I spent my first couple of years teaching middle school ELA in downtown Los Angles. Those years were ripe with the creativity and energy of my own youth. One of my fondest memories of that time was a hip hop poetry unit from authors Sitomer and Cirelli. The unit taught poetic devices like imagery, figurative language, and hyperbole with music selections from Tupac, Run DMC, and Eminem along with poems by Frost, Hughes, and Kipling. My young students identified with the themes and appreciated the cultural relevance of the curriculum.
Fast forward a decade. I left LA and now I am teaching American and British literature to juniors and seniors in college prep and advanced high school levels. I’ve gotten older and decidedly less energetic (gasp!) and I’ve started to lose that age connection enjoyed by many young teachers. There are some definite advantages to the experience and maturity, but there are also some definite drawbacks in losing the connection with youth culture.
To bring back some of that connection, I recently decided to add music selections to my renaissance poetry unit for my 12th grade British literature students. For each poem, we walked through content, scansion, poetic devices, and historical context. Then, I played a song with some relationship to the poem. We then had a discussion of the connections between the poem and the song. I really enjoyed teaching this unit because it motivated critical thought around universal themes and it was fun to experience pop music with my students in a meaningful way. As an added bonus, students were totally into the lectures because they were trying to guess what song I was going to play at the end.
My unit had several renaissance poems, and I’ve picked out a couple examples to share with you below. I’d love to hear your thoughts on my ideas and your additions in the comment section!
Poem: Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29
Pop Song: Justin Bieber’s “As Long As You Love Me”
Connection: Shakespeare begins by describing the pressure he feels to succeed and concludes his sonnet with the couplet, “For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings/ That then I scorn to change my state with kings.” Bieber echoes this sentiment in the pressure of 7 billion people trying to fit in, which leads to the chorus, “As long as you love me, we could be starving, we could be homeless, we could be broke.”
Poem: Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130
Pop Song: “Just the Way You Are” by Bruno Mars
Connection: Shakespeare uses Sonnet 130 to criticize the cliché, idealized woman other sonnet writers croon over. He describes the real imperfections of his love and ends by saying, “And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare as any she belied with false compare.” Bruno Mars begins his song with the same clichés that Shakespeare criticizes. Shakespeare says “my mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun” while Mars says “her eyes make the stars look like they’re not shining.” This leads us into a discussion about clichés used in love poems and songs. Then we launch into the discussion of the congruities of the chorus with the main idea of the sonnet. It is interesting to talk with students about where the feelings of inadequacy come from (partner vs self).
Poem: Sidney’s Sonnet 39
Pop Song: “I need some sleep” by The Eels
Connection: The sonnet and the song focus on the need to get some sleep as a source of peace and solace in heartbreak.
Poem: Spencer’s Sonnet 35
Pop Song: “Anyone Else But You” by The Moldy Peaches
Connection: The Spencerian sonnet claims that his eyes cannot be satisfied with anything less than beholding his love, which is reflected in this cute little ditty from the Juno soundtrack where the singers “can’t see what anyone sees in anyone else but you.”
Poem: “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” by Christopher Marlowe and “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd” by Sir Walter Raleigh
Pop Song: “No Scrubs” by TLC
Connection: Sir Walter Raleigh famously writes the nymph’s rejection of the passionate shepherd, claiming the shepherd is full of empty, unrealistic promises. Similarly, TLC rejects the modern “scrub” who offers things that he simply cannot deliver.
Any questions or suggestions for the teaching strategy? I’d love to hear them!
I’m excited today to share Collaborize Classroom, one of my favorite online resources for students and teachers. Collaborize Classroom is an online discussion board that is safe, private, and geared especially toward secondary classrooms. I use this site to deepen classroom discussion, teach online communication skills, get my grading done faster, and ensure inclusive student participation. It is also a great way to improve student writing and brainstorm before essay assignments. This video blog will briefly describe setting up the site and feature my favorite parts of this system from a teacher perspective. If you have questions, or suggestions, we’d love to hear about them in the comment section below. Thanks!
*NOTE: Some of these are on the “challenging” side and have been so indicated with an asterisk. Have fun!
Canzone*: a Canzone is a Medieval Italian lyric style poetry similar to a sonnet, with five or six stanzas and a shorter ending stanza. While the typical sonnet is 14 lines, a canzone can range from 7 to 20 lines. Poetry Through The Ages at WebExhibits.com has done a great job of breaking down writing a canzone.
Clerihew: a clerihew is a humorous poem about a person, usually well-known. This could be a great way to have students write about a character in a novel or a famous person they are studying. The poem consists of two rhymed couplets.
Dodoitsu: a type of Japanese song, often about love. It consists of four unrhymed lines with 7,7,7,5 syllables.
Etheree*: a ten-line poem of 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10 syllables or backward, with 10 through 1 syllable. Challenging and fun!
Ghazal: originating from ancient Persia, a ghazal is essentially a set of two-line poems having to do with lost or unattainable love. The rhyme scheme is AA, BA, CA, DA, EA, and so on.
Katuata: a stand-alone, three-line poem of Japanese descent. The poem is 19 syllables or fewer, usually in 5, 7, 7 syllable lines.
Kyrielle: a type of French poetry with rhyming couplets, usually written in quatrains in iambic tetrameter. For an explanation and example, check out Writing.com‘s lesson in the Kyrielle.
Lanturne: a five-line Japanese poem consisting of 1,2,3,4 and 1 syllable. When written, the poem is supposed to look like a lantern! Cute and fun!
Naani: an Indian four-line poem with a total of 20-25 syllables
Nonet: the term “nonet” refers to a group of nine. A nonet poem consists of nine lines, beginning with nine syllables, then eight, then seven, and so on.
Quinzaine: a three-line poem: the first line makes a statement and the next two lines ask a question relating to the statement. The first line is 7 syllables, the second is 5, and the third is 3 syllables.
Rispetto: from the Italian word “respect,” usually respect for a loved one. A rispetto is a Tuscan verse poem consisting of eight 11-syllable lines, usually following the rhyme scheme abab, ccdd.
Rondeau*: think “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in rounds. A rondau (round) is a French form of poetry of 15 lines of eight or ten syllables arranged in three stanzas — the first stanza is five lines (quintet), the second four lines (quatrain), and the final stanza six lines (sestet).
Rondelet*: also a French form, the challenging rondelet consists of one stanza with seven lines, the rhyme scheme consisting of A, b, A, b, b, b, A
Sedoka: an unrhymed poem of two 3-line katuatas (see above) with the syllable count 5, 7, 7, – 5, 7, 7.
Senryu: a senryu is also a Japanese form of poem, similar to a haiku, with 5, 7, 5 syllables.
Tetracys*: The Tetractys is a poetic form consisting of at least 5 lines of 1, 2, 3, 4, 10 syllables (total of 20). Tetractys can also be reversed and written 10, 4, 3, 2, 1.
Than-Bauk: While this ancient form may sound complicated, it is actually very easy once you understand the format! The Than Bauk (also Thanbauk) is an old Burmese form that consists of at least three lines of only four syllables per line. Explained well here.
Triolet*: the triolet is an eight-line poem with a strict rhyme and pattern of repetition. The form follows ABaAabAB.
Tyburn: a 6 line poem; the first four lines must consist of 2 syllable words and the last two lines must consist of 9 syllables: 2,2,2,2,9,9 syllables.
Have fun with these; I am sure your students will enjoy them! I hope you’ll try some of these in your classes! If you do, please be sure to share your stories. If you have other favorites we’ve probably never heard of, please share.