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.

Teaching Pronouns in English

Teaching English using music is a great way to engage your students, especially if you use songs they like. In one of my lessons,  I have used Taylor Swift’s song “Ours” to teach pronouns in English. However, I’ve also added some vocabulary and grammar exercises related to the text.

Here are the instructions on how to use this lesson in class:

1. Listen to the song without the text.

2. Listen to the song again. This time students have the text with missing words. The goal is to fill in the missing words. Have in mind that all of the missing words are in fact pronouns (you can leave out some other words as well).

Ours – Taylor Swift

Elevator buttons and morning air
Strangers’ silence makes _______ wanna take the stairs
If you were here we’d laugh about their vacant stares
But right now _______ time is theirs

Seems like there’s always someone who disapproves
They’ll judge it like they know about _______ and _______
And the verdict comes from those with nothing else to do
The jury’s out, but _______ choice is you

So don’t you worry _______ pretty little mind
People throw rocks at things that shine
And life makes love look hard
The stakes are high, the water’s rough
But this love is ours

You never know what people have up _______ sleeves
Ghosts from your past gonna jump out at me
Lurking in the shadows with their lip gloss smiles
But _______ don’t care ’cause right now you’re _______

And you’ll say
Don’t you worry your pretty little mind
People throw rocks at things that shine
And life makes love look hard
The stakes are high, the water’s rough
But this love is _______

And it’s not _______ to speculate
If _______’s wrong and
Your hands are tough
But they are where _______ belong and
I’ll fight their doubt and give you faith
With this song for _______

‘Cause _______ love the gap between your teeth
And I love the riddles that you speak
And any snide remarks from my father about _______ tattoos will be ignored
‘Cause my heart is _______

So don’t you worry your pretty little mind
People throw rocks at things that shine
And life makes love look hard
Don’t you worry your pretty little mind
People throw rocks at things that shine
But _______ can’t take what’s ours
They can’t take what’s ours

3. Discuss the pronouns in English before you go on with the exercises.

Exercise 1 – Write the missing pronouns:

Personal pronouns    Possessive adjectives    Possessive pronouns
I                         ________                     ________
________                  your                         ________
he                        ________                    his
________                  her                          hers
________                  its                          its
we                        our                          ________
they                      ________                     ________

Exercise 2 – Circle the pair of words that rhyme:

Shine – Mine
Love – Move
Life – Live
Rough – Tough
Make – Cake
Rough – Roof

Exercise 3 – Find the synonyms:

distrust, concern, disallow, glimmer, glare, difficult, big

1. worry
2. hard
3.  stare
4.  doubt
5. shine
6. disapprove
7. high

Exercise 4 – Write the full forms:

… If you were here we’d laugh about their vacant stares …
… Seems like there’s always someone who disapproves
They’ll judge it like they know about …
… So don’t you worry your pretty little mind …
… The stakes are high, the water’s rough …

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?

Five cool songs to teach adjectives in English

Using songs to teach English is a great way to engage your students. Depending on the song, you can teach various topics, from tenses to pronouns, from vocabulary to grammar constructions. Let’s focus on teaching adjectives today.

1. Lenka – Everything at Once

This song is great for teaching a large number of adjectives, as well as for using the pattern “as…as”. See the complete lyrics with gaps to fill in here.

2. James Blunt – You’re Beautiful

While teaching adjectives with this song you can explain the difference between “you’re” and “your” at the same time.

3. Kelly Clarkson – Stronger

This amazing song is great not only for teaching adjectives, but also for explaining comparison of adjectives to your students.

4. Alanis Morissette – Hand in My Pocket

Interesting fact – “I’m” is used over 34 times in this song, “I’m this”, “I’m that”… Your hunch is right; there are a bunch of useful adjectives to describe people.


5. Kaiser Chiefs – Everyday I Love You Less and Less

If you wish to teach adjectives, especially the adjectives ending in –ed, this is the perfect song to use.

How do you teach with music? Share your favorite songs for teaching English in the comments.