History of English-Language Popular Music Elective

ipod in a book

You didn't think your students were reading, did you?

As promised, the list of songs I used in my History of English Language Popular Music Elective (HELP-ME) class is below.  The class was taught over 20 days in 5 weeks with each week devoted to a different decade of popular music.  We covered one song per day usually beginning with watching a video of the song, examining the lyrics and something linguistically relevant (grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, etc.), talking about the meaning of the song, and then listening to the song again and singing along.

A much more exhaustive (and exhausting!) resource is available as a Google Docs Spreadsheet.  The spreadsheet also contains several songs I considered but didn’t use.  Each entry has the song title, the artist, the year it was released, the genre, information about it’s popularity (#1 for four weeks, for example) as well as links to the lyrics, video, and Wikipedia articles on both the song and the artist.  I also have my notes on relevant or ESL-appropriate features of each song.

I delivered all of this information to students using Moodle, an open-source online course management system.  I hoped to present as much information for students to explore as I could and several students took advantage of this opportunity by logging in and exploring many of these resources.  They were also able to listen to each of the songs via our streaming server.  (Simply giving them the .mp3 files would have created copyright issues.)

Overall, the class was very well received for it’s novel approach and interesting subject.  I included a wide variety of musical genres so that no student would have to suffer through a prolonged period of country or R&B.  Students also appreciated touching on grammar points and new vocabulary words in the more relaxed context of an elective class.  They were exposed to more English without having to worry about a final exam.

If I were to teach the class again, I would probably eliminate a couple of the longer songs, or at least find a way to devote more time to them.  The class really enjoyed Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen) and Parents Just Don’t Understand, for example, but we had to rush through them a bit in order to completely cover the lyrics.  In fact, I would like to teach this class every quarter, and could by changing up the songs so that they wouldn’t be repeated if students take the class in back-to-back quarters.  The class included students from all five levels in our program and I worked hard to ensure that all students were able to gain something from the class.  According to my student evaluations, I was successful.

In the table below, the names of the songs are linked to the lyrics (on sing365.com) and the artist names are linked to their page on Wikipedia.  As I mentioned above, you can view more information at the Google Docs Spreadsheet.

1950s and 1960s

1957 All Shook Up Elvis Presley
1964 A Hard Day’s Night The Beatles
1964 Paint It Black The Rolling Stones
1968 What a Wonderful World Louis Armstrong
1967 People Are Strange The Doors

1970s

1972 You’re So Vain Carly Simon
1973 Time In A Bottle Jim Croce
1978 I Will Survive Gloria Gaynor
1978 The Gambler Kenny Rogers

1980s

1979 Video Killed The Radio Star The Buggles
1983 Billie Jean Michael Jackson
1984 Jump Van Halen
1988 Parents Just Don’t Understand DJ Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince (Will Smith)

1990s

1991 Smells Like Teen Spirit Nirvana
1993 If I Had $1,000,000 Barenaked Ladies
1999 Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen) Baz Luhrmann

2000s

2000 Say My Name Destiny’s Child
2001 Clint Eastwood* Gorillaz
2002 We Are All Made Of Stars Moby
* = this page contains explicit lyrics
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