Using music to engage year 10 students with poetry

My emo poetry project is an oldie but a goodie. I’m on to my third time teaching it and even though I’m doing things slightly different (as we always should), it’s still the idea of exploring poetry through popular music that makes it a success. OK, it’s only three lessons in but I still reckon it’s gonna be a success.

Here’s the project outline (it’s evolved a bit since I first created it, drafts and more drafts as I get things to a happy standard to be published):

EMOS-PUNKS-PROJECT-OUTLINE2So, I just want to record here the activities that my students have been working on as a kind of extended hook lesson… it’s gone over three lessons. The first lesson students were shown 6 different music videos – three songs were ‘punk’ and three were ’emo’, of course I didn’t tell my students that. As they listened to each song, students had to write down three things: what did the song make you feel, what did it make you think and what did it make you imagine. Below are the music videos that students watched:

Each student was asked to read out their ideas about one of the six songs, and there was some great insight shared with one student suggesting that ‘God Save the Queen’ made them imagine the whole of society going up in flames. The next lesson I put students in their teams and each team was given a brainstorming strategy and either ’emo’ or ‘punk’ as their topic. The strategies were starbursting (creating a series of questions about their topic using who, what, when, where and why question starters), brain dump (just a spider diagram dumping everything they know, or think they know, about the topic) and visual representation (creating an annotated picture of an emo or a punk). The team with the questions read them out and they other two teams looked at their ideas to see if they could answer them, if they couldn’t then those questions were added to our project ‘need to know’ list. The visual representation teams showed us their images and explained them – so fun.

The next activity was hard but important… I made my students step away from stereotypes based on behaviour and fashion (let’s face it, a lot of their ideas about people, especially sub-cultures like emo and punk, come from what they see on the surface) and to consider attitudes and values. I asked them, as a class, to come up with five key characteristics of emos and punks. This is where I want them to go because they will be applying these characteristics to poets who can be classifies loosely as either punk or emo. I did the famous ‘stand and wait’ for this activity… I didn’t tell them what to say, I didn’t fill the awkward silence with my own ideas, I just gave them time to think and respond. It was so powerful – you can see their insightful ideas below:


Finally, the last activity involved going back to the songs they listened to in the first lesson and focusing on the lyrics. In their teams, they were given the lyrics of one of the songs (emo or punk) and had to try and identify where the above characteristics were evident to justify why the song may be classified as emo or punk. Really hard, right? Yeah… but it’s such a good first step towards thinking critically about poetry. My class is still working on this task… so I’ll see how it goes. And, yeah… that’s been a great start to what I think is a great project.


5 thoughts on “Using music to engage year 10 students with poetry

  1. Hi!
    I really love the idea of teaching poetry through music–I do something similar–but I’m having a really hard time with your groupings. Do the students ever fight with your designation of Radiohead and Lily Allen as emo? Because as a music lover, I just can’t accept that! And punk generally doesn’t apply to anything post 1980.
    I’m honestly not trying to be difficult or challenging, I’m genuinely interested. Why not Weezer for emo, or Sunny Day Real Estate, or even Dashboard Confessional…. even Death Cab For Cutie can better be classified as emo over either Radiohead or Allen.
    But perhaps your year 10 kids aren’t this invested in music labels as I am!

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