Music is Poetry

A lesson plan by Brenda Guerra

Subject: Eighth grade Language Arts
Duration: Three class periods (40 minutes per period)

This lesson plan was one of the winners in a lesson plan contest sponsored by TeachersFirst in 2002. TeachersFirst editors have added technology options where appropriate.

Rationale I created this unit to "turn students on" to poetry. They love to listen to their own music and if they see that it is really poetry, they will be more interested and receptive to a poetry unit.
Materials School-appropriate CDs and lyrics (or links to lyrics pages online)* which students bring in ahead of time and which are previewed and listened to by the teacher; CD player; 3-4 copies of the lyrics for each song so the groups may analyze them; transparency of the questions that students will need to copy on the first day of the activity; teacher-chosen groups of students who work well together and have a strong leader to keep the group focused.

* Find online lyrics via Google search with the song title in quotation marks and and word lyrics. Teacher should preview, since many lyrics sites are user-generated and may have "other" content inappropriate for the classroom.
Procedure Before this lesson, I cover the poetic devices with my classes, including imagery, onomatopoeia, personification, alliteration, assonance, consonance, metaphors, and similes. Students should be familiar with these devices so they will be able to find them in the lyrics when they analyze them. The teacher must obtain CDs and lyrics (or links) a few days/weeks ahead of time so that he/she can be prepared to play them on the first day of the lesson. The music should be student-selected, and if possible, a class vote may be taken a few days before as to which songs the class(es) want to hear and analyze. A list of questions should be prepared on the overhead or for projection from the computer on screen or interactive whiteboard for students and copied/opened on computers by all students on the first day of the lesson. I suggest five questions at the most.
Questions Questions might include:
  • What is the song about? What does the title have to do with the song?
  • What message is the song trying to convey to the listener?
  • What three poetic sound devices can you find? Write the lines that you find each devices in and explain.
  • What two figurative devices (metaphor, simile, personification) can you find in the lyrics? Write the lines and explain each one.
  • Are the lyrics written as lines of poetry? If not, how would you break the lines into lines of poetry?
Day 1 I suggest telling students their group members on the first day so they may immediately get started on the following day. I suggest groups of no more than three. Each group will have to answer questions and analyze only one song.

Also on the first day, while students are copying the questions, I ask for two student volunteers to work the CD player. Students will first listen to the music before analyzing. If possible, lyrics should be provided on paper or on screen/whiteboard so they may look on while the music is being played. I try to play all of the songs selected, or as many as time permits.
Day 2 On the next day, students immediately get with their group members and take out their questions from the day before. The group that can get settled quickest will have first choice of the song they want to analyze. I then pass the lyrics to each of the group members. Alternatively, students can listen to CDs on computers with the lyrics on screen as they listen and create a word processing document with their group answers. They can also use the highlighter and other editing tools in the word processing program to annotate the lyrics copied and pasted from the web page (with credit, of course). They are told that they will only need to pass in one sheet/electronic file of answers and that answers to the questions should be in complete sentences. All group members must contribute to the analysis of the lyrics. If I see any student who looks like a non-participator I make a note of it and he/she will have points deducted.

After each group has received its song and lyrics, I walk around and monitor the groups. If a group has a question, the members must first check with each other to see if they can't solve it as a group first. If not, they all need to raise their hands before I will go over to help. I will try to help students without giving them any answers. At the end of the period, I ask for a runner from each group to return the group question sheet and the lyrics from each of the group members (or have them share it via Google docs or email). In this way, if any student is absent the following day, the rest of the group still has the work from that day.
Day 3 Day three continues in the same way as day two. The groups should settle down quickly and I pass out the lyrics and group question sheets to each group (if needed) as they continue to work on their analysis.

If time permits, on the day following the completion of the assignment, I like to have the groups go up in front of the class and present their findings in a five minute presentation. Have students make a multimedia presentation using one of the many TeachersFirst Edge tools reviewed here. The interactive whiteboard is ideal for presenting the information both visually and verbally. Each member should contribute in some way. This should be done only if time permits. The teacher may feel it is enough that the groups completed the questions and turned them in.

The questions are worth 50 points. The teacher may decide how he/she wants to evaluate each question.
Evaluation I use the assignment for a class work grade of 50 points. Each question is worth roughly 5 points each, with each poetic device counted as 5 points each. I am rather lenient with my grading if the group gets the gist of the song. Some songs are harder to interpret than others and I will be more lenient for the harder lyrics. I count the presentation as a separate grade worth 20 points. Each student in the group must contribute to get a presentation grade.

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