Hitting the Right Note:
Extending the Theme of Your Song
[Song-Based Activity #2]

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 unit with a supplemental song that connects to the theme of the unit, plus an activity to go with the supplemental song. 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 the summarizing exercise. Just as a story can be summarized, so can song lyrics – as long as the song tells a story. Once the summary is complete, it can become the basis of further spin-off activities.

Create a Summarizing Exercise in 4 Easy Steps:

Step 1: Choose a song that tells a story, and copy the lyrics from the Internet.

Step 2: Read the lyrics with the students, clarifying new vocabulary.

Step 3: Have the students listen to the song in class.

Step 4: Ask students to summarize the story. They can write the summary individually or as a group, in a paragraph or in single sentences.

The theme of Unit 1 in More True Stories Behind the Songs is “Finding a Lost Love,” and the featured song is “You’re Beautiful,” a song about seeing an old love on the London subway. The Tom Waits song, “Martha,” is about a middle-aged man trying to reconnect with an old girlfriend, making it an appropriate supplemental song. Read through the lyrics with the students (outdated terms like “long distance” shouldn’t present a problem), and then have students listen to the song. Finally, working as a class, have students summarize the story while you write their summary on the board. Below is the summary my students wrote.

Example 1: Summarizing Exercise followed by a Pair Dictation or a Disappearing Summary Activity

His name is Tom Frost.
He calls Martha.
She was his girlfriend forty years ago.
He wants to meet her for coffee.
She has a husband and kids.
He got married, too.
He is still in love with her.

Writing the summary as a list of single sentences makes it easier to use as the basis of a pair dictation or disappearing summary activity. For the pair dictation, have half of your students turn their desks or chairs so that they can’t see the summary on the board. The remaining students find a partner and, facing the board, dictate about half the sentences to their partner. Then students switch roles. After the dictation, all students face the board and check their work.

For the disappearing summary activity, you erase the text line by line, a few words at a time, and ask students to read the summary after each erasure. Ultimately, students will be reciting the entire summary from memory. More detailed instructions for the activity are on page 84 in the To the Teacher sections of both True Stories Behind the Songs and More True Stories Behind the Songs.

After the summarizing activities, you can ask students, Will Martha meet Tom for coffee? What do you think?

Next, let’s look at a variation of the summarizing exercise: telling the story from the point of view of someone in the song.

The theme of Unit 6 in More True Stories Behind the Songs is “You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover.” The first story in the unit is about Susan Boyle, and the second is about a Ugandan king who worked as a nurse’s aide in the U.S. for 22 years. The Avril Lavigne song “Sk8er Boi,” is about a girl who rebuffs a boy because of the way he looks, and fits the theme nicely. After students read the lyrics and listen to the song, tell them, Imagine you are the girl. Tell your story to a friend. Working together, my students wrote the summary below.

Example 2: Summarizing Exercise from a Different Point of View

I knew him in the past.
He loved me.
I loved him, too.
He was a skater boy.
My friends said, “He’s a bad boy. He doesn’t have nice clothes.”
I listened to my friends.
I said “Bye” to the skater boy.
Now he’s famous.
I feel sad.

Most songs that tell a story can be told from a different point of view. The song “Martha,” for example, could be retold from Martha’s point of view. You could ask students to imagine Martha is telling a friend about the phone call from Tom.

Tip: Search under “songs that tell a story” for online lists of songs that tell a story.

Thanks to: Tamara Jones, who presented the summarizing idea in her presentation “Singing the Way to English Success” at TESOL 2012, and alessandra.edublog, where you will find the lyrics to “Sk8er Boi” and more activities for this song.


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