Hitting the Right Note:
Extending the Theme of Your Song – Practice Activity #3

2013_Heyer_SandraSandra Heyer

One way to extend the lessons in True Stories Behind the Songs and More True Stories Behind the Songs is to follow up each song with an activity based on the theme of the unit. Each month I’ll share a song-based activity that has worked well with my beginning and high-beginning students. This month, let’s look at some examples of song choices and personalizing the theme of a song with an activity called Draw-Write-Share.

Many popular songs have themes that are universal: love, resilience, friendship, and family, to name just a few. So it’s easy to see how a song can set the stage for a meaningful class discussion. What is perhaps not so easy is finding a way to structure the discussion for beginning students. A speaking activity that gives your students the opportunity to plan—in contrast to a spontaneous discussion–is generally better suited to the beginning level; it makes it more likely that every student will speak. (In The Art of Teaching Speaking Ken Folse makes a strong case for incorporating a “planning phase” into discussions at every level to ensure more successful student output.) One of my favorite discussion activities for beginners, Draw-Write-Share, has a two-part planning phase.

 Create a Draw-Write-Share Activity in 4 Easy Steps:

Step 1: Students draw a sketch that personalizes the theme of the song.
Step 2: They write about their drawing beneath their sketch.
Step 3: They share their sketches and writing with a partner or in a small group.
Step 4 (optional): Students listen carefully as their partners talk about their drawings. They then share what they learned about their partner with the whole group.

The featured song in Unit 1 of True Stories Behind the Songs is George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun.” Harrison wrote his most famous piece (and the most downloaded of all the Beatles’ songs) on a gloomy February day when he impulsively took a day off work. (For the complete story behind the song, please see page 5 of the textbook.) The song and the story behind it invite discussions on two topics: weather and a day off.

For a discussion about weather, have students draw a picture of their native city during typical February weather, write a few sentences about the picture, and then share their drawing and writing with a partner. For a discussion about a day off, tell students, Imagine that you have a day off from school or work. What will you do? Draw a picture. Then answer the questions below your drawing. Finally, share your drawing and your writing with a partner. Below is a sample drawing and sentences prompted by the “day off” theme.

Example 1: A Draw-Write-Share Activity Personalizing the Theme “A Day Off”

 FIG 1


Where are you?  I am at the park.

What are you doing? I am dancing.

The featured song in Unit 5 of True Stories Behind the Songs is Bruce Springsteen’s version of “Pay Me My Money Down,” and the theme of the unit is “Work and Pay.” (For the complete story behind the song, please see page 45 of the textbook.) If you teach adults, a discussion around students’ past, present, and future work fits the theme nicely. Structure the discussion by giving students a worksheet like the one below.

Example 2: A Draw-Write-Share Activity Personalizing the Theme “Work”

 FIG 2


my work before                                                                        my work now


the work I want

  1. In my country, I worked as a/an __________________________.
  2.  Now I work as a/an ___________________________________.
  3.  I want to work as a/an _________________________________.

After students draw their three sketches and complete the sentences, have them share their pictures and writing with a partner. Then, with the whole class together, ask students to briefly tell what they learned about their partners.

Tip: The first time you ask students to draw, they might protest that they aren’t artists. It helps to model the activity by drawing your own sketch on the board. For example, my simple sketch of February weather in Wisconsin says it all—no need to draw more!



Looking for more ways to pair a song with a Draw-Write-Share activity? Try:

  • Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” / Draw something that makes you nervous, and something that makes you happy
  • Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You” / Draw a person you’ll never forget
  • Lenny Kravitz’s “Fly Away” / Draw a great place for a getaway

Thanks to: Sharron Bassano and Mary Ann Christison, the originators of the Draw-Write-Share technique. In their resource book Drawing Out, you will find over thirty Draw-Write-Share activities on reproducible pages; most would be great follow-ups to a song. Several of the ideas in this article are from that book.





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