Oct 21, 2012

Every Breath You Take

A classic collocation gap-fill activity

I don't why I haven't posted this earlier because this is my favourite song when it comes to introducing for the first time the idea of collocations to students and teachers alike. It is full of verb-noun collocations ranging from very common (take a step, play a game) to less frequent (stake a claim). Note that common collocations often involve delexicalised verbs (take, make etc) with wide collocational fields while less common ones usually involve more semantically charged words (stake) which collocate with a limited number of words (claim).

There are two versions in the handout below: the first version is the one I normally use with students, the second one is for teachers but can also be used with advanced students (C1/2).

The focus of the activity is not listening so with both versions the gap fill should be attempted before listening. To complete the gaps, students should draw on their lexical knowledge; some would probably know parts of the song by heart J

Version 1

You may have to clarify the following items:
stake a claim = say or show that you think something should be yours
break a vow = break a serious promise: make / take / break a vow
long for your embrace = want very much to hold you in my arms
fake a smile = pretend that you're smiling; also fake his own death, fake her signature

Version 2

In this version, all the missing words are verbs. No word bank is given. Ask students / teachers to complete as many gaps as they can before playing the song.

Download both versions HERE or preview below

A subtitled version of the music video can be found on MusicEnglish: http://musicenglish.co.uk/every-breath-you-take-by-the-police/

This activity always goes down well for me. Hope it works for you too.


  1. Thanks for sharing this, Leo! I just love the song. Will use this activity with some of my students very soon!
    I wish I just paid more attention to the songs, really..


    1. Hi Ann
      Good to have you here! Do let me know how it goes if you use it.

  2. Hi Leo
    This is terrific, thank you. I'm going to use it in my class this week.
    I'm just wondering why you have different words removed for the two versions? Why didn't you use the verbs in the first, student version?

  3. Hi Lesley
    Thank you for the comment.
    It's a good question. I think the reason is that I made the easier version first (with the words given) where all the gaps occur at the end of every line.
    I then decided to adapt the activity for teacher training workshops and wanted to make it more difficult. I thought having the same words gapped without any word bank would be too challenging so I changed it by gapping the verbs only.
    Very simple explanation here, no ulterior linguistic motives, I'm afraid - sorry to disappoint you :)
    Hope you enjoy the activity anyway!

    1. No disappointment :) I was just curious and thought I'd missed something I should know.

      I used this in class last week, with the easier version, but I wanted all the gaps to be verbs so I changed the final verse to take the verbs out like your teachers' version. After this experiment I think I would use your version next time - I think the final verse is a little different and the verbs are not such good examples of collocations with nouns. Also I think they are a little too easy and the other version with the endings as gaps would a little more challenging.

      The students enjoyed it as well as learning some useful verb-noun collocations. It was also a good segue into showing the students Lyrics Training - http://www.lyricstraining.com/ . Of course Lyrics Training texts aren't chosen for specific language points, but I take every opportunity possible to encourage independent practice and learning.

      One of the students managed to fill it all out without even having to think about collocations, as he knew the song by heart. He told me he saw 'The Police' live in Spain, way back when! :-)

      Cheers, Lesley

  4. I am glad you're experimenting with it :)
    Yes, the last verse doesn't have such strong collocations except for "lost without a trace" and possibly "feel so cold" I wouldn't consider "see your face" a collocation - it's just a free combination.
    Love lyricstraining too - probably more than my students. The main point there is practising listening, which is good too.

  5. Hi Leo,

    Just to let you know that we’ve shortlisted this blog post for this month’s TeachingEnglish blog award and I’ll be making a post about it on today’s TeachingEnglish facebook page http://www.facebook.com/TeachingEnglish.BritishCouncil, if you’d like to check there for comments.


  6. Thank you for making this available. I'm looking forward to using this activity with a group of learners and the link to musicenglish looked promising but, unfortunately, I wasn't unable to acess anything other than a log in page. Angela

    1. Hi Angela
      Thank you for your comment and for alerting me to the problem with Musicenglish. I don't know what's happened to it. I used it just a couple of weeks ago and it was fine. I'll try to contact Richard Creswell (the man behind the website) and tell him about the problem.


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