4 Songs for Teaching the 4 English Conditionals

Bits of music

The Conditionals

When we think about all of the grammar points that we have to teach, what would you say is the one that you dread most?

Now, I’m sure there are those among you who’ll say it’s the passive voice, while there are others out there who’ll swear it’s modal verbs. However, I’m willing to be that most of you are just like me in always having to draw a deep breath when the time comes to deal with the many weird and wonderful conditional sentences.

Let’s face it, the challenges of dealing with the form of each of the four main conditionals is nightmare enough (something is, something will be, something would be, something would have been), never mind getting on to the somewhat subtle differences in function from one conditional to the next (I attempt to deal with some of the trickiest things in the follow up to this post).

After many years of trawling through conditionals-focused grammar lessons, I’ve come up with quite a list of ways not to go about it! These aren’t the focus of today’s post, though. One extremely painless, fun and motivating way of ‘doing’ conditionals is through music. For this post, I’m delighted to be joined by Paul Mains from Language Trainers Online. Here are some suggested songs for presenting each of the four conditionals, one suggestion from me and one from Paul for each type (no, we’re not dealing with mixed conditionals today, sorry!).

Paul’s Zero Conditional: ‘Rain’ by The Beatles

The Beatles are one of my favorite bands for teaching English, as they sing slowly and clearly, and produce catchy melodies that students will remember (and regardless — they’re The Beatles!). The song Rain, in particular, is great for teaching the zero conditional, which describes general truths and scientific facts. (Note: if you’re wondering what they sing in the last line of the song, it’s simply “If the rain comes they run and hide their heads” played in reverse.)

Adam’s Zero Conditional: ‘Everytime’ by Britney Spears

She may no longer be the queen of pop, but dear Britney still has many uses in the language classroom, and exemplifying the zero conditional is one of them!
The form: We construct the zero conditional like this: if + simple present, simple present

“If we heat water, it boils.”

“When a tree crashes to the ground, does it make a sound if no one is around to hear it?”
Adam’s lyrics to analyze:

Every time I try to fly / I fall
Every time I see you in my dreams / I see your face
Paul’s lyrics to analyze:

If the rain comes / they run and hide their heads
When the sun shines / they slip into the shade
Adam’s First Conditional: ‘Time after Time’ by Cyndi Lauper

This is probably one of the most iconic tunes of the 80s, with unforgettable lyrics that make it perfect for teaching the first conditional, which expresses future events that have a decent chance of occurring.

Paul’s First Conditional: ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now’ by Simply Red

An emblematic song of the 80s, the bluesy tune of If You Don’t Know Me By Now is catchy and memorable. And it has a conditional form in its very title, so it should be clear why it’s ideal for teaching the first conditional, which expresses future events that are likely to happen. It’s also good for teaching some idiomatic expressions of time, such as “by now” and “never ever”.
The form: We form the first conditional like this: if + simple present, will + main verb. (the notion of futurity can also be expressed using ‘be going to’)

“If it rains, I won’t go shopping.”

“If the train comes late, we’re going to miss our connection.”
Adam’s lyrics to analyze:

If you’re lost / You can look and you will find me
Paul’s lyrics to analyze:

 If you don’t know me by now / You will never ever know me
If you’re enjoying this post, you might also want to take a look at my follow up; 4 songs for dealing with tricky conditional structures.
Adam’s Second Conditional: ‘One of us’ by Joan Osborne

This is an absolute classic from the 1990s and really takes me back to my early twenties! What’s more, this is a good song to use when teaching the second conditional, which is the conditional we use to talk about hypothetical or near-impossible situations.

The form: We construct the second conditional like this: if + simple past, would + base verb. (“would” is often shortened to a contraction, such as I’d or she’d. Other modal verbs, such as could and should can take its place, too.)

If I won the lottery, I would buy a Ferrari and a yacht.
Adam’s lyrics to analyze:

If God had a name, what would it be?
If God had a face, what would it look like?
Paul’s lyrics to analyze:

If I were a boy even just for a day / I’d roll out of bed in the morning
If I were a boy / I swear I’d be a better man
If I were a boy / I would turn off my phone

Adam’s Third Conditional: ‘If it hadn’t been for love’ by Adele

The third conditional is every teacher’s nightmare to teach, as it involves three auxiliary verbs, and is thus incredibly difficult for language learners. Fortunately, Adele is here to rescue us. This conditional seems so well suited to a lot of Adele’s musical catalog, as it focuses on situations that are impossible to change because they’ve already happened; despite what we may wish, we cannot change the past.
Paul’s Second Conditional: ‘If I were a boy’ by Beyonce

Who wouldn’t want an excuse to listen to Beyoncé during class? Her recent hit, If I Were a Boy, was so popular that it was officially produced and recorded in a Spanish-language version. Incidentally, it’s also a perfect song to teach the second conditional, which, as Adam noted, is used to talk about hypothetical or impossible situations.

Paul’s Third Conditional: ‘Come back, be here’ by Taylor Swift

The third conditional: the grandaddy of all conditional constructions. Indeed, the “regret conditional” deals with situations that are impossible because they’ve already happened, and alas, we cannot change the past. It involves a total of three auxiliary verbs, and is thus notoriously difficult for language learners. And for that reason, Taylor Swift’s light, gentle voice is a perfect way to lessen the blow.

The form: We construct the third conditional like this: if + had + past participle, would + have + past participle. (“would” and “have” are often shortened to a contraction, such as ‘I would’ve’. The can also be replaced by other modals.)

If I had seen him today, I could have told her.”

“If she had studied, she wouldn’t have failed that exam.”
Adam’s lyrics to analyze:

I never would have hitchhiked to Birmingham / If it hadn’t been for love
I would have been gone like a wayward wind / If it hadn’t been for love
Paul’s lyrics to analyze:

If I had known what I know now / I never would’ve played so nonchalant.
About my co-author for this post
Paul Mains writes for Language Trainers Online, a language tutoring service offering personalized course packages to individuals and groups. Check out their free online language level tests and other resources on their website or send Language Trainers a quick inquiry to find out more about their tailor-made lesson plans.

Source:

http://www.teachthemenglish.com/

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One comment on “4 Songs for Teaching the 4 English Conditionals

  1. Let’s add to the list Radyard Kipling “IF”, First Conditional. In the post music and grammar got combined. With this poem, Literature and grammar got together. Lovely, ain’t it?

    Liked by 1 person

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