Activity 4: Building a lesson around a repeated phrase

There is a lot of repetition in song lyrics. A song’s refrain, for example, might be repeated several times, or a particular phrase might recur throughout a song. When the repeated material is a common idiom, phrasal verb, or grammatical form, you can capitalize on the repetition by using it as a teaching tool. Consider these examples of repeated phrases in Beatles songs:

  • “We Can Work It Out” repeats the idiomatic phrasal verb work out eight times.
  • “With a Little Help from My Friends” repeats the idiomatic phrasal verb get by five times.
  • “Here Comes the Sun” repeats the expression all right six times and the grammatical form it’s been four times.
  • “Anytime at All” repeats the expression at all thirteen times.

You can simply call students’ attention to the repeated phrase, explaining its meaning and use, or you can expand the lesson even further by adding an activity that focuses on the phrase.

How to Create a Lesson Around a Repeated Phrase in 4 Easy Steps:

Step 1: Choose a song with a repeated phrase worth learning, and copy the lyrics from the Internet. (You could highlight the phrase in boldface or color.)

Step 2: Call students’ attention to the phrase, explaining its meaning and use.

Step 3: Students listen to the song while reading the lyrics.

Step 4:  Whenever possible, spin off an activity based on the phrase.

The featured song in Unit 3 of More True Stories Behind the Songs is “Lean on Me,” and the theme of the unit is “Someone to Lean On.” So the theme song from the movie Toy Story, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” is a perfect supplemental song.

Example: Building a lesson around the expression have got

The phrase you’ve got is repeated in the song twelve times.

You’ve got a friend in me.
You’ve got a friend in me.
When the road looks rough ahead,
And you’re miles and miles
From your nice warm bed.
You just remember what your old pal said.
Boy, you’ve got a friend in me.
Yeah, you’ve got a friend in me…

Explain to your students that you’ve got = you have. (Have is generally used in questions and negative statements; the contracted form of have + got is used mostly in affirmative statements in informal spoken English.) After students listen to the song while reading the lyrics, further explain that I’ve got = I have. Then practice the expression I’ve got.

While your students are occupied with something else, walk around the classroom and move their personal items, placing one student’s pen on another student’s desk, for example, or putting one student’s backpack under another student’s chair.  Students find their missing items by asking Who has my ________? or by guessing who has them. (Araceli, do you have my ________?) The student who has the missing item says I’ve got it and returns it to its owner.

Just for fun, students can watch the opening credits to the movie Toy Story on YouTube.

Other songs with repeated phrases or grammatical forms:

  • “A Change Is Gonna Come” (Sam Cooke, 1964) This song repeats the phrase It’s been a long time comin’ four times. Pair with the worksheet below, which contrasts it’s been with it was. Because the worksheet focuses on just these two phrases, it can be successful with levels as low as high beginning. Permission is granted to reproduce for classroom use. For more activities to pair with this song, please see the Lesson Plans page.

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

  • “Can’t Stop the Feeling” (Justin Timberlake, 2016) This song repeats the phrase I got many times. (In informal spoken English, people sometimes drop the ‘ve in I’ve got–they say I got.) In the interactive worksheet below, students practice saying I’ve got it and I’ve got ’em when going over a list of what they’ll take to a picnic. Permission is granted to reproduce for classroom use. For levels low intermediate and up. For more activities to pair with this song, please see the Lesson Plans page.

picnic.docx          picnic.pdf

  • “Don’t Stop Believin'” (Journey, 1981) This song has many participial phrases. You’ll find three worksheets leading up to a lyrics cloze exercise, as well as a game for practicing participial phrases, under Lesson Plans.
  • “Hello” (Adele, 2015) Adele repeats the line I’m sorry for breaking your heart three times in the song–a perfect example of using a gerund (breaking) as the object of a preposition (for). First, have students watch the Talking Heads video explanation of how gerunds work at AzarGrammar.com. Then have them complete the worksheet below, suggested for intermediate level and up. Permission is granted to reproduce for classroom use. For more activities to pair with this song, please see the Lesson Plans page.

preposition + gerund.docx          preposition + gerund.pdf

  • “Here Comes the Sun” (George Harrison) Harrison uses the phrase It’s been to describe a situation (winter) that began in the past and continues into the present. The phrase is repeated four times in the song. Pair with the worksheet below, which contrasts it’s been with it was. Because the worksheet focuses on just these two phrases, it can be successful with levels as low as high beginning. Permission is granted to reproduce for classroom use. If you use the textbook True Stories Behind the Songs, pair the worksheet below with Story 1, which relates that Harrison wrote “Here Comes the Sun” in February, when it was still winter. The story underscores his use of it’s been in the song to describe a situation that began in the past and continues into the present.

