“I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free”

Nina Simone, 1967

This song became an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S.

Because of the complexity of the grammatical construction repeated in the song (wish + a verb in the past tense), it works best as a teaching tool for levels intermediate and up.

Choose from the following activities:

  • Pre-Listening Practice expressing wishes about the present with the construction wish + a verb in past tense. The worksheet below is for levels intermediate and up.

     wish worksheet.docx          wish worksheet.pdf

  • Listening Listen to the song while reading the lyrics below, with the phrases beginning I wish in boldface.(There is an official video, audio only, on YouTube.)

I Wish I Knew, lyrics.docx          I Wish I Knew, lyrics.pdf

  • Post-Listening Listen to the song again while filling in the missing phrases. This cloze exercise targets the construction wish + a verb in the past tense.

I Wish I Knew, cloze.docx          I Wish I Knew, cloze.pdf

  • Post-Listening Practice the construction wish + simple past to make a wish about the present by playing the Memory Circle game. 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!)
  • Post-Listening Talk about where you would go if you could fly. Structure the discussion with the activity below.

if you could fly activity.docx          if you could fly activity.pdf

  • Post-Listening Read a story with the theme “I wish I knew how it would feel to be free.” If you use the True Stories reading series, you could follow up with “Together Again” (Unit 14 in True Stories in the News), about a Cuban fighter pilot who escaped from Cuba in a military jet. Story 14 in More True Stories Behind the Songs, “Twelve Kilometers to a New Life,” is about East Germans who escaped to the West in a hot-air balloon and would also be a good choice.