If I Could Turn Back Time: 4 Ways to Use Pop Music to Teach Conditionals

If I Could Turn Back Time
4 Ways to Use Pop Music to Teach Conditionals

Devon Reeser
by Devon Reeser 108,819 views

Teaching conditionals is difficult for any ESL/EFL teacher, so try using an interesting subject matter to engage your students!

Here are four strategies to integrate pop music into your conditional grammar sessions. You can also use these as classroom breaks to keep reviewing these difficult tenses.

Try These 4 Strategies to Integrate Pop Music into Your Conditional Grammar Sessions

  1. 1

    A Little Help From My Friends

    Differentiate between first and second conditionals, will and would, with a little help from the Beatles! Download the lyrics to “With a Little Help From my Friends”, pass them out to students, and play the song three times.

    • Ask them to circle all of the “wills” on the first pass. This is a bit tricky because they are used in contractions. Explain the grammar behind first conditional tense.
    • Play the song again and have them circle the “woulds”. Ask them what the difference is between will and would and explain second conditionals.
    • Play the song again and ask them to circle the “ifs”. Have them underline the verbs in the if clauses and discuss how past tense is used in those conditional cases.
    • You can also play the song a fourth time asking them to circle the “coulds”, and explain the difference between can and could.
  2. 2

    If I Could Turn Back Time

    Use Cher to explain second conditional if clauses! Pass out the lyrics to “If I Could Turn Back Time” (or just the chorus).

    • Before playing the song, explain “if I could, I would” conditional clauses and their grammatical structure.
    • Then, play the song and deconstruct the conditional phrases.
    • Use the song as a launching point for a conversation class or quick writing assignment to ask students about regret. Ask, “If you could change something you did in the past, what would it be?
  3. 3

    Would Have, Could Have, Should Have

    For a homework assignment, ask students to find song lyrics in English that use “would have, could have, or should have” third conditional constructions. This is a particularly difficult verb tense because of the number of auxiliary words, but song lyrics integrate it often in simple speech and are hence a good teaching tool.

    • Have a computer hooked up to the Internet ready, and pick a few of the students´ songs, look for them on the Internet, and play them to discuss for the entire class.
    • You can help them by giving them starter search words like “would have been” and “could’ve loved”. Give a different search term to each student.
  4. 4

    I’ll Be There…

    This lyric is used in a plentitude of pop songs and is perfect for teaching first conditional tense while simultaneously ingraining a commonly used English idiom! Favorites include:

    • Bon Jovi’s “I’ll Be There for You”, which uses multiple first conditional phrases as well as second conditional. Pass out the lyrics and have the students pluck out the “I’lls” and the “whens”, and then explain how the singer’s action is conditional on the action of his lost love.
    • Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There” is a good song for teaching the principle of first conditionals without using obvious connector words. The song is entirely conditional, but it does not use many “whens” or “ifs”. Rather, it is more subtle. Have students pick apart the language and figure out which are the conditional clauses.

    Use one or two songs in class, and then ask students to find their own “I will be there” song on the Internet and pick apart the conditional clauses for homework! You can discuss their songs at the next class.

Conditionals can be challenging to understand grammatically, but songs can really help your teaching as they use a complicated grammatical structure with simple words that emotionally relate and engage your students.

Try some of these suggested songs and activities to break up your class and reinforce the conditional concepts!

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