Grades 6-8, High School

On Being Well-Versed

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Theory: Most students beyond the nursery rhyme stage tend to like to quote relevant verses, critique artists, emulate rhythm or style, relate entire anthologies to various worldviews, and create personally meaningful (play)lists of any genre’s masters. They also tend to revel in themes such as beauty/ugliness, acceptance/rejection, love/hate, leisure/work, hope/despair, and evil/justice. They are well-versed.

Proof:  Look no further than the time, money, and social media space devoted to doing all of the above when it comes to the latest lyrical releases from Beyonce, Blake Shelton, Lorde, or Daft Punk.

Reproducible Results? But when asked to analyze elements of poetry or literature, many teens become tone deaf, lyrical louts. (Yes, even those who know Lorde sites Walt Whitman as a key influence will roll their eyes at poetry assignments).  Yet a love of music as noted in my little theory can usher students into a literary universe far beyond the confines of their mp3 earbuds.

Solution: Study songs. Play with playlists. Indulge in lyrics.  Rollick with rhythm and rhyme. Wallow in well-chosen words.  Prepare pupils to perceive poetry positively by perusing their playlists. Parlay those pursuits into parsing traditionally published poems.  This will elevate and elucidate lyrics and literature.  It will limn critical literary tools and skills.  Like alliteration…among many others.

Resources: 

  • Mother Lode 1: iTunes.  Or any other MP3 or MP4 provider.
  • iPad Commercial:  ‘Your Verse’ (thanks, Walt Whitman)
  • Dead Poets SocietyIt offers a lot more than the intro to the above commercial. Carpe diem.
  • Mother Lode 2: Library of Congress Poetry Resources: collection guides on state poets laureate, official state poems, poetry and literature webcasts, and poetry written by U.S. presidents.
  • Well-Versed: Critical Thinking in Literary Terms for the MP3 Generation is my classroom resource designed to help students discover that universally cool ideas exist in all kinds of verse. Activities based on eclectic mash ups of classic poetry, country ballads, ageless sonnets, rock music, elegant verse, or raps get students jazzed to use critical thinking, manage literary concepts and compose original work. You can purchase units (big impact; tiny fee) them at the links below.
  1. Unit 1 of Well-Versed,The Future is Write Aheadcompares the lyrics of several classic poems, a 1960s folk song, and a pop hit. These very different presentations of lyrics all champion the cause of new beginnings and meeting the future head-on. Unit exercises cover rhyme scheme, rhythm, poetic form, simile, metaphor, analogy, alliteration, theme, writing style, effect of grammar/punctuation, speech style, tone, mood, voice, blogging, graphic design, and context.
  2. Unit 2 of Well-Versed,Heartache While Others Are Watchingcompares the lyrics of a country song, a rap hit, and a snippet of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet.’ These three angsty romances grab student attention so they’re excited to explore poetic structure and the language techniques of effective writers. Unit exercises cover rhyme scheme, rhythm, poetic form, simile, metaphor, analogy, alliteration, theme, writing style, effect of grammar/punctuation, speech style, tone, mood, voice, letter writing, and context.

Eventually your students will see – and hear – in every lyric (printed, spoken or sung) that…

“Poetry is prose bewitched, a music made of visual thoughts, the sound of an idea.”  -Mina Loy

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