Using Music to Bring Life to Poetry

Lorie Witkop, Yahoo! Contributor Network

As it came time to teach the eleventh grade English curriculum’s required poetry unit, I looked for ways to bring the poetry alive for the students. I certainly found Robert Frost’s “Fire and Ice” intrinsically interesting, but would the students share my opinion? I soon realized that my fears were well-founded when I gave the students a pre-unit interest survey and received comments like, “Poetry is boring, at least most of it, like poems,” and “I don’t really like that much about poetry.” As William Ayers states in To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher, “[teachers] must respond to the real children coming through the door and find ways to teach them” (15). Instead of lamenting the lack of poetry scholars in my classroom, I decided to start small and meet the students on a common ground – music. While I initially saw music as a segue into formal poetry study, I soon realized that songs provided fertile ground for analysis and discussion in their own right.

I have always had an interest in music, beginning with the sound. I would sing along without truly noticing the words. As I matured, the words I sang began to register, and I realized the depth of expression that was possible through music. My attention turned to music with compelling lyrics.

As I observed the students in my classroom before school and in the hallway, they seemed to have the same fascination with music. From the Rage Against the Machine t-shirts that they wore, to the headphones they surreptitiously packed in their backpacks as they exited the buses, to the CDs they swapped, the students seemed to be immersed in a musical world. I planned to merge this world with the English classroom, and more specifically, the world of poetry.

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