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

  • “I Can See Clearly Now” (Johnny Nash, 1972, or Jimmy Cliff, 1993) This song repeats the phrase It’s gonna be a bright sunshiny day six times. Follow up with the interactive worksheet below, which gives students practice using gonna when talking about the weather forecast. (It is important to tell students that gonna is not a word; it is the way going to is pronounced and is not used in writing. It is also important to impress on students that gonna is substituted for going to in future-tense sentences only; they can’t say I’m gonna to the park now. For these reasons, this apparently simple exercise may not be appropriate for lower levels.) After students complete the worksheet, they could look on the Internet for the next day’s forecast for their native city, and then tell the forecast to the class. (For example, Tomorrow it’s gonna be hot and sunny in Mexico City.) This song pairs well grammatically with the song “I’m Gonna Love You” and the activity that goes with it.

gonna–weather forecast.docx          gonna–weather forecast.pdf

  • “I’m Gonna Love You” (Meghan Trainor with John Legend, 2015) This song repeats the phrase I’m gonna 21 times. The Moving Line activity below gives students multiple opportunities to practice this construction. First, explain that gonna is routinely used in place of going to in future-tense informal speech. (It is important to emphasize that gonna is not a word; it is the way going to is pronounced and is not used in writing. It is also important to impress on students that gonna is substituted for going to in future-tense sentences only; they can’t say I’m gonna to the park now. For these reasons, this apparently simple exercise may not be appropriate for lower levels.) Ask students, “What are you gonna do after class?” (or this eveningthis weekendtomorrow, etc.) After giving them some time to think about their answers, follow the steps below. This low-prep activity facilitates a lot of interaction in a short amount of time and gets students up and out of their seats.
  1. Moving line, image 1Divide the class into two groups of equal numbers. (If you have an odd number of students, participate in the activity yourself to make the groups even.) Students form two lines facing one another.

moving line, image 22. Students ask the student facing them, “What are you gonna do after class?” The student answers, “I’m gonna _______. What are you gonna do?” The student answers, “I’m gonna _______.” Then one line shifts position so that each student has a new partner. (The person at the end of the moving line moves to the beginning of the line.)

3. Students exchange the same information with their new partners. (Having students recite the same lines with each partner, like actors in a play, keeps the activity–literally–moving along. The activity doesn’t get boring because students hear new information from each partner.) Then they shift positions again.

4. The students in the moving line continue to interact with new partners and then move on. The activity concludes when the students in the moving line are back in their original positions.

Variation: The Moving Circle. Students form two concentric circles. The inside circle faces out, and the outside circle faces in. After each exchange, the outside circle shifts position; the inside circle remains stationary.

  • “I Will Remember You” (Sarah McLachlan, 1999) This song repeats the sentences I will remember you. Will you remember me? four times. Please see the Lesson Plans page for activities and worksheets to go with this song. They give students practice making promises with will.
  • “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” (Nina Simone) This song repeats the construction wish + simple past to express a wish about the present nine times. The worksheet below, for levels intermediate and up, gives students practice with that construction. Permission is granted to reproduce for classroom use. For more activities to pair with this song, please see the Lesson Plans page.

wish worksheet.docx          wish worksheet.pdf

  • “Keep Holding On” (Avril Lavigne) This song repeats the phrase Keep holding on nine times. Explain that Keep holding on is synonymous with Continue to hold on, or Don’t stop holding on. You could have volunteers come to the front of the class and act out activities like running, walking, reading, writing, singing, etc., and then suddenly stop. The class prompts the actor to continue the activity by saying Keep runningKeep walking, etc.
  • “Longer” (Dan Fogelberg) This song has several comparative adjectives. You will find several teacher-created, beginning-level worksheets on comparative adjectives in Chapter 15 at AzarGrammar.com. Also recommended at AzarGrammar.com, under “Expansion Activities” for Chapter 15, is the activity “Creative Comparisons.”
  • “Love Yourself” (Justin Bieber, 2015) This song repeats the phrase love yourself eight times. Follow up with a lesson on reflexive pronouns. First, watch the “Talking Heads” video at AzarGrammar.com, which explains how reflexive pronouns work. Then have students complete the worksheet below. It’s at the low-intermediate level. Permission is granted to reproduce for classroom use. For more activities to pair with this song, please see the Lesson Plans page.

reflexive pronouns.docx          reflexive pronouns.pdf

  • “My Girl” (The Temptations, 1965) This song repeats the phrase I’ve got seven times. In the interactive worksheet below, students practice saying I’ve got it and I’ve got ’em when going over a list of what they’ll take to a picnic.

