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.


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.