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September 4, 2015 Pop Music Adds Snap and Crackle to Classroom Writing By John DePasquale
Grades 3–5, 6–8

    I might only have one pen, but I can make an explosion. This is our WRITE song!

    I love pop music. If you’re like me, I’m sure you caught that opening reference. My passion for pop might be a result of its universal themes, the raw expression of emotions, or it could be the infectious rhythms and the catchy get-stuck-in-your-head-all-day lyrics. Regardless of the reason, I’m not ashamed to profess a love for pop. Just like cockroaches in the fallout of a nuclear explosion, the latest pop anthem and the newest well-coiffed boy band group will always be with us. It is useless to fight it because we are defenseless against the power of pop. 

    I make no attempt to resist it. In fact, I embrace the ubiquitous sounds of Top 40 radio early in the school year to inspire students to write. I would like to share with you a quick strategy that can ignite powerful back-to-school writing in your classroom.   

    Poems That Pop

    Many middle-school students are pop music aficionados, and I tap into this expertise to get them writing for one of our first activities. Poems That Pop is my take on the standard I Am poems that are popular at the beginning of the school year. Since students use I-statements to construct these poems, they are a great way for you to get to know new students. 

    To start, my students select a pop song that they either really like or to which they feel a personal connection. The day before the activity, I prompt students by asking them to think of a current song that could be described as their personal theme song or the song they think was written just for them. I provide a few examples, but these two prompts usually work. After selecting a song, the students use its lyrics as a mentor text for their own poems. I encourage students to select short phrases they believe to be the most meaningful from the song. Using these meaningful phrases, the students incorporate the song’s lyrics into originally constructed I-statements. I then provide my students with artistic freedom to string these phrases into a poem. The poems that result can be deeply personal and add layers of meaning to the original song lyrics. 

     

    The deep personal meaning that is possible as a result of these poems is clearly seen in this recent example. 

    Additional Considerations

    Since not all pop songs are created equal, you may want to consider a couple of things before introducing this activity to students.

    Some of the most popular songs today include lyrics that are not appropriate for school. I do remind students they are choosing a song to be used as part of a classroom activity, and they are usually good about self-monitoring their selections. However, some songs may include inappropriate lyrics the students don’t understand or interpret as being inappropriate. To avoid mishaps, I ask students to share with me song titles before they make their final selection. Even for this self-identifying pop fanatic, there are some songs I don’t know, but a simple Internet search allows me to check the appropriateness of these songs. Kidz Bop is also an excellent choice for finding popular songs with kid-friendly and, at times, rewritten lyrics. 

    It is also important to consider the various families with whom you work. Before we start the activity, I send my students home with information for their families about what we are going to work on as well as samples of poems from previous years. I ask families to approve the song choice before students share it with me. Since this activity can be used with virtually any mentor text, I provide families and students with the option of selecting any genre of song or other text in order to be sensitive to families that might not approve of popular music.

    These Writers Are On Fire

    This is my favorite back-to-school writing activity because it sparks and inspires the students' creativity. It is important for me to provide students during the first days of school with many different opportunities for them to think themselves as creative writers.  

    The students’ ideas are sparked using the lyrics of the mentor song, but the final written product reveals an amazing original story told by students.     

    This truly is our WRITE song!

    Additional Ideas

    Looking for more ideas? Take a look at Genia Connell’s post "Use Popular Music to Improve Reading and Inspire Writing" for additional strategies on how to use pop music in the classroom. Also, here are two great resources if you are looking for more information about I Am poems without the musical accompaniment.  

     

    I might only have one pen, but I can make an explosion. This is our WRITE song!

    I love pop music. If you’re like me, I’m sure you caught that opening reference. My passion for pop might be a result of its universal themes, the raw expression of emotions, or it could be the infectious rhythms and the catchy get-stuck-in-your-head-all-day lyrics. Regardless of the reason, I’m not ashamed to profess a love for pop. Just like cockroaches in the fallout of a nuclear explosion, the latest pop anthem and the newest well-coiffed boy band group will always be with us. It is useless to fight it because we are defenseless against the power of pop. 

    I make no attempt to resist it. In fact, I embrace the ubiquitous sounds of Top 40 radio early in the school year to inspire students to write. I would like to share with you a quick strategy that can ignite powerful back-to-school writing in your classroom.   

    Poems That Pop

    Many middle-school students are pop music aficionados, and I tap into this expertise to get them writing for one of our first activities. Poems That Pop is my take on the standard I Am poems that are popular at the beginning of the school year. Since students use I-statements to construct these poems, they are a great way for you to get to know new students. 

    To start, my students select a pop song that they either really like or to which they feel a personal connection. The day before the activity, I prompt students by asking them to think of a current song that could be described as their personal theme song or the song they think was written just for them. I provide a few examples, but these two prompts usually work. After selecting a song, the students use its lyrics as a mentor text for their own poems. I encourage students to select short phrases they believe to be the most meaningful from the song. Using these meaningful phrases, the students incorporate the song’s lyrics into originally constructed I-statements. I then provide my students with artistic freedom to string these phrases into a poem. The poems that result can be deeply personal and add layers of meaning to the original song lyrics. 

     

    The deep personal meaning that is possible as a result of these poems is clearly seen in this recent example. 

    Additional Considerations

    Since not all pop songs are created equal, you may want to consider a couple of things before introducing this activity to students.

    Some of the most popular songs today include lyrics that are not appropriate for school. I do remind students they are choosing a song to be used as part of a classroom activity, and they are usually good about self-monitoring their selections. However, some songs may include inappropriate lyrics the students don’t understand or interpret as being inappropriate. To avoid mishaps, I ask students to share with me song titles before they make their final selection. Even for this self-identifying pop fanatic, there are some songs I don’t know, but a simple Internet search allows me to check the appropriateness of these songs. Kidz Bop is also an excellent choice for finding popular songs with kid-friendly and, at times, rewritten lyrics. 

    It is also important to consider the various families with whom you work. Before we start the activity, I send my students home with information for their families about what we are going to work on as well as samples of poems from previous years. I ask families to approve the song choice before students share it with me. Since this activity can be used with virtually any mentor text, I provide families and students with the option of selecting any genre of song or other text in order to be sensitive to families that might not approve of popular music.

    These Writers Are On Fire

    This is my favorite back-to-school writing activity because it sparks and inspires the students' creativity. It is important for me to provide students during the first days of school with many different opportunities for them to think themselves as creative writers.  

    The students’ ideas are sparked using the lyrics of the mentor song, but the final written product reveals an amazing original story told by students.     

    This truly is our WRITE song!

    Additional Ideas

    Looking for more ideas? Take a look at Genia Connell’s post "Use Popular Music to Improve Reading and Inspire Writing" for additional strategies on how to use pop music in the classroom. Also, here are two great resources if you are looking for more information about I Am poems without the musical accompaniment.  

     

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