Just a Song? Importance of Analyzing Lyrics

My 11 yr old, 5th grade son has been singing a certain song non stop. He loves music, sings frequently and enjoys different types of music. I pretty much have my radio set to two stations, 80s music and K-Love. So when I heard him sing, “Once I was seven years old my momma told me / Go make yourself some friends or you’ll be lonely..” my first thought was that’s good advice. Then he continued with, “By eleven smoking herb and drinking burning liquor..” Okay, now you have my attention. He went on to sing, “Once I was eleven years old my daddy told me / Go get yourself a wife or you’ll be lonely…” This is where I stopped him. “Smoking herb”, “liquor”, wife at eleven?HNCK0537

Wait…What? I had to ask my musical child what the song meant.

Me: “What are you singing?”
Him: “7 Years”
Me: “I heard that part, but what is it about?”
Him: “I don’t know”
Me: “Those are some strange lyrics. What do they mean?”
Him: (blank stare)
Me: What is the artist talking about? What does he mean to get a wife at eleven?
Him: “I don’t know, it’s just a song!”

Just a song? Just a song? Did U2 not having something to say in “Sunday Bloody Sunday”?Can we glean nothing from John Lennon’s “Imagine”? Is Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” just a song? Did “War” by Edwin Starr not have a message?

My son opened my eyes to the need for my students (and my own children) to be able to analyze lyrics in order to really hear what is being said. Artists have something to say, and I wonder how much is missed while we are bopping our head or tapping our foot. To be able to really hear and interpret the lyrics of songs is a skill that I want to give my students.

I can think of so many amazing and powerful songs from environmental issues with Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” to humanity issues with Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.” Discussing social injustice in Bob Dylan’s “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” or “Glory” by John Legend. How many of my students can sing R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” but have never really heard the words? What does Sister Hazel mean when they ask you to “Change Your Mind”? What do Katrina and the Waves mean when they say they are “Walking on Sunshine”? Why does Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” always make the listener feel like they can run through a brick wall? Was Louis Armstrong delusional, hopeful or realistic in “What a Wonderful World”? HNCK8481

These are questions I want my students to be able to answer or at the very least know that they should be asking. The flipped side to this is that it becomes very Scarlet Letter and every lyric, in every song, is over analyzed until it no longer resembles a song. This is not my goal. I want my students to listen with active ears and when they hear something that perks their interest or makes them question the artist’s meaning, that they will stop, reflect, and ponder before singing the song over and over as they walk around the house.

I have discovered that “7 Years” is about a man wanting to be a good father so that his children will want to visit him when is older. Being able to interpret songs is a skill that
I hope I can share. My desire is to open the possibility that there is meaning in any lyric, even in the absence of meaning. Don’t believe me? Well… “Mah Nà Mah Nà…!”

I plan to work this summer composing a list of songs, analysis, and artist bios to use in my lyrical resources.  If you know of a song that must be among them, please share in the comments.

Best Teaching Compliment Ever

I am already looking ahead to next year before this year is even over. I am not in a classroom this year. I haven’t been in a couple years and as I transition back I am nothing short of giddy.  I miss the students, the relationships, the fun had in learning. I have elicited my father’s help in making several items for my 6th grade class next year.

First, he made me a makerspace Lego table from the plans found on Anna White’s blog. I just have to stain it and will post pics when I have done so and have it all set up in my new room.

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 2.15.58 PM
Click Pic to Check out Anna White’s Blog and Lego Table Plans


Second, I have asked him to make me one large PVC anchor chart holder for my main charts and 6 small table top PVC chart holders for my literacy centers which will hold the directions and needed notes for all centers.

I also explained my plans for alternative seating, what the makerspace will be used for, and what occurs in literacy centers.  To which my father replied, “Sounds like all your doing is playing around and having lots of fun.”

YES!! Mission accomplished.

Can’t wait to post pics and share ideas throughout my teaching next year…stay tuned!

The True Story of The 3 Little Pigs by A. Wolf as told to Jon Scieszka – Teaching Literary Skills with Picture Books

#32 of the picture books that I have been sharing and the last one, at least for a while. Picture books that can be used to teach literary skills to middle or high school students. Just because they are in the older grades doesn’t mean that picture books can’t be a great resource on its own or as a paired passage. Be sure to go back through and see what you missed.

The True Story of The 3 Little Pigs by A. Wolf as told to Jon Scieszka- Teaching Literary Skills with Picture Books

Description from Amazon:616-hr5kSqL._SX388_BO1,204,203,200_

You thought you knew the story of the “The Three Little Pigs”… You thought wrong.

In this hysterical and clever fracture fairy tale picture book that twists point of view and perspective, young readers will finally hear the other side of the story of “The Three Little Pigs.”

“In this humorous story, Alexander T. Wolf tells his own outlandish version of what really happens during his encounter with the three pigs…. Smith’s simplistic and wacky illustrations add to the effectiveness of this fractured fairy tale.”
Children’s Literature

“Older kids (and adults) will find very funny.”
School Library Journal

Literary Skills that can be taught with the book True Story of the 3 Little Pigs?

Point of View
Whose point of view is the story being told from?
Is this story being told in first person or third person?

Why does the wolf feel he is mislabeled as big and bad?
What does it say about the wolf’s argument that he is not bad when he eats the first pig? Was the wolf right in not allowing food to spoil?

How can the 3 little pigs story be about a sneeze and a cup of sugar?
The wolf infers that the straw house was not his fault but someone else’s. Whose? Why would the wolf refer to the third pig as the brains of the family?

Write your own article based on book by summarizing the wolf’s story.

Cause and Effect
What caused the straw house to fall down?
What cause the house of sticks to fall down?
The wolf trying to get into the third pig’s house was a result of what?

Discussion Question
Do you feel the wolf was framed?

How does this version of the story compare/contrast to the original version?
Create a Venn diagram or chart comparing and contrasting the two versions of this story.

Extension Activities
STEM – Have students create houses and see if big bad wolf (hairdryer or large fan) can blow them over.

The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs can be found on Amazon click HERE

Also available in Spanish on Amazon click HERE


More from Jon Scieszka

Want more? There is more and can be found on the resource at TpT.

Follow this blog and my TpT store for more great picture books to teach to secondary students.