Grammar + Songs

Songs can be an effective way to introduce or reinforce a grammar topic. Click on the topics below for companion songs and activities.

(In a blog article posted Oct. 4, 2016 at AzarGrammar.com, I list some of the benefits of using songs to teach grammar that I’ve observed in my own classroom.)

Adverb Clauses in the Song “Baby, I’m Yours”
Comparisons with Like
Gerunds as Objects of Prepositions
Gerund or Infinitive after begin, start, continue, like, love, hate, can’t stand
Get to Do Something
Gotta: Informal Spoken English for Got To
I’ve Got It and I’ve Got ‘Em
Participial Phrases
Reflexive Pronouns
Used to + a Verb in the Simple Form
Wanna: Informal Spoken English for Want To
Wish + Simple Past: Making a Wish About the Present

Verb Tenses:
Future with Gonna: Talking About the Weather
Future with Gonna: Talking About Plans
Future with Will: Offering to Help
Future with Will: Making Promises
Present Perfect: It’s Been vs. It Was
Simple Past: Changing Verbs in the Simple Present to the Simple Past
Simple Past Verbs in the Song “And We Sang La Da”
Simple Past Verbs in the Song “Because You Loved Me”
Simple Past Verbs in the Song “The Castle on the Hill”
Simple Past Verbs in the Song “Lost Boy”
Simple Past Verbs in the Song “This Town”

 

  • Adverb Clauses in the Song “Baby, I’m Yours”
    Level: High Intermediate and Advanced
    Pair with the Song: “Baby, I’m Yours” (Arctic Monkeys, 2006)

The lyrics cloze exercise below targets the many adverb clauses beginning with the word until in the song. If you use the Azar grammar series, you could use this song to accompany Chapter 17 of Understanding and Using English Grammar.

Baby I’m Yours, cloze.docx          Baby I’m Yours, cloze.pdf

  • Comparisons with Like
    Level: High Beginning and Up
    Pair with the Song: “When We Were Young” (Adele, 2015)

In the song “While We Were Young,” Adele uses the word like to make a comparison 14 times. (It was just like a movie, It was just like a song, etc.) The interactive worksheet below offers practice with this construction. Permission is granted to reproduce 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, Fourth Edition, 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

  • Future with Gonna: Talking About the Weather
    Level:  High Beginning and Up
    Pair with the Song: “I Can See Clearly Now (Johnny Nash, 1972; Jimmy Cliff, 1993)

In informal speech, gonna is often used instead of going to in future-tense sentences. (It is important to tell students that gonna is not used in writing; it is the way going to is pronounced. It is also important to stress 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.) The song “I Can See Clearly Now” repeats the refrain It’s gonna be a bright sunshiny day many times. In the activity below, students practice using gonna when talking about the weather forecast. Permission is granted to reproduce for classroom use.

gonna activity.docx          gonna activity.pdf

  • Future with Gonna: Talking About Plans
    Level: Low Intermediate and Up
    Pair with the Song: “I’m Gonna Love You” (Meghan Trainor, 2015) or “When I’m Gone” (Anna Kendrick, 2012)

In informal speech, gonna is often used instead of going to in future-tense sentences. (It is important to tell students that gonna is not used in writing; it is the way going to is pronounced. It is also important to stress 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.) The song “I’m Gonna Love You” repeats the phrase I’m gonna 21 times; the song “When I’m Gone” repeats the phrase you’re gonna 20 times. The Moving Line activity below gives students multiple opportunities to practice this construction. First, ask several students, “What are you gonna do after class?” (or this evening, this weekend, tomorrow, etc.) to model the exercise and make sure students understand how gonna is used. Then 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.

