How to Use Song Lyrics in the Classroom to Teach Critical Interpretation or Reading

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There are some key factors in teaching critical interpretation or reading skills, and song lyrics are a good way for teachers to help students learn them. Song lyrics, much like poetry, have a certain style and rhythm all their own. They often have subtle nuances that prose writing does not. To use song lyrics to teach critical interpretation or reading, be sure to keep the following in mind.

1 Examine headers or titles

Examine headers or titles. To use song lyrics in the classroom to teach critical interpretation, first examine the title. In much the same way you would examine the title of story or novel, look at the title of the song. Try to discern meaning from it. Ask students why they believe the title is relevant.

2 Go through the song lyrics

Go through the song lyrics without the music. Make copies of the song lyrics, and pass them out to all the students. Have everyone read through the piece silently. Discuss topics like setting and voice. Ask students why they think the artist organized the words in the manner they did. Talk about the use of figurative language.

3 De-construct the sounds

De-construct the sounds. A human voice has very distinctive linguistic features. It can only make a certain number of given sounds. The smallest measurement of these sounds is called a "phonem." There are an innumerable amount of ways to de-construct, or break down, musical or speak sounds. Start by playing the song (with the music) while students reexamine the lyrics yet again. Ask students if the meaning changes at all. If so, try to determine why.

4 Examine both the formal

Examine both the formal and thematic structure of the piece as a whole. Songs are generally put together like poems. Formal structure has to do with its parts and the relation between those parts separately. Thematic structure has to do with the lyrics as a whole. To examine thematically, have students talk about issues like conflict, tensions and obscurities. Talk about why these elements are effectively manipulated, or examine why they are not.

5 Interpret your cultural distinctions

Interpret your cultural distinctions. There is much discussion lately in diversity studies about issues like cultural and historical distancing. This means that both you and your students need to interpret how the song lyrics expresses the main subject of the song. Discern if it brings in any cultural references that may become outdated in time.

  • Avoid material that is too controversial.
  • Try to examine the potential social, political or historical implication of a song lyric to effectively teach critical interpretation or reading in the classroom. Pay attention to what a song lyric does not say.

Vaughnlea Leonard started her professional writing and editing career in 2005. Her work has appeared in "Press Journal," "Atlantic Publishing Company" and "Hometown News and Florida Today." A former military police enlistee and Florida certified educator, she obtained a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Central Florida.