Secondary Solutions

Ideas, tips, and tools for the middle and high school English Language Arts teacher. Visit our store at www.4secondarysolutions.com!

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Using Pop Music to Teach Classic Poetry

Pop Music Poetry

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!

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How to Create a Prezi Lesson in Less Than 15 Minutes:

On Tuesday, I published a prezi video tutorial for teachers that detailed many of the bells and whistles of prezi.com and went through how to create a prezi from scratch.  I think it is important to understand the underpinnings and inner-workings of any tool we use in the classroom, especially if we assign students to make them.  However, I’m also a full-time English teacher and mother with papers to grade, meetings to attend, and blocks to build, so today I created a video that shows how I create a full class period prezi in less than 15 minutes.  My hope is to show you that prezi can seamlessly create multi-media lessons that can be saved and tweaked for future lessons, saving time in the long run.

The prezi I am going to create in this tutorial is based on the poem, “A Dream Deferred” by Langston Hughes.  I usually teach this lesson to my freshmen during our poetry unit.  For other poetry unit ideas, check out these other great poetry and essay guides from Secondary Solutions!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R84MR2mVFGY]
Are you using prezi or do you have any plans to start?  Leave us a question or comment and join the discussion!

Don’t forget to pin this post for later use!

15 minute prezi

Emily Guthrie has taught junior high and high school English in Southern California for 8 years. She currently teaches grades 9-12, including AP English Language and Composition.  She specializes in working with technology to enhance curriculum for English learners and enrichment students.  She also blogs about fitness and motherhood at TheBusyMomsDiet.com

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101 Writing Prompts for Winter!

More writing prompts for grades 7-10! 101 Writing Prompts for Winter includes writing prompts for Research papers, Argumentative/Persuasive Essays, Expository Essays, Descriptive/Narrative Essays, Response to Quote/Response to Literature (Poems) prompts, and Creative Writing prompts.

Topics include Christmas, Santa Claus, Chanukah, symbols of winter, quotes about winter, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, President’s Day, special winter holidays and celebrations, and more!

Sample prompts:
You have been asked to write a proposal banning the manufacture and wear of ugly Christmas sweaters. Convince the powers that be that ugly Christmas sweaters should be outlawed. Be sure to provide examples and details to support your argument.

Think about the time you learned that there was no Santa Claus. When was that moment, how old were you, and how did it make you feel. Be sure to paint an image in the reader’s mind to take them on that journey of discovery with you.

Families do not always get along at the holidays. Describe how family discord can be a problem at these times, and detail how to best handle these situations.

Explain and respond to the following quote by Bill Watterson: I like these cold, gray winter days. Days like these let you savor a bad mood.

Suggested poems for analysis (except for one, due to copyright) are also included. $5 at TeachersPayTeachers.com.

Thanks for stopping by!

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