Archive for Song Use in the Classroom

Summer Songs: Week in Review

           Friday Dialogue from                

                                      Your Two Favorite Educators 

As Emily and Aubrey look back over the week they use their razor sharp wit to LMFAO vs. Foster the People.


1.  What value is there in examining trends, specifically music trends, in the English classroom?

What does Emily say?Emily:   I think they definitely serve to engage the students, but I’m not sure how much academic value there is.  I think it really depends on the complexity of the trend.  If studying music as a text it often isn’t rigorous enough to warrant replacing challenging pieces of literature.  However, I don’t think it is bad, I just question how much emphasis should be placed on trends.

Aubrey: I think studying trends of any kinds has a lot of classroom potential.  You do have to lead students.  They often look at these trends from very basic Is Aubrey right?levels and it’s not enough to simply say, “There’s always a summer which means we must like fun music.”  Maybe this is because I’ve read at least 300 articles about the art of the summer song but we have to help students discuss complexity and implication in pop culture.  They can’t get there alone.  

2.  What challenges present themselves when employing music in classroom lessons?

Emily: I know this is silly, but one challenge is balancing the time and the curriculum.  One thing I struggle with is how much time to devote to the music in the classroom and not the actual material.  Is it used only as a hook?  Does it play in the background when they are working? Do you play the 4-minute song and then analyze the song for 20 minutes? I think some teachers don’t know how to truly use songs in the classroom to aid student learning and instead devote too much time to songs because it aids student engagement.

Aubrey: It’s hard to find the time and often it makes me feel guilty.  And yes, a lot of us don’t actually do it well.  I remember using a lot of poorly chosen songs for hooks (i.e. The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” to teach Transcendentalism).  Sometimes they just don’t work.  Novelty can’t be the sole motivation.  

3.  Name your favorite summer song of all time.  Provide context as to why this is the song.

What does Emily say?Emily: I might be dating myself, but the best summer song of all time is–without a doubt–Will Smith’s “Summertime.”  I know it is old, but it is good.  So good.  There is an unwritten rule that forces people to roll down the windows and turn the volume up every time the song is heard.

This was going to be my song.  Now I am mad because you took it from and clearly I am old too.  

4.  Of all the parodies of Gotye and Carly Rae Jepsen which is best for classroom use?  Which one is your favorite?

Emily: This is tough because I love the artistry of the Gotye video, but I also love the catchiness of the Carly Rae Jepsen song.  I think for the classroom the Gotye video probably offers more opportunity for rich and deep analysis.  The song is rather complex because of the shifting viewpoints, but, more than anything else, the video represents a larger, more existential view of life.  I think it gives teachers more to work with.

Aubrey: Agreed.  Carly Rae is delightful but the Gotye video and parodies are the best.  I mean that bit about Puritans being boring from the College Humor video is hilarious even though I teach The Scarlet Letter and iambic pentameter.  

5.  Last summer, LMFAO or Foster the People?

Emily: Even though I would prefer Foster the People because I think the LMFAO guys are just so obnoxious, I think they probably took top prize because they just had so many songs on the radio.  Their hair is all kinds of horrible though.

Aubrey: You are wrong.  Foster the People stands alone.  Anybody that can make a song with semi-threatening lyrics seem catchy and singable is an evil genius.

Summer Songs: Defend, Challenge or Qualify

This week we’ve looked at the social/cultural implications of summer songs and the viral video “knock offs” they produce, and we’ve had fun.  I’ve watched College Humor’s “Some Study That I Used to Know” so many times that I’m starting to get dirty looks from the man that lives with me.  Once is funny.  Twice is humorous.  23 times is nothing short of some kind of personal psychosis.  Even I understand my infinite loop is a problem.  So how do we turn all of this pop culturally exploration into solid argumentation? And how do I stop listening to these songs?

Answering the second question is impossible so I’ll try question the first instead.  An excellent way to end a study of the songs of summer is to write a speech that defends challenges or qualifies.  You know we love UPENN’s 60-second lectures.  What could be better for a brief end of the year or start to next year.  I often like to ask students to write the side of the argument they find most difficult to discuss.

Ask students to use their essential questions (not about specific songs) or have them choose from a list that you create.


  • What does summer music suggest about values in American culture?
  • How does America’s love of pop music define us as a society?
  • Why do Americans feel compelled to define summer as carefree and wild?

Then have students construct their own speech.  Have them video these speeches and post them to Youtube or Tumblr or even Voice Thread.  It’s a nice way to keep them all in one place.  While you of course have to view them all, consider assigning several and evaluating them in class according to your own rubric.

