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How to Practice Simple Past Tense with a Song

If you love music and want to practice simple past, today I'll teach you how to do it, just like I do with my students.

There are endless options on how to work with a song. As a teacher, I'd first look for a great song. Then, I'd create fun activities that match my students' needs while we practice listening, reading, writing, and pronunciation. Would you like that? Today I'll show you one example with activities for three different levels: beginner, intermediate and advanced.

Let's begin! Imagine this is your English class. Have your phone/computer ready, pen and paper, and be ready to follow along!

1. Have the right song.

First: Focus on the genre you'd like, always having in mind the tense you need. For today's exercise, I know I should search for a song with verbs in past. If I don't know one yet, I'd google ESL pop songs simple past tense. Today I chose Who Knew by P!nk.

2. The first time around, just enjoy.

Second: Watch the video and listen. Nothing else. Just enjoy! For today's practice, watch this one by P!nk singing Who Knew:

3. Create a table depending on your target.

Third: Create a table with columns, filling them in with what you need to work on.

  • Beginner: Two columns: PRESENT - PAST (verbs).

  • Intermediate: Four columns: PRESENT - PAST - PAST PARTICIPLE - NEW WORDS.

  • Advanced: Two columns: PHRASAL VERBS - PHONICS.

Tip: You can always add as many columns as you want. For example, you could add NEW WORDS to the advanced table, or PHONICS to beginner and intermediate.

4. Second listening, complete the table.

Fourth: Listen and pause/rewind as needed.

  • Beginner: Play the song. Fill in the table by listening and watching a video that includes the lyrics or try only listening (first video or audio). When finished, fill in the blank spaces. For example, if you had added the verb in past were, then add its present (am/is/are).

  • Intermediate: Listen only, avoid subtitles! You can use the first video or just the audio. When finished, if there are missing spaces, fill them in. For example, let's pretend that under verbs in PRESENT you wrote forget. Then, you must write the past and past participle of this verb too (forgot-forgotten).

  • Advanced: Fill in the table by listening to the song. For example, under PHONICS you can add all the words with the /i:/ sound, like me and keep. When you finish, study your data. For example, look up for the phrasal verbs you don't know.

5. Use your table to practice writing.

Fifth: Use the collected information and create something new.

  • Beginner: Write 3 questions and 3 sentences using the verbs in past.

  • Intermediate: Write 3 sentences and 3 questions combining the verbs with the new vocabulary. Also, you could write to say if you liked it or not and why.

  • Advanced*: You'd write a paragraph explaining what the song is about or a story, using the phrasal verbs from your table.

6. Read and later sing along!

Sixth: Practice reading the lyrics. Once you've got a hang of it, try the karaoke! Please remember to pay special attention to intonation and pronunciation.


If you'd like to try any of this with other songs that contain past tense, here are some more:

  • Paradise by Coldplay

  • 7 Years by Lukas Graham

  • I Knew You Were Trouble by Taylor Swift

I hope it was useful! This could be done during class or a section assigned for HW. Remember there are many other activities, like filling in the blanks or having a conversation about the video/song/artist/genre. If you have additional questions or need something to be clarified, send me a message. I'm more than happy to help!


*ADVANCED: When done with the song, you'd also work with an interview. Here's P!nk talking with Helen about contracting coronavirus.

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