  • Future with Will: Offering to Help 
    Level: Beginning and Up
    Pair with the Song: “One Call Away” (Charlie Puth, 2016)

The future-tense construction I’ll + a verb in the simple form is used when offering to help (usually spontaneously) and making promises. In the song “One Call Away,” this construction is used in the line I’ll be there to save the day (repeated four times), which is both an offer to help and a promise. The interactive worksheet below focuses on making offers to help. 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

  • Future with Will: Making Promises
    Level: High Beginning and Up
    Pair with the Songs: “I Will Remember You” (Sarah McLachlan, 1999); “One Call Away” (Charlie Puth, 2016); “Can’t Buy Me Love” (Beatles, 1965); “I Will Always Love You” (Whitney Houston, 1992)

The future-tense construction I’ll + a verb in the simple form is used when making promises. The songs “I Will Remember You” and “I Will Always Love You” repeat the title phrase, which is a promise, many times, and the song “One Call Away” repeats the promise I’ll be there to save the day four times. Part 1 of the interactive worksheet below gives students practice making promises. Part 2 is slightly more challenging; it asks students to evaluate promises (all beginning with I will) that people make when they get married. It prompted a lot of interaction and laughter in my class of adults in their 20s and 30s. Permission is granted to reproduce for classroom use. For more activities to pair with “I Will Remember You” and “One Call Away,” please see the Lesson Plans page. For more activities to pair with “I Will Always Love You,” please see True Stories Behind the Songs, Unit 6.

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

Another song that  uses will + a verb in the simple form to make promises is The Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love” (I’ll buy you a diamond ring, I’ll give you all I’ve got to give, etc.). The lyrics cloze exercise below focuses on this construction.

can’t buy me love, cloze.docx          can’t buy me love, cloze.pdf

  • Gerund or Infinitive after begin, start, continue, like, love, hate, can’t stand
    Level: Intermediate and Up
    Pair with the Song: “7 Years” (Lukas Graham, 2015)

In the song “7 Years,” the songwriter sings, “I started writing songs. I started writing stories.” The verb start belongs to a group of verbs that can be followed with either a gerund (I started writing songs) or an infinitive (I started to write songs). The interactive worksheet below gives students practice using this group of verbs.

infinitive-or-gerund.docx         infinitive-or-gerund.pdf

  • Gerunds as Objects of Prepositions
    Level: Intermediate and Up
    Pair with the Song: “Hello” (Adele, 2015)

In the song “Hello,” Adele repeats the line I’m sorry for breaking your heart three times–a perfect example of using a gerund (breaking) as the object of a preposition (for). First, have students watch the Talking Heads video at AzarGrammar.com, which explains how gerunds work. Then have them complete the worksheet below. 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

  • Get to Do Something
    Level: High Beginning and Up
    Pair with the Song: “This Town” (Niall Horan, 2016)

The song repeats the phrase “the words I never got to say” twicea perfect example of using got to meaning had the opportunity to. The interactive activity below gives students practice using get to + a verb in the simple form 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

  • Gotta: Informal Spoken English for Got To
    Level: Low Intermediate and Up
    Pair with the Songs: “You Gotta Be” (Des’ree, 1994) or “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” (The Animals, 1965)

In informal speech, got to is often pronounced gotta. (It is important to tell students that gotta is not used in writing.) Also, the ‘ve is often dropped in I’ve, you’ve, they’ve, and we’ve, as in the songs “You Gotta Be” and “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.” The interactive exercise below appears to be simple, but there are layers of understanding behind it: Students need to know that I’ve got to means I have to or I need to, and then understand that gotta is substituted for ‘ve got to only in informal spoken English. For this reason, the activity may not be appropriate for lower levels.

gotta.docx          gotta.pdf

  • I’ve Got It and I’ve Got ‘Em
    Level: Low Intermediate and Up
    Pair with the Song: “Can’t Stop the Feeling” (Justin Timberlake, 2016); “My Girl” (The Temptations, 1965)

The song “My Girl” repeats the phrase I’ve got seven times. The song “Can’t Stop the Feeling”  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 worksheets 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, when traveling to Wisconsin, or when traveling to Hawaii. (These worksheets are 3 versions of the same activity–going over a checklist. I use the worksheet that’s most appropriate for the season and students I’m working with.)  Permission is granted to reproduce for classroom use. Accompany the worksheet with this activity: Distribute common items (a comb, a pen, a magazine, etc.) to students, one item to each student. Ask students, “Who has the _________?” (For example, Who has the comb?) The student who has the item answers, “I’ve got it” and gives it back. For more activities to pair with “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” please see the Lesson Plans page.

picnic.docx          picnic.pdf

packing-list-Wisconsin.docx          packing-list-Wisconsin.pdf

packing-list-Hawaii.docx          packing-list-Hawaii.pdf

  • Participial Phrases
    Level: Low Intermediate and Up
    Pair with the Songs: “Don’t Stop Believin’” (Journey, 1981) or “She’s Leaving Home” (Beatles, 1967)

There are three worksheets on participial phrases, all leading up to a lyrics cloze exercise, as well as a game for practicing participial phrases, in the lesson plan for the song “Don’t Stop Believin’,” which has 12 participial phrases. Two of those worksheets, as well as a lyrics close exercise, are included in the lesson plan for the song “She’s Leaving Home,” which has 8 participial phrases.

