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Let the Music Play

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image via sites.psu.edu

By Jennifer Unger

Confucius stated, “Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.”  Who am I to argue with this great philosopher?  As a teacher of English, I have always used music when I teach poetry.  I always start the unit by asking, “Who likes poetry?” There are always a few hands in the air (mostly girls who compose their own love poetry to their current crush).  I then ask, “Who likes music?” Amazingly, almost all hands are voraciously waving and wanting to share their favorite artists and titles. Then I hit them with the realization that music is indeed poetry, so those who love music, love poetry.  I go over the poetry devices and show them a slide show of examples in songs.  As a first assignment, I ask them to bring in the lyrics to one of their favorite songs (school appropriate, of course).  In pairs they are given a list of poetry terms and definitions.  They are then to annotate the song identifying at least five devices in their pieces.  We continue to use music as we work through the poetry unit.  They will look at a narrative poem and a narrative song (such as Hazard by Richard Marx- I try to use songs from  my heyday) in order to find voice and other commonalities.  They also find a poem and a song that share the same theme (e.g. Finding strength from within) and create a digital project explaining how both works support the theme using text evidence and images.

Poetry lessons are perfect connections with music, but after spending most of my hall duty saying, “Take your headphones off, please,” I recognized that students spend so much time listening to music, and I hate to quash the things they are passionate about, so I have been using it more and more in my other units.  Some of the examples in which I have used music are:

  • Create a soundtrack for a novel – Students must burn a CD with the songs.  They must hand write their justification for each selection and find art work for the cover.  We listen to the CD in class later as we work on other assignments. I have made copies of some of these that I jam out to in my car.
  • Theme lesson– Students find three songs from different genres (country, pop, rap, Broadway etc.) which share the same theme.  They need to put the lyrics in   presentation and write an explanation of how each share the same idea in different ways.   I like that this exposes students to forms of music that they may not be familiar with.
  • Personal “go to” songs-Last summer I used Edmodo with my English 10 Honors. Every two weeks they were given a different topic/assignment to tackle.  One assignment was to write about their “go to” song.  They identified their song and what it meant to them.  Students were asked to listen to some of the choices and respond positively to two other students’ posts.
  •  Character “go to” songs– After reading a piece of prose, students are asked to choose at least three characters and identify what they believe would be a good song which the character would listen to if possible.  They write a justification for choice.
  • Music video- students create a video entitled, “Dear Me.” It is a letter that they write, and then narrate, to their middle school selves with advice and support to the person they used to be.  They must choose a song to play in the background that would fit the mood of the piece.

jenn1Example of album cover art

jenn2Example of playlist

These are just some of the ways I have taken their love of one form of art and connected it to another form.  I have had such luck and love with these assignments.  Students take great care in their work and the other students enjoy listening.  It doesn’t seem all that amazing that these lessons work.  People from the beginning of time have turned to music as a way to celebrate, teach, relax, and praise.”Where words fail, music speaks.”- Hans Christian Anderson.

WVCTE is wondering…
Is music part of your class? What creative ways do you connect students’ love of music with literature? Would these activities work with your classes? 
Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!

Jennifer C. Unger teaches English 10 inclusion, English 10 Honors, Speech and Broadcast Journalism at Spring Mills High School in Berkeley County, WV.  This is her 17th year of teaching.  She values being able to teach her students new ideas and introduce works of literature for them to dissect.  Her favorite part of the job, though, is learning new things from her students. Her favorite parts of life are her daughters, Kylie and Katie. She is treasurer of the newly formed WVCTE. 

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