Bad Romance (Lady Gaga)
The group who presented this song chose to have a class discussion. First, we tried to define what Lady Gaga is talking about. What is a bad romance, according to this song? How would we personally define a bad romance? Do we have any "bad romances" in our own lives? This lead to a discussion about whether we like "angel boys" or "bad boys". It was a fun and lively discussion.
I Say a Little Prayer for You (Dionne Warwick)
This group also wanted to make us discuss the song, but first they asked us to choose our favorite lines from the song. I chose the line "...For me there is no one but you". The group asked us to imagine who the singer is talking about. Most people agreed that she is talking about a boy she likes but is not going out with yet. Then, a student asked about the line "...Forever, and ever, you'll stay in my heart and I will love you". She wondered why this line was in future tense, and I suddenly realized the singer might be talking about her unborn baby. Pregnant women spend a lot of time "praying" and imagining what their baby will be like, and I posed this idea to the class. Many people, after hearing my explanation, seemed to agree with me. It was truly enlightening how different interpretations can be depending on the listener.
Keep Holding On (Avril Lavigne)
This song, as sung in Glee, was supposed to be about friendship, but since my students don't know the whole story about Glee, they decided that it must be about two people whose relationship is on the rocks, but who are trying to encourage each other to keep it together. There wasn't much to discuss about this song, but the group played both versions and asked us to vote on which version we preferred. Most students voted for the Glee version because they liked the background vocals. They asked us if there is anything in our own lives that we "have to keep holding onto". This was a tough question as most students couldn't quite understand this phrase, and in fact, I think the presenters misinterpreted it. It means "Don't give up...keep going, fight fight fight." But, they took it to mean a material item that you would want to keep. That was a bit confusing too.
Gives You Hell (All American Rejects)
By far the best group presentation was for this song. They opted to play the original version, which is sung by a man, and asked us to imagine who he is "talking to" in this song and what kind of relationship he has with this person. We all agreed that he is sending bad wishes to his ex-girlfriend who he actually still has feelings for. They asked us why the melody is so upbeat while the lyrics is so depressing, and then made us discuss in pairs. After that, they went around and asked EACH pair to comment on their thoughts. Most people seemed to think that he is trying to get over the ex-girlfriend and is cheering himself on. He is a singer and hopes she will hear his song on the radio someday and realize that it is about her. They also translated the chorus into Japanese so we could really understand what the singer was getting at. A lot of students reacted with "Oh, I get it!" when they heard that. Finally, they asked us if we have any similar experiences in our own lives.
My Life Would Suck Without You (Kelly Clarkson)
This group did not do very well for some reason. They started out by asking us what the song is about, and then asking us to talk about anyone in our lives who could be portrayed in this song. These were tough questions, I guess or perhaps the mood of the classroom was off that day. No one was willing to give a straight answer. The group then tried to explain what the phrase "to suck" means and then gave examples, such as, "Your life would suck without your parents," etc. I think the class had a hard time trying to come up with examples, and I really feel that the group could have taken a different route in explaining the story of the song. In fact, they didn't explain the story at all, and just showing the music video would have helped with that. Or rather than ask such a basic question, they probably could have started small...or done a different activity altogether!
After listening to the Glee version of this song, the group showed us 3 posters they made to help explain the story of the song. In Poster #1, a girl monkey is sitting alone on a bed using her cell phone to call someone. In Poster #2, the girl monkey is just sitting there waiting. In Poster #3, the girl monkey is daydreaming about her great memories with her boyfriend. Then, they asked us to choose our favorite lines and discuss them in our groups. After that, we had to tell the class about one of our lines and explain why. I told the class that we liked the line "How do I get you alone?" and that we had discussed the difference between being completely alone and being alone with the person you love. Then, we were asked to think of a new title for our song. My group came up with "You Don't Know" and "No Answer." Another group came up with "True of Heart" and "I Want Your Love." Then, we had to vote our favorite new title. "I Want Your Love" got the most votes. Finally, they asked us if this song depicts a healthy relationship or not. Some students replied that it might be a healthy relationship but they they are going through a rough time right now. Other students said it was just a typical relationship, and many girls have evenings just like this...sitting home alone waiting for the phone to ring.
I think that if I do this exercise again next year, I will make one more rule. No group can do the same activity. So, if one group chooses to have us make pairs and discuss the theme of the song, other groups will need to choose different activities from the list. Since the first group was so successful with their discussion questions, all groups took this "easy route".
In sum, I loved doing this exercise with the class and for my students, it worked beautifully. However, my initial requirement of having each group present for only the first 15 minutes of the class period was inaccurate. It turned out that some groups needed more time, especially when the discussions were going so well! This meant that I didn't always have time to teach my own materials, and we had to extend the unit by a couple of weeks. No big deal because the materials I made are very flexible, and I could have skipped a few of my activities if necessary. Discussing various themes that came out of the songs also lead me to skip around my own handout packet a bit. On the day when we did the song Gives You Hell and we talked about break ups and ex-girlfriends and ex-boyfriends, it was a great opportunity to go through the vocabulary list of words related to break ups: separated, divorced, remarried, etc.