Author Topic: Intensively Reading a Song  (Read 1919 times)

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Offline Nathaniel Anleitner

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Intensively Reading a Song
« on: April 30, 2017, 08:23:27 PM »
When thinking about English, I like to think back to my experience being taught foreign languages and evaluate what aspects of the course I liked, what I didn't like, what I thought worked, and of course, what I managed to remember after that course ended. As I've mentioned on this forum before, one of my favorite assignments in beginning high school German involved translating a song- Du Hast, by Rammstein- from German into English. The process involved me googling the translation and looking back at the song and noticing what was similar and what was not, and the site I arrived at had a lot of useful information on the song. The song's title has a double meaning of "you have" and "you hate," and during the bridge of the song the lyrics turn to wedding vows.

I was wondering whether this sort of activity could be adapted into an intensive reading lesson- though perhaps without all of the googling! I think thoroughly picking through a song's lyrics has a lot of benefits. The thought that first comes to mind is that the meaning of the lyrics are accompanied by the message of the music, which could help give these words an emotional context. Additionally, relative to a page of text, a page of song lyrics doesn't contain as much content. Song lyrics usually has repeated motifs, like a chorus or simply a phrase that comes up repeatedly, maybe slightly tweaked. Du Hast especially exemplified this with all those du hast's. A song is a lot easier to intensively read than a piece of text, and the accomplishment of understanding an entire song might help learners with confidence in their ability to learn the language. A good song might get stuck in their head too, and the song playing over and over might help them get some practice with the language.

However, I definitely think there are some drawbacks as well. A song's lyrics don't follow the same rules of composition as papers or spoken language, so time might be better spent with examples of those uses of the language. Typically, English classes were created to teach those skills, not the analysis of song lyrics. For that reason, some students may also see this lesson as a waste of time, curious about how analyzing song lyrics is going to help them learn the language.

What do you guys think?

Offline JABRocky

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Re: Intensively Reading a Song
« Reply #1 on: May 01, 2017, 12:36:56 AM »
I've used songs for grammar/vocab/listening activities in the past but have never thought about adapting one for a reading/writing context. Neat idea! :D  I agree that a song can be a lot easier for students to read than a longer text because of how much shorter it is (depending on the song of course). I also still remember some songs I studied during high school French.  ;)

You mention several valid pros and cons to using a song in a reading/writing context. First to address your concern about songs not following academic writing conventions.. I totally agree that an activity about Du Hast or any kind of song would not work in an academic writing/reading class, but it could definitely work in any class that would be exploring fiction/poetry/short stories.

When designing activities, I generally like to start with what I want the students to get out of the activity and then scaffold backwards. I think the key things you will need to consider are:

  • Learner proficiency level
  • Learner culture/interest
  • Goals of lesson/class

I think there are a lot of different approaches you could take to creating your Du Hast song activity.

Here are a few ideas I had:
  • You could create a fill-in-the-blank type activity where students listen to the song and fill-in-the-blanks with the appropriate word. I did something similar in a previous class I taught with the song 'Every Breath You Take' by the Police where students had to listen for and fill in the phrasal verbs they heard.
  • You could also focus on a variety of grammatical features doing re-write style activity. You could have the students rewrite the song from a different perspective (we instead of you, change the tense from present to future, or opposites have -> don't have).
  • You could have the students try to construct some kind of narrative from the song lyrics. You mention that the chorus could be interpreted as wedding vows, so that could add an interesting dimension to the stories they come up with. Having students create a story out of the song lyrics could be a fun exercise in creativity.           
  • You could have the students write a response of some kind to the song. Perhaps a journal type response where they answer a prompt about how the song makes them feel or what they think the message of the song is.
  • You could have them do a comparison between the song lyrics of Du Hast and a poem about a similar topic to get them to start thinking about genre and style.
  • Also on the topic of genre, you could share songs from different genres (pop, rap, etc.) and have them compare another song to Du Hast and talk about music elements.
Hope this is helpful!

Offline Jiwah

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Re: Intensively Reading a Song
« Reply #2 on: May 02, 2017, 04:59:29 AM »
Thanks for the insightful post!

I would say actually disagree that song lyrics do not contain as much content as a page of text. Maybe in terms of pure letters, but "content" in the sense that is important is the "quality" of that content. And depending on the song itself, the genre, and what you would like students to focus on, I think that song lyrics can definitely be turned into an intensive reading lesson.

However, I also think that if the idea is to teach students prescriptive and academic English than maybe a song by rapper Lil Wayne would not be the best choice in music. But if one of Lil Wayne's songs was chosen, then the goal of the class would just have to change. Instead of it being an intensive reading lesson on academic English, it could be an intensive reading lesson on informal language used to express a lot emotion.

Therefore, I think that many songs would be valid choices for an intensive reading lesson, but the song and the teacher's goals would ultimately determine what kind of intensive reading lesson would be taught.