in a box for students to choose from.           zznote

Vocabulary in use – students have to use the words from the song in the sentences. You can use the missing words from the previous exercise, or you can add other words from the lyrics. This type of exercise is also good for practicing expressions.

Matching – you can set up two columns of words and ask students to match, for example antonyms, synonyms, words that go together, etc.

Table – this is a good way to visually represent some patterns or rules. For example, if you are teaching conditionals, ask your students to fill in the two columns, main clause and subordinate clause.

zznoteAdding missing elements – write the words or sentences and ask your students to fill in the missing letters or the missing element of the phrases, for example phrasal verbs missing prepositions.

True or false – write the sentences about the song lyrics and ask the students to decide if they are true or false. You can also add another option – we don’t know, it doesn’t say.

Answer the questions and start up a discussion – think of some questions about the lyrics and then the students can continue talking about the topic.

Have you got some more ideas for the exercises?  zznotez
What’s your experience with teaching English with music?

Tips on effective learning of English language

If you want to learn a new language you have to be motivated and prepared for a serious work. Set a goal for yourself and try to achieve it. If you come across any difficulties, don’t  give up quickly. Be persistent and patient. Ask for help from your friends, from other learners or from teachers.

I’ve made a list of eight most useful tips on learning English. My focus is English language, but these tips can be applied for other languages as well.

1) Learn

Set up your plan for learning English and stick to it. Try to learn at least one word a day. Use grammar books, CDs, workbooks, English dictionaries, visit some website that publish lessons and study online.

2) Think

Regularly ask yourself this question: “How would I say this in English?”. Think of some situation and how would you communicate in English. If you are not sure, try to find the answer in your books or ask someone for help.

3) Listen

Listen to the radio or music in English. This a very interesting way of practising English as there are a lot of exercises you can do while you listen to music, such as learning new words, filling the gaps, discussing the meaning of the song, etc.

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4) Watch

Watch films and TV programmes in English. Listen to the people speaking in English will help you learn the correct pronunciation and stress. Additionally you will learn new words and phrases while enjoying a nice film or a TV show.

5) Read

It doesn’t matter if it is a magazine, newspapers, blog articles… Read something in English every day as this will help you get familiar with sentence constructions in English.

6) Write

You should write something in English as often as possible.  It can be a short story; you can write a response to an article / forum post, you can post your status update, anything. Keep a vocabulary notebook where you would write new words and expressions you learn. When you learn new words, try to use them and write example sentences in your notebook.

7) Review

Always review the grammar and / or vocabulary before the next lesson. It is important to review regularly so that you don’t forget what you have learned so far. As language is a system, you have to review what you have learned in order to connect that to the new lessons.

8) Communicate

Speak, speak, speak! Your ultimate goal is to speak English, right?! So speak English every day. Find if there are conversation groups in your city and join them. If it is difficult to find someone to talk to, try practising English with other people online, via email or in the chat rooms, forums, etc.  Alternatively you can find pen pals online and write emails.

Questions for you:

Learners – What tip do you find most useful?
Teachers – Do you have more tips on effective learning?

How do you teach English?

There has been a survey among more than 500 ESL teachers all around the world in order to discover what additional resources do the teachers use for enhancing their lessons.

The greatest percent of ESL teachers (86%) use music to make English lesson interesting. English-speaking celebrities and movies are also commonly used. Then follow the newspapers, TV shows, radio, comics and computer games.

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All of these can be used to present vocabulary or certain grammar rules. For example, if you want to teach your student adjectives, find a song that has a lot of adjectives in the lyrics. Furthermore, you can follow up by explain the comparison of adjectives and then using the same adjectives for practice. If you wish to teach the passive voice, you can find the newspaper article and ask the student to find the passive sentences and then follow up by analyzing the text.

How do you make your English classes interesting? What is the most effective way to enhance an English lesson?

Fun facts about English Language

“Underground” is the only word in the English language that begins and ends with the letters “und”.

“Rhythm” is the longest English word without a vowel.

The sentence “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” uses every letter of the alphabet.

“Almost” is the longest word in the English language with all the letters in alphabetical order.

George Bernard Shaw used to mention that “ghoti” can be pronounced “fish”. The “gh” from “tough”, the “o” from “women”, and the “ti” from “nation”.

Of all the words in the English language, the word “set” has the most definitions.

No word in the English language rhymes with month, orange, silver, and purple.

Apart from ‘angry’ and ‘hungry’, there isn’t any word in English language that ends in ‘-gry’.

What comes after once, twice, thrice?
Nothing! These three are the only words of their type.

The two longest words ine English that contain no letter more than once are uncopyrightable and dermatoglyphics.

The two most common words that contain the five vowels (a, e, i, o, u) in the right order are abstemious and facetious.

There’s just one seven letter word in English that has five vowels in a row: queuing.

‘Bookkeeper’ is the only English word without hyphen that has three consecutive repeated letters.