NOTE: This is the second in a series of posts about using song lyrics to teach poetry. Where possible, I’ve included links so you can pull the music and lyrics to use with your classes.
Yesterday, we talked about using music to teach narrative poetry. Today’s poetry lesson revolves around figurative language and sound devices.
To teach metaphors, I start with the Queen of Soul. It’s hard to have a bad day when you’ve kicked off a lesson by listening to a young Aretha Franklin sing “Chain of Fools.” The lyrics feature a strong, easily identifiable metaphor and are a solid example of lyric poetry.
Once we’ve heard from the Queen, we move on to Motown and the litany of metaphors (and a couple of hyperboles) in the lyrics to the Temptations’ “My Girl,” which is another great example of lyric poetry.
I follow that with Carole King’s “Tapestry.” The lyrics provide strong imagery, an obvious narrative, and a few examples of alliteration to go with the tapestry metaphor. “Tapestry” is a great one to dissect visually: Hand out highlighters and ask the kids to highlight the alliteration in yellow, the metaphor in green, and the imagery in pink. I also discuss symbolism and ask the kids to write a paragraph telling me what they think King’s “something golden hanging from a tree” represents.
If time allows (or if you have an extra day to spend on metaphors), hit the road with the Beatles’ “Long and Winding Road” (lyrics here) and Tom Cochrane’s “Life Is a Highway,” the latter of which offers both similes and metaphors in its lyrics. “Life Is a Highway” will be familiar to the kids who have heard the Rascal Flatts cover featured in the movie Cars. When I did a semester-long Route 66 unit with my sophomores in Tulsa, every kid in class — from my metalheads to my hip-hop fans — had seen the film and knew every word of the song.
As a test-prep strategy, you can’t go wrong by asking the kids to choose one of the poems and write a concise essay analyzing it in terms of language, structure, background knowledge, and meaning.