Grammar revision with a music video: 4 ideas

The aim if this class is for your students to revise a number of grammar points: using narrative tenses, modal verbs, third conditional, and wish/if only to express wishes about the present and the past. The lesson is based on the music video to the song Shot at the Night by The Killers. It is suitable for levels upper-intermediate, advanced and students preparing for Cambridge exams.

The Task

Introduce the video briefly and ask your students to brainstorm some ideas what it might be about. I simply told mine that it is a story about a boy and a girl set in a big city. They came up with several ideas concerning the plot and the location (obviously, a love story was their first guess but I refused to confirm or deny anything). Play the video.

#1 Retell the story: revising narrative tenses

The first option is to use the video as a story students need to retell. It works really well as a revision of narrative tenses and helps students wrap their heads better around the often overly complicated concept of Past Perfect.

While they watch: ask your students to write down as many actions they see in the video as possible

After they have watched the video, elicit up to 5 actions from your students and put them on a timeline to establish the order in which they happened. Elicit words that will help you establish the order of events such as first, next, then, meanwhile, as soon as, after, before,while, finally etc.

Together with your students, try to put the timeline into words using appropriate tenses to retell the story. Any cases of Past Simple and Past Continuous used in one sentence? Any cases where Present Perfect could be used?

Students try to write a short paragraph on their own using the rest of the verbs they wrote down.

Twist: ask your students to retell the story from the point of view of one of the characters in the video.

#2 What happened before and after: revising modal verbs and ways to speculate about the past

The ending of the video is open to interpretation and  creates a perfect opportunity to imagine what happened to the characters afterward. Was it just a one-time encounter or did they meet again? Since we know nothing about the characters’ background (although there are some hints about the girl’s interest in music), we might also try to speculate about the events leading to the night depicted in the vid.

While they watch: ask your students to write down some adjectives they would use to describe each character and think about what kind of people the characters might be (+ justification)

See what adjectives and ideas your students have about the characters. This stage of the lesson resembled writing a plot for a TV series. According to my students, the girl was shy and not self-confident, came from a broken home with family problems and had to make a living doing a job she hated, while secretly dreaming about a career in music. The boy was wealthy and a bit of a douche, he had powerful parents who financed all his wild adventures but also pushed him to have a successful professional career in finance. He was having the last big night out in Las Vegas before starting his first big job his dad got him.

Ask your students whether they know any of this for sure and establish that you are about to merely speculate about the lives of the characters. Elicit some example sentences:

  • The girl probably was  from a poor family.
  • The boy must have had rich parents because he was able to afford a night at a luxurious hotel.
  • The girl might have played in a band before she started working at the hotel.

Now, ask your students how they think they story really ended. Did the girl and the boy part ways forever on the roof of the hotel? Did they ever meet again? Brainstorm several different scenarios, and, again, see whether your students can use different ways to speculate:

  • Maybe they met again by accident.
  • They might have exchanged numbers and planned to meet again.
  • I think they probably never saw each other again and forgot about this night soon after.

Students choose what they want to focus on; the day before or after the one depicted in the video and come up with a short paragraph describing their ideas.

#3 Cause and effect: third conditional

Stop the video at 1:47 and take a look at the scene where the girl almost runs the boy over with her car. Elicit some possible reasons: she was tired / she was thinking about her job / she was distracted by the lights etc.

Write on the board: She wouldn’t have almost hit him with her car if she…. and see whether your students can finish the sentence correctly. Check their understanding of this conditional sentence: when did this situation occur? Is it in any way related to the present?

Ask your students to watch the remaining part of the video and pay attention to similar cause and effect moments. Their task is to write down at least 3 more sentences / 3 more ideas they will then transform into conditional sentences.

Some examples my students came up with include:

They wouldn’t have met again if the guy hadn’t been looking for some ice (2:10)

The blonde girl wouldn’t have gone out with them if the other one hadn’t loaned her a nice dress (2:34)

The boy would have won some money at the casino if he had known what he was doing (3:08)

They would have got married if they had been drunker ( 3:34)

They would have kissed sooner if the boy hadn’t been so shy (3:45)

You can also make some more general sentences based on the whole clip:

The girl wouldn’t have worked at the hotel if she had been richer / if she hadn’t needed money to pay for school etc.

#4 Regrets and missed opportunities: wish/if only

After you have watched the video, ask your students whether they think this night will remain a positive or a negative memory for the main characters (yes, a lot of my students told me that for the guy the night was probably kind of boring because they didn’t end up having sex, which actually served as a memorable example sentence).

Ask your students to imagine they are the girl / boy thinking about what happened the night before.

Write on the board: Last night was great but…. and ask your students to brainstorm several ideas:

  • I didn’t take her number
  • we didn’t win any money
  • we didn’t have sex
  • the dress I borrowed was very uncomfortable
  • I spent so much money on gas

I prepared this visual for my class to model an example sentence:

I wish I had taken her number!

Discuss the tense used after wish and elicit more examples from your students (regrets about the past).








You can contrast the previous situation with this one:

Last night was great but today…

  • I have to work again
  • I am exhaustedI wish I had taken her number!
  • I am going back home
  • my boring life starts again

It is a good opportunity to revise expressing wishes about the past and present.





Personal Experience

I enjoy using music videos with my students  (the story! new vocabulary! speaking prompts!) and I have been waiting to find a useful application for this one for quite some time. I thought I would first try to use it with my teenage students who complained they didn’t understand the grammar they were learning at school and needed it for the exam. We spent two lessons working solely with the video and these 4 grammar points (I am pretty sure they won’t be listening to this song anytime soon!) plus dealing with a lot of general language doubts. They seemed to have grasped these concepts quite well and I credit this video clip and its plot with helping my teens get there.

I have been using some of these ideas with other students when discussing different contexts in which certain grammar points could be used and a lot of them admitted that seeing a story unfold helps create a context for some structures they wouldn’t otherwise know how and why to use.

Are there any music videos you would use in your class to practice/revise grammar, writing or speaking?

Take a look at some grammar activities:



  1. I’ve been going over past modals with one of my classes, and this will be good for them – plus they didn’t really get third conditional when we went over it early in the year, so this could be some good review, clearing up any doubts. Then, I haven’t done much storytelling, so this kind of goes over everything I’ve been wanting to do. Thanks a lot!

    • Hi Chris, I’m glad to hear this idea fits so well with what you’ve been working on with your students. I hope it goes well. I liked the storytelling angle as well and it was also one of the first times I attempted something of this kind. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  2. Interesting ideas. Thanks. Can’t wait to try with my students. I’ve used the Aretha Franklin song “I say a little prayer” when teaching simple present to Elementary and Pre-Intermediate groups. The song is slow and also has present-continuous which helps to set progress from the former to latter.

  3. Brilliant use of narrative tenses and 3rd conditional. What a fun way to introduce these topics. Thanks so much — you saved me hours of work. Cheers!

  4. I’m subbing a quite apathetic class tomorrow and will use this lesson plan. It looks super attractive and dynamic. Hope it works!

    Thanks a lot. A teacher from Argentina 😉

    • Hi Camila,
      I know the pain of working with less than enthusiastic students, but it also feels great to see them engaged. I hope the class goes well. Please, let me know whether the ideas worked.
      Greetings from Poland! 🙂

  5. This is such a great lesson plan and a wonderful song to go with it too! Thank you so much, I have a speaking lesson tomorrow and will use it <3

  6. Wow, that’s an amazing and very creative idea! Going to use it for my class! Thank you so much! It’s brilliant! Such a great grammar revision based on such a cool video! Applauding the creator of this lesson plan!

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