Writing Across the Curriculum: iPod-inspired Writing Asssignments

Ben Harper

If your students aren’t always enthusiastic about writing assignments, maybe it’s time to try something other than “Tell me what you did on your summer vacation”.

Students will get more out of writing if they’re excited about the topic. Ask a 12-year-old to tell you why he likes Call of Duty, and I bet he’ll produce 3 or 4 volumes of well-developed prose.

Or, as Rob Stone suggests, have them write about music.

As the online host of the iPod-inspired, Writing Across the Curriculum homepage, Rob argues that the two most important things for any student are technology and music.

Thanks to the emergence of personal music players and music studios’ relentless pursuit of students with a disposable income, student’s lives are accompanied by an endless stream of pop music.  While music is primarily distributed for entertainment, most artists explore concepts and themes in their music which may used as a basis for thoughtful writing.

Sara BareillesOver at WritingFix, Rob has collected over 50 lessons plans tied to a specific “mentor text” (a song and its lyrics), designed to engage students through writing.

Involving artists like Ben Harper, The Cure, The Beatles, Jack Johnson, and Sara Bareilles, the lessons generally asks students to write a poem that expands on a theme in the song, or to mimic the content and format of a particular selection.

One thing to keep in mind: just because you’re using music doesn’t mean you’re being relevant.  A senior in high school (born around 1991) probably won’t be too familiar with Pat Benatar, Jim Croce, Neil Diamond, or Don McLean.

It’s worth checking out the current Top 30 to see what music your students are likely listening to. Of course, make sure to check the lyrics to make sure they’re appropriate for class.

And there’s no reason to limit the lesson output to poetry.  You can use “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel to prompt some discussion of historical events and how they shaped our society. “The 3 R’s” by Jack Johnson is a great way to get students thinking about the environment and they can help the school “go green”.

Let your imagination go wild.  Then, surprise your students by asking them to take out their iPods instead of their pencils.

  • shania