picnic.docx          picnic.pdf

  • “Only One Call Away” (Charlie Puth, 2016) This song repeats the line I’ll be there to save the day four times. It’s a perfect example of using I’ll + the simple form of a verb to make an offer to help or to make a promise. (In this case, the sentence is both and offer to help and a promise.) The first worksheet below is to practice making offers to help. The second worksheet is to practice making promises. Both worksheets are for levels high beginning and up, although the second worksheet is slightly more difficult. Permission is granted to reproduce for classroom use. For more activities to pair with this song, please see the Lesson Plans page.

will, offering to help.docx          will, offering to help.pdf

will, making promises.docx          will, making promises.pdf

  • “See You Again” (Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth, 2015)  (Note: The word damn in the line Damn, who knew? might make this song inappropriate for some student populations.) The song repeats the sentence It’s been a long day without you, my friend three times. Pair with the worksheet below, which contrasts it’s been with it was. Because the worksheet focuses on just these two phrases, it can be successful with levels as low as high-beginning. Permission is granted to reproduce for classroom use.

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

You’ll find another follow-up activity at AzarGrammar.com–the Chapter 4 worksheet submitted by the teachers at Edmonds Community College titled “Past vs. Present Perfect.”  This worksheet is broader in its focus and is for levels intermediate and up. For more activities to pair with this song, please see the Lesson Plans page.

  • “Somebody That I Used to Know” (Goyte) This song repeats the title phrase nine times. You could follow up with a Draw-Write-Share Activity. Ask students to draw a picture of what they used to do or how they used to be. Under their drawing, they complete the sentence I used to _____________________, but now I _____________________. Then they share their drawing and their writing with a partner. The worksheet below includes a student writing example. Permission granted to duplicate for classroom use.

draw-write-share.pdf

  • “Stressed Out” (Twenty One Pilots, 2015) This song uses the construction wish + simple past ten times to express a wish about the present. (Wish I had a better voiceWish we could turn back time, etc.) The worksheet below, at the intermediate level, gives students practice with that construction. Permission is granted to reproduce for classroom use. For more activities to pair with this song, please see the Lesson Plans page.

wish worksheet.docx          wish worksheet.pdf

You could follow up with the Memory Circle game, which gives students further practice making wishes about the present. First, have students complete one of  the sentences below:

I wish I had _______________________________.
I wish I could _______________________________.
I wish I didn’t have to _______________________________.

Students form a circle and follow the steps below. (A circle should not contain more than 12 students, so they may need to form several circles.)

  1. Student 1 says the sentence he/she wrote. (For example, I wish I had more time to study.)
  2. Student 2 repeats what Student 1 said. (For example, Maria wishes she had more time to study.)
  3. Student 2 then adds his/her own sentence. (For example, I wish I had a new car.)
  4. Student 3 repeats what Students 1 and 2 said. (For example, Maria wishes she had more time to study. Yoshi wishes he had a new car.)
  5. Student 3 adds his/her own sentence.
  6. Students continue going around the circle, repeating what the other students said, in order, and then adding his/her own sentence.
  7. After the last student says all the sentences, ask students to give him/her a round of applause. (It’s not easy to be the last student!)
  • “This Town” (Niall Horan, 2016) The song repeats the phrase “the words I never got to say”a perfect example of using got to meaning had the opportunity to. The interactive activity below gives students practice using get to in conversations about visiting places that have famous landmarks they hope to get to see. All the tasks in the activity lead up to Task #4, in which students offer information about their home countries and famous landmarks there. On the day I field-tested this activity, all of my students were from Mexico, but from different parts of Mexico, and they were eager to describe famous landmarks in their particular region–a museum, pyramids, etc.–and to use those places and landmarks in the dialog. This activity is highly recommended.

get-to-worksheet.docx          get-to-worksheet.pdf

  • “You Gotta Be” (Des’ree, 1994) This song repeats the title phrase 37 times. Follow up with the exercise below, which gives students practice pronouncing “I’ve got to” as “I gotta” in informal spoken English. If you use Azar and Hagen’s Basic English Grammar, this exercise is a nice follow-up to the exercises on have to and has to beginning on p. 388 in the Fourth Edition.

gotta,docx          gotta.pdf

  • “You’re Gonna Miss Me” (Anna Kendrick, 2012) A reference to whiskey in the lyrics may make this song inappropriate for some classes; otherwise, both the song and its YouTube video are classroom-friendly. (The video is highly recommended.) The song repeats the phrase you’re gonna 20 times. Please see the activity for “I’m Gonna Love You” above.
  • “When We Were Young” (Adele, 2015) Practice using the word like, which is used in the song to make a comparison 14 times. Permission is granted to reproduce the high-beginning interactive worksheet below for classroom use. If you use the Azar grammar series, you could follow up with the exercises on using like and alike in Basic English Grammar, pp. 473-474. For more activities to pair with this song, please see the Lesson Plans page.

    comparisons with like.docx          comparisons with like.pdf

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