  • Present Perfect: It’s Been vs. It Was
    Level: High Beginning and Up
    Pair with these Songs: “See You Again” (Charlie Puth and Wiz Khalifa, 2015); “Here Comes the Sun” (George Harrison); “A Change Is Gonna Come (Sam Cooke, 1963)

The song “See You Again” repeats the sentence It’s been a long day without you, my friend, “Here Comes the Sun” repeats the phrase it’s been a long, cold lonely winter, and “A Change Is Gonna Come” repeats the sentence it’s been a long time comin’. Point out the use of the present perfect tense (it’s been) to describe a situation that began in the past and continues into the present, contrasting it with the use of the simple past (it was). Because the worksheet below focuses on just the expressions it’s been vs. it was, it can be used for levels as low as high beginning. Permission is granted to reproduce for classroom use.For a broader activity, go to AzarGrammar.com for the Chapter 4 intermediate-level worksheet submitted by the teachers at Edmonds Community College titled “Past vs. Present Perfect.”

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

  • Reflexive Pronouns
    Level: Low Intermediate and Up
    Pair with the Song: “Love Yourself” (Justin Bieber, 2015)

The song “Love Yourself” repeats the reflexive pronoun yourself eight times. First, have students watch the “Talking Heads” video at AzarGrammar.com, which explains how reflexive pronouns work. Then have students complete the worksheet below. 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

  • Simple Past: Changing Verbs from Simple Present to Simple Past
    Level: High Beginning and Up
    Pair with the Song: “I Will Remember You” (Sarah McLachlan, 1999)

The song “I Will Remember You” invites lessons on both the the simple future and the simple past tenses. (For an exercise using this song to teach the simple future, please see Future with Will: Making Promises.) The worksheet below, “Remembering You,” focuses on the simple past. First, students describe themselves in present-tense sentences. Then their partners change those sentences into the past tense, forming descriptions descendants might use to describe their great-grandparents. Permission is granted to reproduce for classroom use. For more activities to pair with this song, please see the Lesson Plans page.

remembering you.docx          remembering you.pdf

  • Simple Past Verbs in the Song “And We Sang La Da”
    Level: High Beginning and Up
    Pair with the Song: “And We Sang La Da” (Cynthia Chitko, 1996)

This song’s clear, straightforward lyrics and slow tempo make it ideal for language learning. But the big bonus is that the song tells a story using 16 verbs in the simple past tense—6 regular and 10 irregular. (The irregular past-tense verbs are: were, couldn’t, caught, drove, fell, heard, said, saw, sang, and stood.) Below is a chart of the verb forms followed by a lyrics cloze exercise targeting the verbs. You can listen to the song at Reverbnation (click on “all songs”) and purchase it from iTunes.

And We Sang La Da, cloze.docx          And We Sang La Da, cloze.pdf

You could follow up by handing out paper and markers and asking 12 student volunteers to illustrate these lines in the song:

  1. I drove up to your house.
  2. I saw the lights were on,
  3. And so I parked my car
  4. And walked up to your door.
  5. As I stood outside,
  6. I heard your voice.
  7. And we sang La Da.
  8. You looked out your window, your face full of surprise.
  9. You opened the door
  10. And pulled me in.
  11. As I caught the look within your eyes, you caught the look in mine,
  12. And we fell into a dance across the floor.

As you play the song, the student artists come forward when they hear the line they illustrated. Holding their drawings in front of them, they line up in the correct order.

i-heard-your-voiceIf you have the ability to project documents in your classroom, you could play the song again while projecting the students’ drawings on a screen one by one, creating an impromptu musical slide show. This created a lot of interest and chuckling in my class, as the drawings were short on finesse (but big on creativity!).