You can also have students choose one of the songs in contention for Summer Song 2012 and write in defense of it. So, what about the contenders?  Vulture makes the case that there are five by the following artists: Gotye, Carly Rae Jepsen, Usher, Rhianna and Katy Perry.  Ask students to choose one of the songs and argue in writing or speech why it should reign this summer.  If you’re feeling tricky, instead ask them to pick a song, currently in rotation.

Elements to Consider Including for an In Defense of Speech or Essay

  1. Ask that they include certain rhetorical elements-anaphora, metaphor, allusion, etc.
  2. Ask that they draft a proposal for their speech (title, topic, description, etc.)
  3. Ask that they draft a speech.  Provide feedback on the speech.
  4. Discuss public speaking tips.
  5. Consider allowing students to evaluate and critique speeches when they are presented, with parameters, of course. You can do this by creating a simple checklist/rubric for students or asking them to SOAPSTone each speaker.  Offer several categories for winning:
    1. Most Convincing
    2. Cleverest Title & Topic
    3. Best Line

Songs of Summer: Viral Videos

I love the viral video.  More than that I love viral videos that parody and recreate pop songs.  Ah, the lip-syncing, the bad dancing, the crappy props.  Who can forget the soldiers in Afghanistan dancing to Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” in 2010?  I must have watched that for two days straight.

If you’re going to talk about potential songs of summer, you have to talk about the viral videos that accompany them.  It isn’t as if people (i.e. myself) haven’t been recreating songs with all the flourishes and dance moves since Michael Jackson’s Bad.  Thank God none of that was ever broadcast to the world.  Today, every video on YouTube has the potential to go viral.

If you ask your students they are the first to admit that they saw Justin Bieber & Selena Gomez’s homemade video of “Call Me Maybe” before they saw the Jepsen’s real video.  Ask them about the Harvard baseball team’s “take” and you’re bet to get most of them to laugh. Yes, the pop music, the song of summer is important but so too are the video “remakes.”

Now, imagine a whole class where you talk about the power of summer pop music coupled with viral videos.  Your students might think your crazy.   You might think you’re crazy.  Don’t worry, we’re here to help with all of that.

I’ve chosen two songs currently in contention for Summer Song.  Gotye’s “Somebody that I Used to Know” and Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.”  Don’t believe me?  Check out The Week’s list.  I’d trust them more than me, too.


First have students listen to both songs without any video. You can do that simply by playing their videos on Youtube with the video turned off.  As they listen ask that they write down basic observations about music, lyrics, rhythm, etc.  Their goal is to quantify what makes the song catchy enough to be a summer song contender.

Next, have them watch the parodies.  Their job isn’t to compare them to the original.  They aren’t the same.  Their job instead is to look at them individually to decide individual purpose and then big picture effect.  Have them formulate essential questions for each of the videos.  Choose the best ones and then ask that you discuss or write as a class.


Gotye Parodies-”Somebody that I used to Know”

 The Kobe that We Used to Know 


SNL-Digital Short 

For yourself checkout College Humor’s Some Study that I Used to Know.  It’s hilarious but borderline in terms of appropriateness for school.  


Carly Rae Jepsen Parodies-”Call Me Maybe”


Harvard Baseball 2012-”Call Me Maybe”


SMU Women’s Rowing 2012-”Call Me Maybe” 


The Tonight Show’s “with” Mitt Romney & President Obama

Also checkout NPR’s blog The Record for an entire post about covers, parodies and more.  The title is “Dudes Act Like a Lady: ‘Call Me Maybe’ Takes Over YouTube.


Want to do a language study instead?  Ask students to look at Vulture’s wordle of the most used words in the “it” songs of summer.  Ask them to first construct essential questions about the word usage itself and then use one of their level three questions to construct a paragraph argument.

Songs of Summer: Essential Questions

I’ll admit it.  I listened to Janet Jackson’s “That’s the Way Love Goes” on an infinite loop during the summer of 1993.  Keep in mind, infinite loop meant hitting the back button on a CD Walkman.  This statement dates me.  Right now my students are listening to Carly Rae Jepsen or One Direction. Last summer they were listening to LMFAO’s “Party Rock” and Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks”.  But Janet Jackson?  I’m not even sure they remember her wardrobe malfunction.

There’s something about a good catchy pop song, especially during the summer.  I can pinpoint exactly what I was doing while listening to the great ones (i.e. Whitney’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”) and the horrible ones (i.e. Los Del Rios’ “Macarena”).

