Posted 12/1/11

Written by Irving Berlin in 1932, How deep is the ocean? is a great song for English teachers. It consists of 10 questions, each of the type How much, How high, How many, How far, etc.
  • Language level: Pre-intermediate (A2) +
  • Learner type: Young learners; Teens; Adults; CLIL
  • Time: 45 minutes
  • Activity: Grammar drill
  • Topic: Science
  • Language: ‘How + adjective’ (How deep, how high, etc); Question forms
  • Materials: Song
How deep is the ocean pdf [downloaded 3517 times]

Lesson plan outline

For this activity you will need a version of the song How deep is the ocean? The song was written by Irving Berlin and has been recorded by artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Etta James, Ray Charles, Diana Krall, Eric Clapton, and many others. Use YouTube or a similar media-sharing site to find a version of the song that you like. For example:

  1. Tell students that they are going to hear a song that consists entirely of questions. Tell them that their task is to count the number of questions that they hear.
  2. Play a single chorus of the song and let students count the questions.
  3. How much do I love you? I’ll tell you no lie.
    How deep is the ocean?
    How high is the sky?
    How many times in a day do I think of you?
    How many roses are sprinkled with dew?
    How far would I travel to be where you are?
    How far is the journey from here to a star?
    And if I ever lost you, how much would I cry?
    How deep is the ocean?
    How high is the sky?
  4. Let students compare the number of questions that they heard.
  5. Give out copies of the Song Worksheet (included in the PDF download). Students will now be able to identify the 10 questions. In the case of disputes, point out that there are 10 question marks.
  6. Ask students to predict the missing words before they hear the song a second time.
  7. Play the song and allow students to check their answers.
  8. Ask students what type of word fits into the frame: ‘How _____________’ (Answer = adjectives) Elicit other similar questions that could be created for example:
    • How old is the universe?
    • How high is Mount Everest?
    • How long is a piece of string?
  9. Give out copies of the Grammar Drill worksheet (included in the PDF download). Ask students to match the answers on the left with the questions on the right.
  10. Let students compare answers before doing feedback (answers are included in the PDF download). Use this as an opportunity to drill the ‘how + adjective’ questions.
  11. Put students into pairs so that everyone has a drilling partner. Ask students to test each other’s spoken production of the 9 questions on the Grammar Drill worksheet. To do this:
* Student 1 should have a copy of the Grammar Drill worksheet in his/her hand but student 2 should not.
* Student 1 reads out a figure on the left hand side of the worksheet (e.g. 8,848 meters above sea level)
* Student 2 recalls, from memory, the question that the figure is associated with (e.g. How high is Mount Everest?)
* Student 1 (who has access to the Grammar Drill worksheet) should help student 2 with grammar whenever necessary.
* After all of the questions have been covered, students change roles.


  • Rather than giving out copies of the Song Worksheet, ask students to transcribe the lyrics to the song. Give control of the play and pause functions on the audio player to a student of your choice.
  • Instead of giving out the Grammar Drill worksheet, prepare a worksheet that contains a series similar of ‘How + adjective’ questions without answers. As a task (for homework, in the library, etc) ask students to find answers to all of the questions.

Follow ups

  • The song contains a juicy second conditional and can be used to introduce the structure (If I ever lost you, how much would I cry?)
  • The song can also be used to introduce the difference between much and many (How much do I love you?; How many times in a day?)

Image credits

The images used in this activity come from:

Posted 12/1/11

15 Responses to How deep is the ocean?

  1. James York says:

    Another extremely thorough lesson plan here Jamie, and one that appeals to multiple age ranges/levels. Thanks for sharing!

    p.s. Congratulations on the new website. I absolutely love it!!

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  3. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thanks James. Really glad you like it. There’s lots more to come =)

  4. Marian says:

    Excellent song for Q formation. Many thanks for the recommendation, but, most importantly, many thanks for sharing all those great ideas with us AND in such great form!
    All the best,

  5. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thanks Marian. Thanks for the support =)

  6. Nadia says:

    Hi Jamie,

    From an English teacher to another English teacher: my hats off to you! I wanted to suggest a card game for how questions that I have been using for ages and which is always lots of fun for students. Let me know if you are interested.
    Keep up the good work.

  7. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank you Nadia :-)
    Did you think of sending your lesson plan idea to Onestop English? If they liked it, they might offer you something for it (I would just steal it!)

  8. Nadia says:

    Hi Jamie,

    Here’s how the card game works (thanks for the tip about Onestopenglish by the way): you have to prepare a deck of thirty-two cards (per group of four students) with two sentences written on each card such as:
    You want to know the distance between London and Amsterdam.

    Buckingham Palace contains 600 bedrooms.
    The student who has that card must make the HOW question using the indications given by the first sentence (How far is London from Amsterdam?) Another student will have the answer (it’ll be the second sentence on his own card), will read loud and then will have to make the question using the indications contained in the first sentence on his card. And so on. It’s a chain activity where everybody has to make questions and provide the answer when they hear the corresponding question.
    Hope I was clear enough. Let me know please.

  9. lost says:

    I’m doing an article to find out if students enjoy songs instead of course book in a grammar/vocabulary lesson but I haven’t a clue on how to form the questionnaires. Would appreciate any kind of feedback thanks

  10. Jamie Keddie says:

    Hello Sheila
    Really not sure what to suggest. I always tell my students that the secret to a good questionnaire is to ask yourself the questions that you compile. That way you can see if they lead to good answers or if they are too vague, similar, etc.
    Also, there are good questionnaire compilers online like
    Good luck
    Jamie :-)

  11. Kit Johnson says:

    I tried this today with a group of intermediate learners. They went through it quite quickly but enjoyed it a lot. So thank you Jamie for yet another great lesson plan.

    One correction (which one of my sharp students pointed out): the correct spelling is ‘abyssopelagic’. It is mis-spelled on the ‘grammar drill’ handout.

  12. Jamie Keddie says:

    Hey Kit!
    Good to hear from you. Thanks for this. Glad you / your students like the activity.
    Don’t know what to do about the spelling mistake. I might just forget about it and hope that no one else notices. Is that sloppy?
    Jamie :)

  13. Kit Johnson says:

    I’ve used this several times in classes and it goes down a treat.
    I have a question about the grammar.
    Ask students what type of word fits into the frame: ‘How _____________’ (Answer = adjectives)
    I’m not sure about many and much. Are these really adjectives? My dictionary says they are determiners or pronouns.
    I’m asking because Thai students often say “How + adjective + of”, which is generally wrong. For example, “How long of your hair.” I’m trying to point out that it’s “How + adjective + verb”, but I’m stumbling on the adjective part, since many and much don’t seem to fit.

  14. Jamie Keddie says:

    Hello Kit
    Yes – you are right. ‘Much’ and ‘many’ aren’t adjectives and this is a problem here (my fault!).
    Whether they are adverbs or determiners, I don’t think that this metalanguage is very useful here. How about giving them the following:

    * How + adjective
    * How + much / many
    * How + often

    Sorry about the confusion!

  15. Kit Johnson says:

    Thanks Jamie for the reply. I’m not trying to be a grammar Jedi here – this has never been my strong point – but thanks for the clarification!