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.