Whether you find the “it” song of summer better every time it’s played or so annoying that you change the station, you know them and so do your students. It can be hard to find a topic, any topic that so vividly inspires debate in students as defending or defiling the summer song.

So make use of it.  With very little prep work you can listen to a little music, engage in a bit of critical thinking and ask students to create their own “essential” questions about how these summer music trends reflect upon our culture.

Below is a list of articles that highlight songs from past summers and predict this summer’s biggest hits.  Have students read or listen to several.  Then ask that they construct levels of questions for the best one.  The goal: identify big picture issues at stake when it comes to culture and the song of summer.

I’ve attached an easily modified Levels of Questions Model that uses the novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close as an example.  It’s an easy assignment to translate for any passage analysis, documentary film study, editorial, etc.  They simply need to have a model before they prepare their own level 1, 2, and 3 questions.

Articles: Songs of Summer

Articles fromNPR, The Washington Post, Vulture and Yahoo Music. 

Music in the Classroom: Songs of Summer

Memorial Day weekend is such a tease.  It feels like summer with its late nights, blockbuster movies, backyard cookouts and silent alarm clocks. But for those of us whose schools are in session until the middle of June, this holiday weekend is simply that—a long weekend.

Three and a half weeks of school still await me, and those three and a half weeks can be dreadful.  Even the best students, when finished with AP and state tests, can become belligerent.  And me?  I become belligerent, too.    Learn because I say so.  Read because I say so.  Enjoy – because I say so.

I’m not at my best as a teacher in June.  Exhausted and out of steam I feel locked in an unwinnable battle with a room full of 17-year-olds: people who up until this point had laughed at some of my jokes and at least attempted to do some of my assignments.

Testing in May makes teaching in June difficult.  That’s why this week we’ll talk about high interest end of the year lessons by revisiting music in the classroom.  But this time we’ll do it with a focus on popular culture, music and the ever innocuous “songs of summer.”

If your students are swooning over One Direction and humming “Call Me Maybe” this week’s lessons will help meet them halfway.  You won’t have to compromise all of the reading, writing and critical thinking skills you’ve tasked them with all year.  They’ll be able to talk about their favorite bands and popular music.  It might not be summer vacation, but we’ll get you as close as possible to the beach with summer music.

As a refresher take a peak at Emily’s posts from October 2011 about song use in the classroom.  They’re a good place to start.


Day One:  Overview of Songs in the Classroom

Day Two:  Creating a Literary Mash-Up

Day Three:  Ideas to Use Songs That Connect to Text

Day Four:  Tonal Shifts in Song Covers

Review of Songs in the Classroom


Song Use: Week in Review

                 Friday Dialogue from  

                                        Your Two Favorite Educators 

As Emily and Aubrey look back over the week they use their razor sharp wit to assess their innermost feelings about song use in the classroom. 


1.)    I know you are a big music buff and probably hated my guilty confession of having Bieber fever.  I think it is only fair that you describe one guilty pleasure you have with music.

Aubrey: You’re right I’m a music snob.  I like  the cowbell in Peter Bjorn and John’s “Gimme Some” as much as the next guy but guilty pleasure number one is Ke$ha.  I want to be her.   Who can resist: “Wake up in the morning feeling like P. Diddy?”   I never wake up in the morning feeling like anybody cool.  Sometimes when I’m at the grocery store I sing Tik Tok and shake it in the cereal aisle.  And by shake it I mean my finger as I point to other shoppers. Read more

Song Use: Day Four

One of the hardest things for students to identify adequately is tone.  Many of them are able to recognize what emotion is brought out in a text, but they struggle to explain how that is communicated.  Most of them default to content analysis by looking at the story that is told, which doesn’t necessarily speak to a firm understanding of the function of tone.  Because of this, teaching tone is greatly accentuated by the study of songs.  Through this, students are able to understand the tone more clearly because they can recognize the musicality of a piece.  The notion of using a song to teach tone isn’t new; however, today’s suggestion is to teach the distinguishing characteristics of tone through cover songs.  For example, view the below to videos.  The content doesn’t change, yet the two pieces have vastly different tones.

