Tag Archives: popular

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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Musical Inspiration

the sun

Sing, floss, stretch. But trust me on the sunscreen.

I wrote recently about the elective class that I am developing and teaching on popular music.  I’m covering a decade per week and a song per day.  Within each song, I highlight an interesting grammar, vocabulary, or pronunciation point.

Developing this class has meant combing through many online resources including lists of Billboard number one hit songs on Wikipedia and best-of-the-decade lists such as AOL’s radio blog, which is a good place to start because you can listen to most of the songs on the list.  I’ve also found that the website sing365.com tends to have the least errors of all of the lyrics websites that are returned in Google searches.

I intend to post the list of songs I’ve used at the end of the quarter (I might even link to the Google Docs spreadsheet that I used to record all of the songs I considered for each decade) but for now I thought I would post the following music video, which I plan to use tomorrow, the last day before Thanksgiving break.

The song is actually a spoken word piece which has an interesting story.  While not a traditional pop music video, I think the message is inspirational without being cheesy.  Plus, there are lots and lots of examples of advice using the imperative.  It might not get you through the last two weeks of the quarter, but it doesn’t hurt.

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Music in the Classroom

Technics turntable.

Drop the needle.

Next week I begin teaching a class that I designed called the History of English Language Popular Music Elective (HELP ME).  It’s a five-week class that will feature a decade of popular music each week.  The class meets every day and each day will feature a different song.  We will listen to the song, review and analyze the lyrics, and then listen to the song again and sing along.

There are many goals for this class.  First, it will expose students to songs that everybody knows to give them a foundation in popular cultural.  When a song comes on the radio, I’d like students to be able to say, “Isn’t that the Beatles?” just like a native speaker might.  The class will also include some linguistic content from each of the songs.  It could be a specific verb tense, idioms, pronunciation or whatever, but this will be an English class.  Finally, through the changing periods and genres of music, we’ll be able to talk about history.  Many changes in our culture are reflected in popular music.

Here are a few songs that I’ve identified for inclusion in the class:

All Shook Up by Elvis Presley – This song has lots of good metaphors and is a good example of an early rock song.

A Hard Day’s Night by The Beatles – There are some good examples of the present perfect in the chorus.

Paint It Black by The Rolling Stones – A Stones song has to be included, but many have very repetitive lyrics.  Paint It Black has lots of English to work with including colorful metaphors that students could be asked to interpret.  It could also be contrasted with What A Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong, which also has colorful metaphors.

I have a few others, but that’s a start.  Do you use music to teach ESL or EFL?  What songs do you use?  Share them in the comments below.  I’d like to know.  If there is enough interest, I’ll share my final set list once the class is finished.

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