A musical game to teach English irregular verbs

Suzanne L. Medina, California State University, Dominguez Hills

Quick Guide

  • Key Words: Music, English irregular verbs, games
  • Learner English Level: Pre-intermediate and higher
  • Learner Maturity Level: Elementary to adult
  • Preparation Time: Moderate
  • Activity Time: Four 45-minute classes
  • Materials: One copy of Skater's Irregular Verb Waltz (Figure 1) for each student, overhead transparency of song lyrics, overhead projector, rectangular table

Irregular verbs can be a source of frustration for many ESL learners as memorizing long lists of verbs is a boring and tedious process. Unfortunately, there are no shots or pills that will facilitate the process. There are alternatives, however. Here is a strategy that will not only liven up the process, but actually improve the students' memory retention of English irregular verbs.


Duplicate Skater's Irregular Verb Waltz song lyrics for all class members; Prepare overhead transparency of song lyrics; Set up overhead projector.


Class 1

Step 1: Place the "Skater's Irregular Verb Waltz" song lyrics on an overhead projector (Figure 1).

Step 2: Teach students the meanings of the base forms of the verbs first. Do four verbs at a time. First say the verb (e.g., bend) then act it out. Repeat this process for the three base verbs that follow.

Step 3: Call on four student volunteers to come to the front of the class.

Step 4: Call out a verb then have the students act the verb out to demonstrate their ability to comprehend it. Continue in this fashion, yet at a faster pace.

Step 5: Try having students act out two verbs simultaneously.

Step 6: Call on another group of volunteers to follow your commands.

Step 7: Repeat the process in Steps 1 and 2 using the next cluster of four verbs and a new group of student volunteers. Repeat this process until you have taught the base forms of all sixteen irregular verbs.

Class 2

Step 1: Place the song lyrics on the overhead.

Figure 1. Lyrics to "Skater's Irregular Verb Waltz"

Skater's Irregular Verb Waltz
bend bent bent
lend lent lent
spend spent spent
send sent sent
bleed bled bled
feed fed fed
lead led led
read read read
creep crept crept
keep kept kept
sleep slept slept
sweep swept swept
hang hung hung
sting stung stung
string strung strung
swing swung swung

Copyright © 2000 by Suzanne L. Medina Lyrics originally appeared in Medina's (2004) Singing English Irregular Verbs (Los Angeles: Forefront Publishers) and have been printed with permission.

Step 2: Hum the melody of the "Skater's Waltz." If you are unfamiliar with this melody, ask a friend to hum it so that you can record it and play it for your class. Encourage the students to do the same or simply listen.

Step 3: Pointing to the verbs on the overhead, sing the lyrics to the melody of the "Skater's Waltz." Encourage students to join you. Do this several times.

Class 3

Step 1: Post the song lyrics on the overhead projector.

Step 2: Sing the song several times with the students.

Step 3: Ask females (or half of the class) to sing the first and third verses and the males (or other half of the class) to sing the second and fourth verses.

Class 4

Step 1: Sing the song with the class. This will help to refresh their memories prior to playing the following "Musical Table Slap" game.

Step 2: Distribute Xerox copies of the song lyrics to all class members.

Step 3: Have the students sing the song while consulting their lyric sheets.

Step 4: Immediately after they sing one of the base forms (e.g, spend), raise your hand to indicate that students should stop singing. Students should not sing the remaining words.

Step 5: Ask students, "What comes after spend?" The students will answer, "spent, spent." Practice this several times.

Step 6: Select nine students and organize them into three groups.

Step 7: One member of each group should stand facing a table located at the front of the room. All should stand approximately ten feet away from the table. The remaining team members should line up behind their team member. See Figure 2.

Figure 2. Set-up for Musical Table Slap game

Team 1 member Team 2 member Team 3 member

Step 8: The class sings the song again.

Step 9: Stop the singing immediately after one of the base verb forms. The team representatives who can recite the missing verb form run to the table and slap the table's surface. The first one to slap the table top says the verb form. If correct, one point is awarded to that team. If incorrect, the opposing team has an opportunity to provide the missing verb form and score a point. If this answer is also incorrect, no point is awarded for the round. Each team member then goes to the end of their team's line.

Step 10: With new team members at the front of each line, lead the class in song as you did before. Stop and start the singing in order to allow team members to score points. After a few rounds, replace the teams with other students from the class.

Step 11: Compute the points that each team has earned and declare the winning team of the irregular verb table slap game.


Actually, by using this approach, all students are winners. By playing this musical game they memorize the verb forms and are tested on their recall of them. All the while, students remain engaged, active and motivated.

Note: This strategy is based on activities found in Medina, S.L. (2004). Singing English Irregular Verbs: Teacher's Edition. Los Angeles, CA: Forefront Publishers. For additional information regarding this book and the accompanying CD, contact the publisher at www.forefrontpublishers.com