(a brief 15 second advertisement opens the clip)

Consider opening the class with these two videos (because everyone needs a little Jimmy Fallon in their lives) or providing them a commonly known song and playing them the lesser known cover, so they are able to see the striking difference.  There are plenty of websites that list popular covers.  My particular favorite comes from the New York Post and was written in 2007.  However, some of my personal favorites are…

Song Title Original Artist/Artist Who Covered
“It’s My Party” Lesley Gore/Amy Winehouse
“Tainted Love” Gloria Jones/Soft Cell
“Hazy Shade of Winter” Simon and Garfunkel/The Bangles
“Heart Shaped Box” Nirvana/Evanescence
“Since U Been Gone” Kelly Clarkson/Ted Leo
“Iron Man” Black Sabbath/The Cardigans
“Jolene” Dolly Parton/The White Stripes

Then, to move them into deep analysis of the tone, provide them musical terms and definitions.  Consider providing tempo, beat, staccato, cadence, allegro, dissonance, tremolo, dynamics, glissando, harmony, intonation, drone, intermezzo, instrumentation (specifically the difference in instruments used), mezzo, minuet, modulation, rhythm, forte, timbre, and trill.  These are terms that are easy to actually hear in a piece and translate well to literature.  Provide them with two copies of the lyrics and ask them to explore which musical terms are found within both songs.  Play the songs on loop several times so the students are able to get a full grasp on the way in which it is constructed musically.  This should prepare them to have a brief discussion of how the songs differ in tone.

While this is a fine lesson in and of itself, the real challenge comes when asking students to analyze the musicality of a piece of writing.  Transition to literary analysis by looking at the specific music terms and discussing how they translate to prose (for example, staccato might be seen in prose through words with only 1-2 syllables or short, choppy sentences).  Then, instead of asking them to analyze one piece, ask them to study revisions of the same work, thus comparing and contrasting two versions of the same text (much like their study of covers). For example, below is a copy of an original and a later draft Ernest Hemingway wrote about war.


Earlier Draft

I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, sacrifice and the expression in vain. We had heard them sometimes standing in the rain almost out of earshot so that only the shouted words came through and read them on proclamations that were slapped up by bill posters over other proclamations now for a long time and I had seen nothing sacred and the things that were called glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it. There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity. Certain numbers were the same way and certain dates and these with the names of places were all you could say and have them mean anything. Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates.


Later Draft

I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, sacrifice and the  expression in vain. We had heard them and read them now for a long time and I had seen nothing sacred and the only things glorious were the cavalry riding with lances and the clean oiled mechanisms. Things glorious had no glory and the sacrifices seemed like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it. There were many words that you could not hear and finally only the names of places had dignity. Certain numbers were the same way and certain dates and these with the names of places were all you could say and mean anything and they meant everything. Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were a little obscene beside the concrete names of places, the numbers or roads, the numbers of regiments and the dates.

The minute changes end up having a grave impact on the tone of the piece itself because it alters the audience and purpose.  There are also revisions of “The Gettysburg Address” and Walt Whitman’s poetry.  Their study of music should set them up to engage in a close, detailed study of the writing and give them more tools to utilize when reading a text.

Song Use: Day Three

As teachers, we love trivia nights, teen Jeopardy, and Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader, because, let’s be honest, we are smarter than fifth graders.  We build up these insignificant factoids about authors and texts in the hope that one day we will find ourselves plagued with an obscure question that no one really cares about, yet we feel compelled to give an answer because we are English teachers and these are literature questions.  In an effort to help, I’m going to provide a little known fact that might prove worthy the next time you watch a little Trebek.  Where did the band Aerosmith get their name?  In their autobiography a band member described how he was drawn to a title that incorporated the idea of an “aero” but, upon thinking of the name Aerosmith, had to convince his fellow band members it had nothing to do with the Upton Sinclair novel they had read (and apparently hated) in high school called Arrowsmith.  I’ll take “awesome” for $300, Alex. Read more

Song Use: Day Two

Besides being a Belieber, I’m also a gleek and have also spent an inordinate amount of ITunes downloading Glee music.  One day while stuck in traffic on the expressway listening to a Glee album when I came upon the mash-up of Beyonce’s “Halo” and Katrina and the Waves “Walking on Sunshine.” A mash-up is taking at least two different songs and “mashing” them together in a variety of fashions.  It can be achieved by taking the music of one song and pairing it with the lyrics of another or it could be taking the lyrics of two songs and mixing them—sometimes switching out stanzas or just a few lines.  Usually, there is a common theme that runs throughout a mash up.  While trying to calm down my impending road rage by listening to Glee mash-ups I was struck at the intricacies of the mixture, which made me think about how similar the process is to what we ask students to do every day:  synthesize material into one cohesive, fluid, yet meaty response. 

