Educators have long used music to inspire, engage and teach their students. Whether by tapping into popular culture or reaching back through history, songs and their lyrics offer an excellent example of how humans use language to tell about their lived experiences and share their thoughts and feelings about the world.
Invite your students to share and discuss a song of their choice with lyrics that contain a social, political or cultural message relevant to a contemporary social justice issue. (Note: Teacher discretion will be necessary for handling lyrics that use explicit language.) Use the suggested activity and strategies below to empower students to lead the lesson with their peers as the students.
- Introduce the activity to students, explaining that they will be teaching a mini-lesson on a socially relevant song of their choice. (Optional: Have them submit a copy of the lyrics for teacher approval.)
- Depending on how much time you have and the purpose for learning, consider having students work in pairs or groups or allowing multiple students to present their mini-lessons in one class period.
- Students should begin each mini-lesson by sharing brief background about the song. They should include the year it was released, who wrote it and/or performed it, and any relevant social or historical context they have discovered in their research. Each student-led mini-lesson should include the next three phases outlined in steps #4-6.
- Word Work: Before playing the song for others, student-teachers will identity and define any new vocabulary words within the lyrics. If possible, work with students beforehand to locate Tier 2 and 3 words. Create a special Word Wall titled “Move to the Music” where each new word can be displayed.
- Close and Critical Reading: Be sure to provide a way for students to access and play the audio of their song (for example, a CD player or MP3 player and speakers). Each student will need a copy of the lyrics, a highlighter and something to write with. First, the class will listen to the entire song without reading or responding to the lyrics. Have students listen to the song again, this time while reading along with the printed lyrics. On their third listen, have students engage in a close reading of the lyrical text by using Thinking Notes.
- Community Inquiry: Have the student-teacher(s) lead a short class discussion on the song and its lyrics, using their peers’ thinking notes as cues for conversation. This strategy will allow the student-teachers and their students to stay close to text as they analyze the song’s lyrics.
- Write to the Source: In addition to leading peers through a close reading and discussion of the song’s lyrics, student-teachers should also create a written analysis of the song, its lyrics, and its message. To help anchor their analysis, use the Critical Literacy Text-Dependent Question Stems. Students can organize their writing along the eight areas, while choosing from the list of prompts in each area.
- Do Something: Once everyone has shared their “Move to the Music” mini-lesson, have the class reflect on what community or social-justice issues came up most often in the music. Were there any trends? From that discussion, choose one issue for the class to tackle through a planned social-action project. See the toolkit for “The Value of Community” for ideas about how to plan your project.