The Cure (Pictures of You) – Present Perfect Continuous

This is quite a short one. I am a big believer in using music in the classroom but I like to use snippets of songs. I’ve always felt that if you use the whole song, you very often end up with students who hate the song. But, if you listen to one or two verses, they might go off and listen to it themselves.

If you would like to try other lessons using songs or snippets of songs, you could try:

  1. here
  2. or here
  3. or even here
  4. or maybe here
  5. Orrrrrrr…here
  6. Or finally, here
  7. …or here

I really like this song as they used present perfect continuous when I feel present perfect would have worked just as well. It’s the perfect opportunity for students to consider why someone might choose one over the other. The continuous aspect really conveys the singers emotion and emphasises how long they feel these actions have been going on for.

Having recently seen the wonderful Danny Norrington-Davies at the ELT Ireland conference, I have decided to take his approach to the grammar for this lesson. I have asked the students why the writer has used the Present Perfect Continuous and I want them to go beyond “It’s an action that started in the past and continued to the present and is still continuing”. I want to hear about the emotion that is being conveyed.

I’ve been looking so long at these pictures of you.

That I almost believe that they’re real.

I’ve been living so long with my pictures of you

That I almost believe that the pictures are, all I can feel.


By the end of the lesson, the students will be more aware of the emotion that can be conveyed through the present perfect continuous.

Time: 1 hour (max)

Level: Intermediate and above





  • T should fold the handout in half so that sts cannot see the lyrics.
  • T instructs sts to discuss the opening questions in small groups and then feeds back as a class.
  • This is a nice opportunity to look at language to discuss music. I’ve included “Taste in music” but I think others will emerge naturally e.g. “I’m not a fan of” “It’s not for me” “I’m not really into X music” “I’m more of a X person”.


  • T plays the opening 2mins of the song (or as much as they feel is necessary) and instructs sts to listen and consider the questions at the beginning of the listening section.
  • Sts discuss in pairs.
  • This is a nice opportunity to introduce the chunk “It makes me feel X” or “It sounds (like)”
  • T tells the students that this is a song by The Cure and it is on Youtube if they would like to listen to the whole song. Today, they are just going to listen to about 10 seconds of it and they will be using it for both grammar and pronunciation.
  • T plays the first verse (starting at about 2mins 35) and instructs sts to write everything they hear in the empty box. T replays the first verse 2-3 times and sts write down whatever they hear. After each play, give sts time to check with partners.
  • T instructs sts to unfold their handout and check their answers. Sts should circle any words they didn’t hear / heard incorrectly.
  • This is a wonderful chance for some listening skills reflection. Encourage sts to reflect on what / why they didn’t hear it. Was it:
    • because of the music? They will often have music in the background when listening. Is there anything they can do to help them in this situation?
    • because of the accent? What in particular surprised them? Focus on these words/phrases and drill them.
    • because of the vocabulary? Which words were new?
    • because of weak forms and connected speech? See Pron focus section

Language Focus

  • T directs sts to the language focus section (putting extra importance on the third question). Sts discuss the questions in pairs. T moves around and helps where necessary.
  • At this point you will find sts regurgitating a Raymond Murphy style explanation of the present perfect continuous. Try to discourage this and encourage sts to think why the writer chose to use this tense. 
  • T gives the sts a post-it note and asks them to write down their answer to the third question. T collects, places them on the board and gets sts to crowd around the board in their pairs and discuss the suggestions. They should choose their favourite answer.
  • While they are still standing, discuss their ideas as a class.
  • You are looking for something like: The writer wants to convey that they feel these actions have been ongoing for a long time. They want to emphasise the time over the action. Their emotions are being conveyed through this tense. The writer could have used present perfect as well but it would not have conveyed the same emotion and would have highlighted the action instead.

Pronunciation Focus

  • T moves to the pronunciation section and replays the song to allow sts to decide how “been” and “can” are pronounced.
  • Sts have often been encouraged to pronounce “been” with /i:/ but in natural speech it is closer to /bIn/. “Can” becomes /kən/. Drill the chunks as a class, correcting where necessary. 


  • Sts write their own version of the lyrics below, either keeping the song as a sad one or perhaps changing it to a happier one. Sts make a choice on which tense to use.
    • you can either play the song and they all sing their versions together for fun.
    • or you can get sts to read them out and practise the pronunciation.


Writing lesson based on a song

Sat listening to my ipod one day, this song came on and I started thinking as I heard the opening, hmmm, this could be a lesson on letter writing, it has taken a bit of time to properly come to fruition, but now here it is, ready to go.

Like some of our other lessons, this was born out of a frustration with teachers doing wonderful things with songs, gap-fills, questions on feelings, what the song meant,  but then moving onto a completely different thing.  Leaving language left untouched and with no real follow up exercise.  I have tried to do that a little here.

  • Time: 90 minutes
  • Level: High Int +
  • Aim: To raise your students’ awareness of register
  • Sub aim: highlight conditionals


  1. Paperback writer lyrics by the beatles – easy to find online
  2. Worksheet register
  3. Worksheet Language focus
  4. Answers


1. Listening: Cut up the song lyrics before the class and then do it as a listening exercise to order the lyrics, a lighthearted bit of fun and a good way to practice listening.  (Feel free here to change this exercise and if you have good ideas let us know!)