I began thinking about how I could ask my students to take existing material and mash it together to create a new product.  This lesson could be taught with a variety of topics and a variety of pieces; however, I used it to teach principles of Puritan poetry.  Students had been assigned to read and answer comprehension questions about one specific puritan poem (there were five total).  Then, the next day in class, we began by listening to a mash-up from a DJ known as Girl Talk and brainstorming the techniques utilized in creating a mash-up.  His mash-ups are so unique because of the wide variety of music, genres, and beats he incorporates into each mash-up.  Below is a breakdown of all of the various songs used to create one of his mash-ups called “What It’s All About.”  The diagram speaks to the highly sophisticated mixing that is occurring. 

After writing the list of techniques on the board, students were then jigsawed into groups of five with each of the five poems included.  They were tasked with creating a new and improved Puritan poem, using the lines from the existing poems they had studied the night before.  I gave them the following perimeters:

To be true mash-up it must…

  • Include lines from at least 4 separate poems from the ones assigned
  • be at least 12 lines long
  • effectively “mash” the poems, not just lift stanzas
  • have a theme that links the lines together into one cohesive mash-up


1.)    Each person in your group will read their poem to the group and then provide a summary of it.

2.)    Then, begin thinking about common themes, ideas, strands, etc. that exist amongst the poems.

3.)    Cut out the lines of the poems that you want to use in your mash-up.

4.)    Arrange the lines to meet the above criteria.  Glue them onto your paper.

5.)    On the back, describe the theme in 3-5 sentences and rationalize why you selected and ordered the lines in the manner that you did. 


I stressed to them that each person needed a full understanding of each poem and, as a group, they needed to determine a focus for their poem prior to cutting the lines.  To make things easier, I had printed color copies of the poems, using a different color of ink per poem, which made it easier to grade.  They then wrote 3-5 sentences about the theme of their poem and how it was conveyed. 

While they worked on their poem we listened to various mash-ups in the background.  The most surprising thing I learned through this lesson is just how much knowledge and interest students have in mash-ups.  While I was familiar with a few groups, they had extensive knowledge of songs and groups and techniques, knowledge they were able to apply in combining their poems. 

This activity could be used with many pieces.  I originally thought about having the students write a mash-up after studying a variety of Walt Whitman or Emily Dickinson’s poems or multiple documents from the Revolutionary period.  Yet, because of the cost for color printing, I found it easier to select five poems.  This could easily be done while studying any specific genre or author/poet, like Shakespeare’s sonnets.  I also think it could be done with primary source documents from time periods like the Revolutionary Era or various articles about the same topic (mimicking the AP Language synthesis question or AP US History DBQ). 

Below are some links for school appropriate mash-ups that could be used while the kids are working.  I didn’t show the videos because of questionable content, but the lyrics are fine; I just let it play in the background while they were working.

I love Girl Talk and 95% of his songs are school appropriate; however, you might want to preview them yourself so you can skip through/stop playing when it becomes inappropriate.  In most cases it is just one word and is easy to edit.

United States of Pop 2010

United States of Pop 2011

Song Use: Day One

I’ll admit it:  I requested the Justin Bieber album for Christmas last year.  When my family so rudely refused to buy it I proceeded to download my favorites and now take to replicating them at the local Caribbean karaoke bar.  What can I say?  I’m a Belieber.

I like to think that I have great taste in music….for a fifth grade girl.  My students always make fun of my music taste and I normally allow the teasing because I’m a masochist and think I deserve the punishment for supporting “artists,” like Britney Spears, Taylor Swift, and Justin Beiber.  I’m not ashamed, but I’m certainly not proud.

Even though my taste in music might not be “A” worthy, I do think it is important to find ways to incorporate music in the classroom (see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for great resources).  There are many documented sources about the positive effects of using music in the classroom.  It helps students to learn better, focus more closely, and connect more personally to literature.

A lot of teachers incorporate music as the central focus of a lesson by asking students to interpret song lyrics or connect it to a piece of literature; however, music has evolved into a highly sophisticated art form over the last five years, which has created a treasure trove of inspiration for English teachers.  There is much inspiration in the editing and production of music itself, thus prompting this week’s post.  On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, I’m going to provide three ways music can be incorporated into the classroom in new ways.

Unfortunately, Justin Beiber will be absent from my lesson suggestions…even though I tried hard to find a way to incorporate “Somebody to Love” and “Baby.”

photo from MPBecker