Talking about regrets lesson plan: unreal past

This lesson plan encourages students to use unreal past in the context of talking about regrets, using wish and if only. The idea for this mini-lesson came from a great video to a great song by an awesome band: Eels and their Mistakes of My Youth. The clip is pretty literal and lends itself perfectly to some grammar practice using wish and if only when talking about regrets.

The Task

Start by brainstorming what people usually consider to be the mistakes of their youth (getting married too early? / postponing education? / not being social enough ?/ partying too much?).

Before you watch the video ask the students to imagine the main character is 70 today and looking back at his teenage years depicted in the clip. Is there anything he might regret? They should come up with 7 sentences using wish / if only.

After you’d checked their sentences, you might want to spend some time discussing whether it’s true that people tend to regret the things they didn’t do more than those they did.

I sometimes watch the video without the sound to allow better concentration (with teenage students listening to the song serves as a reward at the end of the class).

For more grammar lessons see this one about adverbs and this one about using will.

For more unreal past practice see the lesson about using wish and if only.

Personal Experience

I really enjoy using music videos in class and this is probably one of my personal favourites. It helped my students to grasp the idea of “unreal past” and got them thinking and talking about the meaning of making and evaluating choices. It allowed creativity and personalization while still being to the point grammatically. Suitable for both adults and teenagers.


Eels Mistakes of My Youth


  1. Wow! Tomorrow I am going to discuss “I wish/If only” with my B1-2 group. Your lesson plan is a real godsend! I’m sure they’ll enjoy our classes:) Thanks a lot!

    • Awesome! I personally really like this class and I think it helps students wrap their heads around the concept of “wish”. Hope it goes great!

  2. Hi Gosia! I just wanted to recommend another music video that works great in an esl classroom. I’m 99% percent sure you know the song and the video, but just in case I’m wrong: you have to check out Beyonce – If I Were a Boy : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWpsOqh8q0M
    As the title implies, its an awesome introduction to the second conditional + the song/video lends itself to some nice discussion on man / woman roles. Cheers!

    • I know and like this video a lot! You’re right, it’s great for both grammar and discussion. I’ve used it with groups who only start learning about conditionals (usually pre-int) and I think the video really helps to grasp the concept of unreal present. Thanks for reminding me about this one!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *