Pinball Wizard – Listening and tenses

This idea came to me in class during a CAE class when students didn’t identify the phrase “ever since”.  The song came to my head and as i ran through the lyrics I thought to myself, it might make a decent listening lesson, so let’s see if it does!

The advantages of doing songs are well catalogued, but in my experience some teachers don’t like them, and I think that is ok, you have to be comfortable with what you teach.  For students though I think songs can give them something a bit different, they break the routine of class and prove a memorable example of language points.

The procedure is below and the accompanying worksheet shouldn’t be too hard to follow.

Aim: To highlight different tenses used to talk about the past

Level: Int +


Pre listening: A talk about talent and abilities, e.g. innate talents / being gifted etc.


1.  I am sure you have lots of listening activities you do as standard, so feel free to go for one of them.  I would either:

  • chop up lines and get them to put them in order
  • do a gap fill
  • pick out words and ask them to say in which order they heard them

Language focus:

1. Recognition

ask students to underline examples of these different tenses:

  • Past simple
  • Present Perfect
  • Present simple
  • modal talking about the present
  • modal talking about the past

I’ve highlighted some examples for the students on the worksheet.  The students may get confused by ‘has got’ used informally instead of ‘has’.  Also, ‘aint’, which is here used to mean ‘has not’.

If you can use an IWB you can show this

2. Function:

For me without this, there is no point in looking at grammar, so here is a quick matching exercise.

2.1 Ask students to match these functions to the uses they have highlighted.

  1. an experience in the past with no time phrase
  2. present ability
  3. A prediction about the past
  4. an activity in the past that continues now
  5. a completed event in the past
  6. a fact

*Answers on page 2 of the worksheet.

2.2 Ask students if they can think of a synonym for ‘has to’

3. Ellipsis

Ask students if they can find examples of where language has been omitted and why they think this has happened?


  1. “Never seen him fall” – I’ve never seen him fail.
  2. “Always playing clean.” – He is always playing clean

Ask students if the effect of this is to make it formal or informal?  Here it makes it more informal.

4.1 Vocab from context

Ask students to do the exercise on page 3 (answers below)

  1. A place where you can play pinball – amusement hall
  2. Trusts his feelings / instincts – intuition
  3. Numbers – digit
  4. Very good (slang) – mean
  5. Flexible – supple
  6. Things that take away your attention – distractions
  7. Sounds – buzzers / bells
  8. Followers – disciples

5.1 Follow up discussion

  • How do you think the singer of the song feels? Why?
  • Is there someone you know who is super talented at something?  Are you jealous of them?


  • Song – easy to find online if you don’t own it
  • Worksheet: worksheet

Follow up

This is a bit of fun, but could work with some students.

Below is a link to an online pinball game, ask students to play and write a 100 word review of the game, saying what they thought of it in comparison to other games they have played, and if they would recommend it.  Focus them on the production of the tenses seen earlier, e.g. the most boring/best thing I’ve ever done / Yesterday I played ___ which was ____ etc.

One thought on “Pinball Wizard – Listening and tenses

  1. Pingback: The Cure (Pictures of You) – Present Perfect Continuous | textploitation

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