“Tom’s Diner”

Suzanne Vega, 1987

The song “Tom’s Diner” is loaded with verbs in the present progressive (als0 called present continuous) tense, and the lyrics are easy to understand. If you’re looking for a song to supplement a lesson on the present progressive tense, “Tom’s Diner” is a great choice.

Choose from the following activities, for levels high beginning and up:

  • Listening Listen to the song (the 1987 Suzanne Vega a cappella version) while reading the lyrics.
  • Listening Listen to the song (the 1990 version) while reading the lyrics. (In the 1990 version, she doesn’t sing the last two verses of the song.)
  • Post-Listening Complete the worksheet below, which is based on present-progressive sentences in the song.

pres prog ex.docx          pres prog ex.pdf

  • Post-Listening Practice the present progressive tense (as well as pronouns) with the chant below. For the first four verses, you could have half the class ask the questions, and the other half  answer. Permission granted to reproduce for classroom use.

waiting chant.docx          waiting chant.pdf

  • Post-Listening Write sentences in the present progressive tense. On the Facebook page for Songs and Activities for English Language Learners, Kathryne Lyons suggested this follow-up activity: For homework, she had her students pretend they were sitting in a public place (restaurant, library, park, etc.) and write their observations in the present progressive tense. 
  • Post-Listening Watch the music video featuring Britney Spears. (The Spears music video does not have all the the present progressive verbs of the Vega version, and it has an added verse. It works best as the “grand finale” of the lesson.)

Note: In a blog post in the New York Times, Vega tells the story of writing “Tom’s Diner.”