Monday, August 5, 2013

Using Songs as Stories

Growing up I did not have a lot of books. I did not like reading and I was a year and a half behind in reading throughout my elementary years, and even though I went to the reading resource room, I don’t think I ever caught up. In middle school and high school reading was very hard for me, and I don’t think I ever read any book that was assigned to me. I got no help and no support and therefore I just didn’t do it.

As a kid there were a few books that I remember reading, and really enjoying, but what I remember most are my story songs. My mom had loads of albums: Rod Stewart, Billy Joel, Eagles, Elton John, and many others. She also had a great pair of headphones, you remember (or not), the ones that plugged into the turn table and were really big and squishy and they covered your entire ear?
You see, back in the day on the album sleeves were words, the words to all the songs on the album, aka my story books. I would love flipping through the albums to find the “just right” story I wanted to listen to that night. I would take it out, carefully put it on the turn table, dust off the record and ever so delicately place the needle on the record (I was probably 6 when I started this ritual). I would put the headphones on, lie on my stomach and listen to my stories as I followed along with the words. As I listened and read, I played the story in my head.

The Eagles told me the story of The New Kid in Town

There's talk on the street; it sounds so familiar
Great expectations, everybody's watching you

People you meet, they all seem to know you
Even your old friends treat you like you're something new

I pictured a new kid, at a new school and what his life was like.

Billy Joel told me about a Big Shot

Because you had to be a big shot, didn't cha
You had to open up your mouth
You had to be a big shot, didn't cha
All your friends were so knocked out
You had to have the last word, last night

This song made me think of the kids at school that thought they were big shots and how I didn’t like those kids.

Rod Stewart made me think of my mom and how much I loved her with You’re in My Heart
My love for you is immeasurable
My respect for you immense

You're ageless, timeless, lace and fineness
You're beauty and elegance

This was a song about a lady and the only lady that meant anything to me was my mom, so this song was always about her. Even though I didn’t know all the words, I knew it spoke about love.

Supertramp sang about the girls in California, in Breakfast in America
Take a jumbo cross the water
Like to see America
See the girls in California
I'm hoping it's going to come true
But there's not a lot I can do

I lived in California, I connected with the song. I also figured out that a jumbo was a plane.

The Beatles have so many songs, Lucy in the Sky, Strawberry Fields. Elton John sang about the Crocodile Rock and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.  

So many songs, so many stories.

Looking back, this is one of my fondest memories. To this day, every time I hear one of those songs it takes me back to the story in my head or the person I thought about.

Now I know these songs had totally different meanings than the ones that played out in my head, but nevertheless, I used these songs to visualize, connect, sequence, give me perspective, think about setting, and character. I thought about what the song was about (main idea), why things happened (cause & effect) and even what might happen (predict). 

These were my stories.

My daughter’s third grade teacher had a song a week and she would work on different reading skills or strategies. She would use context to define unfamiliar words. Look at repeating words or phrases to find main idea (and the title of the song). Use words and phrases to visualize, learn about figurative language, rhyming, have strong thoughts. She would have them describe the character the song was about or decide the setting.

Songs and song writers are amazing and great at what they do…tell great stories, with very little detail using the perfect words.

You can use songs in just about every grade level and can get as in-depth as you think your kids can handle.

For younger kids use Disney songs.

Pocahontas – The Colors of the Wind offers great character, setting and inferencing.

The rainstorm and the river are my brothers
The heron and the otter are my friends
And we are all connected to each other
In a circle, in a hoop that never ends

Mary Poppins has a great message (by way of inferencing) in A Spoonful of Sugar
And ev'ry task you undertake
Becomes a piece of cake
A lark! A spree! It's very clear to see that

A Spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
The medicine go down-wown
The medicine go down
Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
In a most delightful way

Taylor Swift has some great songs. Take Red for example, great for figurative language
Losing him was blue like I'd never known
Missing him was dark grey all along
Forgetting him was like trying to know somebody you never met

But loving him was red
Loving him was red

For older kids – because of language and message, this is one of my favorite songs with a great message and look at perspective – What It’s Like by Everlast
We've all seen the man at the liquor store beggin' for your change
The hair on his face is dirty, dreadlocked and full of mange
He asked a man for what he could spare with shame in his eyes
"Get a job, you f****n' slob"'s all he replied

God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in his shoes
'Cause then you really might know what it's like to sing the blues
Then you really might know what it's like
Smash Mouth’s song All Star has a great play on words.

