Figurative Language Through Song for Language Arts and Music Teachers (Pt. 1)

In a stunning feat of Irony, songwriting fits into the Language Arts curriculum more easily than the Instrumental Music curriculum. I mean, weird, right? Isn’t it? Anyway, I recently facilitated a unit on songwriting and poetry with a focus on figurative language in a Grade 9 Language Arts class. The culminating activity for this unit has learners creating their own songs individually or in pairs.

English Language Arts 

This unit was written to meet the needs of Grade 9 Language Arts but can be adapted for learners in Grades 5 through 12 with relative ease.

Music and Arts 

This could be used in any music course with some modifications, but would work more seamlessly in a popular music performance, composition/songwriting course, or general music class in Grades 6 through 12. 

Figurative Language Through Song: A Unit for Language Arts and Music Teachers

Materials/Resources:

The majority of this unit was delivered online. This means that the pacing will be different than in an in-person setting. In some situations, I will give suggestions for pacing or discuss the setting in which this was delivered.

Here are the basic components of the unit. A pacing guide suggestion will be presented after to help facilitators clarify and organize things.

1. Figurative Language in Song

This first part of the lesson includes a discussion on types of figurative language. I make sure they know that songs and poems are similar and that songs are–very often–poems that are put to music. I also made sure they understood that figurative language is something that they use every day in their own speech. Learners are given a chart to take a look at as we go over each one and take a look at the examples that are given. Having song examples are also helpful, especially if this is a music class that you are facilitating.

Here is a Google Doc link to this chart!

2. Figurative Language Quick Writes

Throughout this unit there was a new quick write assigned each day. Quick writes can take between 10 to 30 minutes to complete. Each day, learners were to focus their quick writes on a different figurative language. Whatever figurative language was the focus that day, we reviewed it and I would give an example from the chart and another example that they might use on a regular basis in their own speech. Figurative language is often used to say something without saying it directly. I used this video from Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” to help illustrate my point. 

All of the quick writes were assigned through NoRedInk.com. This is a type of LMS (Learning Management System) that focuses on writing activities with templates or the ability to create your own. There are grammar drills and quick write prompts that customize activities to the user. I highly recommend using this for your quick writes. Each quick write I assigned had a figurative language focus, topic focus, and/or a line count minimum. The quick writes were assigned in this order: 

Imagery – Write your own song lyric or poem that would be an example of imagery. You don’t need an entire song, just a verse or a chorus. You may be inspired to write a whole song to this prompt, but it is not expected.

Simile – Write your own song lyric or poem that would be an example of simile.

Metaphor – Write at least 2 lines of song lyrics or poetry that demonstrate metaphor.

Hyperbole – Create at least 2 lines of song lyrics or poetry that show an example of hyperbole.

Onomatopoeia – Create at least 2 lines of your own lyrics or poetry that show an example of onomatopoeia.

Alliteration – Write at least 2 lines of lyrics or poetry that shows an example of alliteration.

Irony* – Create at least 2 lines of song lyrics or poetry that shows examples of irony.

Personification – Create at least 2 lines of lyrics or poetry that show an example of personification.

Symbolism – Create at least one line of lyrics or poetry that shows an example of symbolism. Tell me what your symbolism is and what it represents.

Some other topics included:

Becoming a Character – Write a verse and a chorus of a song or about 8 lines of poetry telling a story. Become a character and tell the story through song or poetry. Use the strategies you’ve learned, figurative language, and other songs we’ve used to this point as your guide.

The word count is set to 75, but if you finish your assignment with less, submit anyway. The grade will be adjusted to fit.

Lockdown Lyrics – Write between 4 and 8 lines (a verse) of song lyrics or poetry that describe your feelings toward the announcement of the lockdown using some of the figurative language we have been using up until this point. When you are done, try your lyrics or poetry with HookPad or ChordChord.

Free Write Lyrics

*Irony was a new concept for Grade 9 learners. We did extra work to try and understand this before we did the Quick Write for Irony (discussed later).

Due to the majority of this section being delivered online, often the quick writes were the only activity we had that class. When learners were finished, they could log off. Other days, in addition to the quick writes, there were other activities for learners to complete (see pacing guide).

3. Irony Lessons

Irony was, by far, the one figure of speech that stumped the most folks. Not only is it a new concept for Grade 9, but it also requires a little more critical thinking than some of the other types of figurative language. I found a worksheet based on Alanis Morrisette’s song, “Ironic,” which in and of itself is a great example of irony because you would expect a song called “Ironic” to be about irony, when in fact, this song is mostly about unfortunate coincidences. Before we dive into this activity and question sheet I wanted to test their knowledge and understanding using a fun learning trivia site called Quizizz (explored further in the following blog). I found a quiz made by another teacher on Quizizz and used that to help learners get acquainted with irony. Here is the quiz I used. Try it yourself!

I don’t feel right in sharing my version of the “Ironic” activity sheet because I based it heavily on one I found for free on TpT, but I will share a couple of sneak peek screenshots of mine to get you thinking about how you might use or adapt it yourself.

What do you think? Would you like to see more? This particular blog post is only a small part of this unit. New sections of this unit could be published regularly. Keep on the look out for a TpT or eBook resource. too!

Until next time, Happy Musicking.

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