You can do either stage two or three next depending on your main focus and also pre-existing knowledge of register in your class

2. Introducing the main aim: Ask students to think about the lyrics of the song and ask them if they notice anything about them, put them in pairs for this.  Then if they haven’t found it, highlight “Dear Sir or Madam”.  Ask the students where they would normally find this.  Ask students in what situations they may have to write letters / emails.

3. Register: Ask them if they know the word “formal”.  if they do, ask for examples of formal language.  Ask them to look at worksheet 1 and complete gaps 1-9.  Check in pairs and then as a class Then ask them to complete the missing two sentences.

4. Language focus: Go through worksheet two.  Feel free to change the order.

5. Homework: Ask students to write a reply to the letter either agreeing to publish the novel or turning it down.

Cats in the Cradle (Listening + Pronunciation, the inexorable link)

Once upon a time I worked in a school and I thought I taught my students how to listen in English. Oh, I gave them wonderful advice such as: listen to the radio every day, watch DVDs in English, listen to people on the bus and tube…all of it utter rubbish if I do not give them the tools to actually decode what they hear, if I don’t prepare them for what they’re going to hear, which was probably why my students did absolutely awful in all of their listening tests but great in everything else. I wasn’t equipped to actually teach listening, the forgotten skill. Then I discovered John Field and developed a little crush on him and his book and I actually started trying to teach my students to listen.

The following lesson gives you some ideas of how you can start doing this. It’s based on three simple assumptions:

  1. If students don’t know something is possible, they WILL NOT HEAR IT! Have you ever learnt a word in another language and then suddenly started hearing it everywhere? It’s probably unlikely that people all of a sudden started using the word more often, it’s much more likely that because you no knew it was possible, you were able to hear it.
  2. If we don’t let students know how words/phrases will actually be pronounced in the real world, they will not understand them. English language learners will often build their sentences one word at a time, however, as native speakers we speak in chunks and use connected speech. By raising our students’ awareness of this fact, they are much more likely to understand an English speaker.
  3. Skills lessons need to involve one of more reflection stages. As teachers we have a tendency to be very sneaky and practise lots of different sub-skills in one lesson but if we don’t actually raise the students’ awareness of what they’re doing and how it can be applied to their real life, it’s all for nought.

Age: teenagers – Adults

Level: Pre-intermediate upwards.

Time: 90mins – 3hours (depending on your choice of activities)



  1. Opening discussion questions: do you use English songs to learn English? What makes them difficult? Are there any negative points to using songs? – Aim: to get students thinking about how helpful music can be / to address any worries they might have about songs containing “bad” English / to raise awareness of the fact that songs often contain spoken English.
  2. First listening: Play the first 26 seconds of the song as a dictation. Prepare students by telling them it will be difficult but to write any word they hear and not to worry as they will hear it a number of times. Play this section as many times as you like, allowing the students to compare with each other after each play.
  3. Focus on weak forms: Hand out the lyrics and ask students to check their answers. Ask them to compare with a partner and to circle the words they didn’t hear. In pairs, discuss which words they heard and which they didn’t hear, and why that might be. – Aim: to raise students’ awareness of the fact that in English, content words are pronounced in their strong forms and very often the “grammary” words around them are weak forms. 
  4. Focus on weak forms 2: Students listen to the first verse again and listen out for how the words they didn’t hear were actually pronounced. As a class discuss the difference between how students expect the words to be pronounced and how English speakers will pronounce them. – Aim: to raise awareness of the schwa and it’s prevalence in weak forms. 
  5. Practice: Students look at the chorus and, in pairs, mark where they think there will be schwas and weak forms. Students then listen and check. Afterwards they discuss whether or not they were correct and if they were able to hear the weak forms at all. – Aim: to put into practice what students have noticed and to show improvement. 
  6. Raising awareness of context and prediction: Play the 2nd verse for the students without any discussion or preparation. Ask them to fill in the gaps. Afterwards ask them how they did. They probably won’t have done very well. Tell them that what you did was very unfair and you really should have allowed them some time to prepare.
  7. Preparation: Ask students to reread the song so far, discuss the story, check what types of words could fill the blanks and what tense any verbs would be. As a class, get a list of three to four possibilities on the board for each space. Replay the second verse and students can check their predictions. (Note: I would be surprised if anyone short of upper int or advanced got the first gap – turned – but if they got the meaning and said anything like came or became or was, you can highlight the fact that it’s not important to hear every word as long as you understand). – Aim: to show the importance of preparation. 
  8. Put it into practice: Direct the students attention to the next verse and ask them to do the same as before. Prepare to listen. Students will undoubtedly do much better this time when you play the verse. – Aim: to show improvement
  9. Reflect: ask students to discuss why they understood the 3rd verse more easily than the 2nd. Ask them if any of the skills they have talked about today could be put into use in their daily lives. – Aim: To encourage students to apply their skills in the real world.
  10. Engage with the text: Play the whole song for the students. Afterwards ask the students to discuss the story of the song, whether or not they liked it and to write one sentence outlining the message behind the song.
  11. Optional follow-up activities: See the materials above for optional vocabulary and grammar activities that can be done in class or for homework.