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March 21, 2010 Using Music to Teach Poetry By Justin Lim

    One of the most fundamental principles behind good teaching is to tailor lesson plans to the needs of students. In my Reading Advancement classes, all of my kids struggle with reading comprehension and have yet to master the use of literal language. How then can I expect them to cope with the figurative language and complex themes found in poetry? My answer has been to use music!

    Here are some ways that you can enhance your poetry lessons by using popular music titles:

    1. Teaching the basics - One of the best ways to introduce students to figurative language, poetic form, and sound devices is to use lyrics from popular songs. Take snippets from various songs and print them out so that students can read the lyrics as they listen to short clips. Here is a brief list of poetic elements that I've taught using songs with great success:

    • Metaphor - My Girl by The Temptations, Bitter Sweet Symphony by The Verve
    • Simile - Like a Rock by Bob Seeger, Turn Me On by Norah Jones
    • Hyperbole - Ain't No Mountain High Enough by Marvin Gaye
    • Allusion - Hey Leonardo by Blessed Union of Souls, 1985 by Bowling For Soup
    • Persona - Beat It by Michael Jackson
    • Rhyme Scheme - Can't Take My Eyes Off of You by Frankie Valli
    • Alliteration, Assonance, Consonance - Dear Mama by Tupac Shakur 

    2. Engaging English Learners - Another advantage to using music to teach poetry and poetry analysis is that many popular songs have music videos. My class happens to be largely comprised of ELs, which means that I often have to incorporate a great deal of visuals. Music videos are helpful because not only do they provide some context for the song lyrics, but it also gives me concrete references so that I can explain abstract concepts.

    To download music videos from Youtube, simply go to and paste the url into the field. The site will provide you with a link to download the clip.

    3. Higher level thinking - Although I use a great deal of contemporary music in my poetry unit, I still want to make sure that my kids have an appreciation for the classics that many of us love. In order to do this, I often have my students compare the themes found in popular music to the themes expressed by famous poets. For example, I might have my kids compare a song by Tupac Shakur to a poem by Langston Hughes, both of whom stressed the struggles of African Americans in their respective social contexts. 

    I like to use popular music in my poetry unit because it's a great way to liven up the class and to show kids that many of the themes expressed in the classics are still salient today. Before I close though, I'd like to make a final note. Make sure that you use discretion, as some songs may contain inappropriate lyrics. In some cases, it might be necessary to find edited versions or play only short clips.

    What are some ways that you teach poetry? What about those of you who teach poetry to English Learners?

    Warm regards,

    Justin Lim

    Rosemead High School

    El Monte Union High School District


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