“A Change Is Gonna Come”

Sam Cooke, 1964

The U.S. Library of Congress chose this song for preservation because of its historical, cultural, and aesthetic significance. I have done the activities below with adult immigrants to the U.S. and with international students at a U.S. university. Both groups seemed deeply moved by this song after reading the story behind it.

Choose from the following activities:

  • Pre-Listening Read the story behind the song, titled “No Rooms.” (Reading the story before listening is recommended; the song is even more powerful if students know the story behind it.) Permission is granted to reproduce the story for classroom use.
  • Listening Listen to the song while reading the annotated lyrics below. For nonprofit educational purposes only.

     change is gonna come, lyrics.docx          change is gonna come, lyrics.pdf

  • Post-Listening Watch the official lyric video. This 2016 video shows the many civil-rights changes that have happened since Cooke’s 1964 song–changes that, unfortunately, he did not live to see.
  • Post-Listening Practice the use of it’s been vs. it was. The song repeats the phrase it’s been a long time comin’ four times–an example of using the present perfect tense for a situation that began in the past and continues into the present. The worksheet below, for levels high beginning and up, contrasts the use of it’s been and it was. Permission granted to duplicate for classroom use.

it was vs. it’s been.docx          it was vs. it’s been.pdf

  • Post-Listening Talk about changes students want to see in themselves, in their communities, in their countries, or in the world. Structure the conversation with the activity below, for levels high beginning and up. This activity is highly recommended. Permission granted to duplicate for classroom use.

change activity.docx          change activity.pdf

  • Post-Listening Read another story with the “change” theme. If you use the True Stories reading series, you could follow up with the story “The School and the Stamp” (Unit 16 in More True Stories), about a family who successfully fought to change the “Mexican school” policy in Southern California.