Sunday, March 17, 2013

Teaching Poetry with "Gangsta's Paradise"

I started a store on Teachers Pay Teachers! For more project ideas like this one, visit my store here .

Every year, I try to open my sophomore poetry unit with music. When I mention we are beginning poetry, the kids usually groan with dread, I think for a couple reasons:
1. They are bored by it and feel they can't relate to any of these "old white guys" writing poetry;
2. They find it hard to understand.

To try and contradict both of those pre-conceived notions, I try to show them other forms of poetry that contradict what their idea of poetry is and show them they may like poetry more than they think.

I first printed off this PDF that has a bunch of authors' definitions of what poetry is. (My best teaching advice is to beg, borrow, and steal ideas instead of reinventing the wheel. I searched "What is poetry?" on Google Scholar to get more scholarly articles and resources coming up and this was the second result-perfect!)

 I put the students in groups and had them write down 3 of these definitions that resonated with them and what they think they mean. Then I had each group try and write their own definition of poetry. After they finished, we discussed as a group. I had many kids saying things like, "Poetry has to rhyme" or "Poetry has to be about a certain subject," things like that. Which I LOVED because I want to CHALLENGE their ideas of poetry in this unit.

So then I passed out a handout that had selection #1, 2, and 3 on it. Under each selection I asked three questions:

1. How do you feel when listening to this selection? (mood)
2. How do you think the author felt about this topic when writing? (tone)
3. What is the central message of this selection? (them)

I did not let on that I was going to play music, so they were pleasantly surprised when the first bars of Rascal Flatts' "Life is a Highway" came out of my laptop.


I try to update the songs I use each year to make them more current, but this Rascal Flatts song I have used for years because of the obvious use of metaphor and other literary devices. Plus they know it from the movie Cars and our school has a huge population of country music lovers. I had them answer the selection 1 questions for this song.

A new song I added this year was Katy Perry's "Firework" for my pop selection. I played most of that song and they answered those questions.

Finally I wanted a rap/hip hop song, which is always the hardest because of the vulgar language and curse words in most of modern day rap. So I took a risk and used an older song that I wasn't sure if they would know or not: "Gangsta's Paradise" by Coolio.

I double and triple checked the lyrics: no swear words. Plus it actually has a theme and life lesson, unlike many rap songs today. To my pleasant surprise, a couple kids knew all the words, and at the very least, all had heard of it. (I felt super old when I saw this song was released in '95 and my students weren't even born yet!)

They loved that I brought in music and had fun listening to the songs. Then after we talked about things like "Can music be poetry? Does it fit our "requirements"? How is it like poetry?"

We ran out of time that day, but the next day I gave them a list of literary terms like metaphor, simile, etc., as well as printed out all these song lyrics and each group got one song to pick out as many literary devices as they could.

This is just one thing I do to try and make poetry more entertaining. After we get through all the required poetry forms, I do a mini-unit on modern-day slam poetry as well and show some slam poem clips on YouTube (I will post those coming up), and we host our own poetry slam in class. It's pretty fun. Poetry doesn't have to be the bane of your existence!

Well it has been a stressful weekend in the L household. My father-in-law was admitted to the hospital Friday night for a possible stroke and multiple seizures in another town. We drove up yesterday morning and spent all day there. Good news is, he is improving and they are thinking it may be infection, not stroke. So prayers for him! I brought home a ton of papers to grade and got none done yesterday, so that's my life today. But family comes before the job, always.

Take care and happy St. Patty's Day!

1 comment:

  1. I love this intro to poetry lesson. I use a lot of songs to teach specific literary devices, but I love the idea of having them come to the conclusion about songs being poetry on their own. The definitions page is great!

    I also do a poetry slam, and my students LOVE it every year! We dress in black, I buy the coffee, and they bring snacks to share like a really coffee house. My middle schoolers love the snapping part, too!