Somebody once asked could I spare some change for gas
I need to get myself away from this place
I said yep what a concept
I could use a little fuel myself
And we could all use a little change

What do they mean by we could all use a little change?

I could go on and on with songs, perspectives, words and meanings but I think you get the idea. From now on listen to your favorite songs and find that story. Is there a message? Would it be a good song to introduce vocabulary, language, main idea, setting, character? And don’t think it needs to be a song your students need to know, introduce them to older songs and new artists, they will have a new appreciation for songs, genre’s and artists.

Now you are probably asking how I would incorporate this into my already full day. Well, instead of a book read aloud, play a song, making sure the kids had the words so they could follow along. Talk about it as if it were a story.

Put the song in a center, with the words and ask questions: who was the song about? What was the setting? What would a good title be for the song? Where did the song take place, was there a message.

Use songs for mini lessons on main idea, character, word choice, word meaning, shades of meanings, rhyming, inferencing, sequencing, visualizing, and strong thought.

Sometimes it is fun to just give the students the words without the song and then play the song after you have analyzed or studied the concept you were working on. If it is a song they know it will take on a whole new meaning, if not, they will go home and ask their parents if they know the song…guaranteed to tell their mom and dad all about what they learned with regard to the song.

I hope I have gotten you thinking a little bit more about songs and how useful they can be to you and your students in the classroom.

Songs…are not just for singing anymore!


  1. Great ideas and you've got me thinking about using songs in my 3rd grade classroom! Thanks!

    1. Glad I got you thinking. I hope you come up with something fun with songs for your kiddos!

  2. During my second year of teaching, I had a little girl who learned to read through song. We charted each and every song we sang as well as had a Chorus Book. She learned to read that year. Since then, I've always tried to incorporate music and words whenever possible. Great post.

    1. That is awesome Sylvia, I love to hear stories like this!!

  3. Great post, Shawna! You are so right - songs are so powerful and tell such great stories and connect us with moments and people in our lives. And oftentimes it's much easier to remember information that comes in the form of a song... Schoolhouse Rock? :)

    1. Thanks Susanna! I loved Schoolhouse Rock as a kid, Conjunction Junction is still a song that runs through my head. :)

  4. One of the best posts I've read anywhere in bloggy land in quite some time! One of the most vivid lessons from high school (almost forty years ago) that I remember involved comparing well-known poetry with pop songs. I use music and songs with my students all the time! You've given me MANY more ideas to run with. THANK YOU!!!!!!!!

    1. Wow, Angela thank you! I am so glad that I was able to give you a few more ideas to add to your music and song use already. I hope you come up with some fun stuff for your kiddos!

  5. I just LOVE this! The power of music continues to resonate with me. Thank you for another comprehensive post. What a blessing you are to your students and readers!


    1. Thank you Barbara! Songs are such an amazing teaching and learning tool!

  6. Wow! What an inspiration you are to others who may have been struggling readers. I can relate to you in that I work with special needs students who all struggle with reading. As a child, my mom used to say she could always find me with my nose stuck in a book. I can't remember a time when I didn't love to read and still do. I read daily-it's an obsession!! I love your idea of using song lyrics. I love music (although I don't play any instrument and my voice is meant to be shared in the privacy of my car (along with my son) and in a group (like church) where other voices will cover mine). I like to use background music in my classroom and with song lyrics readily available on the internet, I'm going to take advantage of your idea. (I really miss albums-not only did they include the lyrics, but the covers also told a story.) Thanks for sharing! I hope you have a fantastic year!

    1. I love reading now, I love analyzing stories/books, and I love helping kids to dig a bit deeper so they can love reading, instead of hating reading because it is something they have to do. I love looking at one piece of the writing to see what more we can get out of it. Songs are such a simple way to do this. I hope you come up with some fantastic activities for your kiddos!

  7. These songs are great, I usually install my favorite songs as my cell phone ringtone, you can also visit the site to listen and download free ringtones for your cell phone, everything All quality and free, I hope you enjoy them:

    Here I will share with you Top 5 ringtones for the phone:
    - Kaun Tujhe Ms Dhoni ringtone download
    - Jitni Dafa ringtone download
    - Oh Humsafar ringtone download
    - Ban Ja Tu Meri Rani ringtone download
    - Shape of you ringtone download


Thoughts and comments are always welcome!

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