  • Simple Past Verbs in the Song “Because You Loved Me”
    Level: High Beginning and Up
    Pair with the Song: “Because You Loved Me” (Celine Dion, 1996)

If you’re looking for a song with lots of verbs in the simple past, it doesn’t get much better than this one. It has 19 past-tense verbs, 5 regular and 14 irregular. (The irregular verbs are: was, were, brought, could, found, gave, had, held, let, lost, made, said, saw, and stood.) Below is a chart of the verb forms and a lyrics cloze exercise targeting the verbs. The verbs are repeated throughout the song, so students will write the past-tense forms a total of 66 times.

because-you-loved-me-cloze.docx          because-you-loved-me-cloze.pdf

  • Simple Past Verbs in the Song “The Castle on the Hill”
    Level: High Beginning and Up
    Pair with the Song: “The Castle on the Hill” (Ed Sheerhan, 2017)

This song has 13 verbs in the simple past tense, 5 regular and 8 irregular (was, broke, found, got, had, left, lost, and made). Below is a chart of the verb forms and a lyrics cloze exercise targeting the verbs. For more activities to pair with this song, please look under the heading “Lesson Plans” on the navigation bar.

castle-cloze-past.docx          castle-cloze-past.pdf

  • Simple Past Verbs in the Song “Lost Boy”
    Level: High Beginning and Up
    Pair with the Song: “Lost Boy” (Ruth B., 2016)

This song has 14 verbs in the simple past tense–7 regular and 7 irregular. (Irregular past-tense verbs are: was, came, had, hit, said, saw, told.) Below is a chart of those verb forms followed by a lyrics cloze exercise targeting the verbs. For more activities to pair with this song, please see the Lesson Plans page.

Lost Boy, cloze.docx          Lost Boy, cloze.pdf

  • Simple Past Verbs in the Song “This Town”
    Level: High Beginning and Up
    Pair with the Song: “This Town” (Niall Horan, 2016)

This song has 6 verbs in the simple past tense–1 regular and 5 irregular. (Irregular past-tense verbs are: were, got, met, saw, and thought.) Below is a chart of the verb forms followed by a lyrics cloze exercise targeting the verbs. This song can also be used as a springboard to practice the construction “to get to do something.” (It repeats the phrase the words I never got to say twice.) An interactive worksheet is on this page under “Get to Do Something.”

this-town-cloze.docx          this-town-cloze.pdf

  • Used to +  a Verb in the Simple Form
    Level: High Beginning and Up
    Pair with the Song: “Somebody That I Used to Know” (Gotye,)

The song “Somebody That I Used to Know” repeats the title phrase nine times. Follow up with a Draw-Write-Share Activity. (Please see Activity #3: Class Discussion on a Song’s Theme for more on the Draw-Write-Share concept.) 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.

  • Wanna: Informal Spoken English for Want To
    Level: Low Intermediate and Up
    Pair with the Songs: “Something Just Like This” (The Chainsmokers and Coldplay, 2017) or “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (The Beatles, 1963)

These songs repeat the contraction wanna—a pronunciation of want to that is rarely included in grammar books or practiced in the classroom but is common in informal spoken English. The interactive exercise below gives students practice using the contraction in short dialogs with a friend. Permission is granted to reproduce the activity for classroom use. (This activity, though simple, is not recommended for beginning levels; students should be rock-solid in the use of want to before trying this pronunciation.) You’ll find more lesson plan ideas for the song “Something Like This,” as well as links to suggested music videos, under “Lesson Plans.” The official music video for “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (a TV performance) is recommended.

wanna for want to.docx          wanna for want to.pdf

  • Wish + Simple Past: Making a Wish About the Present 
    Level: Intermediate and Up
    Pair with the Songs: “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” (Nina Simone); “Stressed Out” (Twenty-One Pilots, 2016)

The construction wish + simple past is used to make a wish about the present; that is, to express the idea that we want a present situation to be different. The song “Stressed Out” repeats the construction ten times (I wish I had a better voiceWish we could turn back time, etc.), and Nina Simone’s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” uses it nine times. The worksheet below gives students practice with this construction.

wish worksheet.docx         wish worksheet.pdf

Follow up with the Memory Circle game. First, choose one of the sentences below and have students complete it in writing.

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!)

For more activities to pair with this song, please see the Lesson Plans page.