One of the best lessons of 2014. Originally written in early July 2014.
In my experience with teaching in Korea, virtually anything related to English can be brought into the classroom. As it's the end of the semester and exams have concluded, the students have been in dire need of some refreshing lessons. This particular one has worked well.
The lesson began when a boys middle school CT suggested that we do a pop song in class. I happily agreed to do so, but questions came to mind: Which one? And for what purpose? Things must have a purpose in the classroom. They must have some kind of practical application. As much as I love music, I cannot simply bring in any song without a purpose for using it. And just what pop songs were out there? Despite my affinity for older kinds of music, the students like newer stuff, so I consulted the Billboard Hot 100 and started at the top. If I was going to bring something into class, it might as well be popular in the USA. I knew I had something with #3, MAGIC!'s song "Rude," for it had simple lyrics, a catchy melody, an expository, humorous video. Moreover, it had an interesting topic: A boy wants to marry his sweetheart, but her father says no.
I sent a link to the song to my coteachers, who watched the video and approved it for class. Next, I typed the first verse of the song into a PowerPoint file. The song, the PPT, and the handout below are what I made for class.
Why only the first verse? I'd read in Teaching Unplugged about showing a block of text for one minute, having students copy it, and comparing their versions with the "correct" text on screen. The one minute time would make copying a kind of race, which my boy students enjoy. It would also save me from printing the song's lyrics for everyone. Once the students had the lyrics down, they then had a text to work with.
How the class worked
We walked in, said hello, loaded the PPT, and began. I said we were going to do a class about a pop song. "We'll ask questions, make predictions, and learn some new phrases. We'll also talk about what you would do..." and got to work. I showed the first verse, had the students copy it, and checked their writing against the original.
I and my coteacher then asked checked the students' comprehension of the lyrics, phrase by phrase. Since the verse includes a simile, a line about a suit, and the pronoun you, we had plenty to talk about. What does raced like a jet mean? Who's the you in the song? Who is the narrator? We asked these questions and got the following answers:
- Raced like a jet = Drove fast
- The narrator's a man because he wears a suit. When I pointed out that women can wear suits, the students held fast to their answer/
- You is either the man's wife, mother, company boss, or friend.
Having answered the questions and pondered the verse, the students were now ready to see what happens in the song and whether it matches their predictions. I played the song and cranked it up.
After the song concluded, we went back and went through the lyrics, line by line, so everyone knew exactly what MAGIC! was singing about. We briefly discussed the idea of the father giving his blessing before setting up the group discussion. We asked the students, "What if you were the man in the song? What would you do? And what if you were the girl?" and handed out the table below. The students got into groups and discussed the problems.
Facimile of handout
Imagine you are the boy in the song. What would you do? Write four ideas:
Best idea? Why?
Imagine you are the girl in the song. What would you do?
Best idea? Why?
What if you are not so serious about your boyfriend?
We gave the students around 10 minutes to discuss and prepare their answers. Each group presented their papers, often to laughs from everyone. We circulated around the room and helped whenever needed, but overall, the students did a good job of figuring out the writing themselves.
We thought things went well. The students enjoyed the music and many felt good at having figured out a foreign pop song by themselves without any translation. All of us had fun discussing the best and worst courses of action for the narrator.
My CT and I placed no rules on grammar or the kinds of sentences the students should write. The groups were mixed ability, so some wrote more or more in depth than others. Some groups wrote entirely in Korea, which I took as a chance to help them with translating. My Korean's good enough to recognize some words and phrases, so I worked with the lower-level groups and helped them rewrite their notes into English. In doing so, I learned some Korean slang that's since proved fruitful for jokes in class.
As a side note, I also got to do this lesson at the girls middle school with the 3rd graders. Doing so allowed me to compare to boys' answers with the girls', which showed some stark differences. The boys overwhelming favored "Killing the father" if they were the boy. The girls, by contrast, thought "Pleading with the father would be best." It seemed as though the boys and the girls wanted to play up the drama.
Scott Thornbury - Teaching Unplugged