Classroom song writing
Home » Classroom Stories » Writing Song Lyrics: A Year 7-8 Classroom Story

Writing Song Lyrics: A Year 7-8 Classroom Story

posted in: Classroom Stories 3

Taylor McGrath is in his third year of teaching and works at Howick Intermediate which is a medium-sized decile 4 school in East Auckland.  He is currently working with a diverse group of 30 students from a range of cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

The Love of Writing & Music

Taylor loves teaching writing and he loves listening to contemporary music.  So he decided, as a way of motivating his students, to try and bring these two loves together in his classroom programme.  As he said to me,

“Many of my students have come to me without a love of writing…Their attitude seems to be that ‘it’s just something you have to do’… And I know that I have to bring a special something to it if I’m going to make them into writers… So why not have a go at mixing my two loves as a way of creating that special something…”

Furthermore, song lyrics have always fascinated Taylor and he’d often reflected on where they’d come from.  So, recognising that song lyrics have to be written, he wondered if that was a way in….

Taylor McGrath - Howick Intermediate teacher
Taylor McGrath – Howick Intermediate teacher

Taylor knew that many of his students were intrigued by the funky contemporary music that he listens to.  They often asked, for example, if they could listen to it when they were creating art in the classroom.  They didn’t always like it, but they loved the fact that he liked it.  So he planned a series of lessons emanating from that interest in his music.

What did he do?  He located a music video that he loved – it was an artist called Enei performing a number called Sinking open-in-new-window  [warning, contains graphic content that may not be suitable for younger children].  Although the music comes from a very niche genre (drum and bass) that most of his students wouldn’t know, he thought they’d like it because the video itself was filmed in the horror genre.  And most of his students love horror but of course if you try something like this with your classroom, you could choose any song or genre.

Lesson One: “writing: horror”

He listened carefully to the number several times and thought of other verses that could be added to it.  He’d originally thought of changing the existing lyrics but realised that adding other verses would be easier for his students.  So, at home, he wrote the lyrics for three additional verses, decided where they should go into the song and thought about who could sing them instead of Enei.

Taylor's Exemplar
Slide2 – Taylor’s Exemplar

To lead into Lesson One, Taylor wrote on the day’s timetable: “11am writing: horror”.  That intrigued the students and all morning he was asked, “What sort of horror will we being writing about Mr McGrath?”  “You’ll see,” he responded.

For Lesson One, he intrigued the students further by warning them that the horror in a music video he was going to play for them might scare them and they were welcome to leave the room if they liked.  Of course, no student did.  He also asked them, prior to playing the video, to think about any writing task that could be undertaken as a result of watching and listening to the video.

The students were intrigued as they watched and listened to the Enei video and the majority suggested that they could re-write the song within the context of another genre, e.g. comedy.  Taylor explained that this might upset the original lyricist and film-maker as they mightn’t want their work ‘mucked around with so much’. So he suggested another idea completely – “Why don’t we have a go at writing some additional verses rather than playing around with the verses that the lyricist has already written, think about where they might fit into the song, and think of another performer who we’d really like to sing our new verses?”  So he subtly guided them toward the task he wanted them to undertake all along.

Drum ‘n’ Bass….  ( ‘n’ Writing Skills )

The students enthusiastically agreed and Taylor surprised them by telling them that he had already had a go at this.  He then shared his new verses with them, told them why he thought they should be placed at the beginning of the song and let them know that he wanted Flowdan (a UK rapper) to perform the new verses.  But before he shared his example with them, he asked his students to “think of two things you like about my work as you listen and read so that I feel OK about sharing.”  He admitted that his students “always like to read my writing”.  The students quickly recognised that Taylor’s work was composed of 3 verses with 4 lines in each verse, and that it contained some “cool vocabulary” and “really good rhyming.”

Taylor’s class at work

So a task had been established (to select a favourite song, write 3 new verses for it, and think about where they should be placed in the song and who should sing them), an exemplar had been shared, and some criteria (“4 lines in each verse”; “cool vocabulary”; “really good rhyming”) had been co-constructed.

Lesson Two was lots of fun.  Each student had to think of a favourite song, listen to it and think of extra verses that could be added: “What would be in them?”  They also had to think about where the extra verses would be placed in the song and who would sing them.  Most did this enthusiastically.  Taylor did have to direct a few boys toward ‘cleaner versions’ of particular numbers (especially raps) and he had a few songs ‘up his sleeve’ for students who might not have ideas.

Lesson Three was a drafting session.  He had established a collaborative sharing platform (Google Slides – click here to view Taylor’s Google Slide presentation open-in-new-window) for them and each student was allocated a slide that they could use for drafting.  Taylor’s exemplar was at the top of the slide set so students could be reminded of the layout and criteria of the task.  Most drafted their 3 verses successfully but Taylor worked individually with four of his more reluctant writers as he roved.  He suggested and wrote for them the first line of each of their 3 verses and they had to then complete each verse.  This worked well for them.

Lesson Four began with the whole class re-looking at Taylor’s exemplar and reminding themselves of what was expected in their verses.  This was a prelude to each student returning to their draft verses and making changes to them as appropriate.  At this stage, students were also being encouraged to start sharing their work across the class, and although they were very keen to let others know what song they had chosen and who was to perform their work, most were less confident about reading their work aloud and asked Taylor to do this form them.

Making a CD

Lesson Five, the final lesson, was a presenting session.  Taylor had printed a CD template for each student (many of them had never seen a CD before!!) and they were invited to present their work on the CD “in as interesting and colourful a way as possible”.  On it, they had to include the song title, the verses themselves, the name of the singer and their name.  Here is the work of three representative students – Lily, Jess and Cayla – their draft work (on Google Slides) sits alongside their finished product.

Taylor then made a display of the work on the classroom window looking outwards so others in the school could get the full benefit of the work.

Taylor with his students
Taylor with his students and their “CD’s”

Most successful series of writing lessons

Taylor says that this has been one of his most successful series of writing lessons ever.

“This task has enabled my students to bring out their personalities and show off their passions through writing….Now, several other teachers across the school want to have a go at this.”


3 Responses

  1. Trisha B, SouthSands
    | Reply

    Absolutely amazing. A wonderful way for both teacher and students to get super animated and enthusiastic about writing. Not sure about your taste in music though 😉 Thank you for sharing, I’m going to give this a try with my class.

  2. 211946074
    | Reply

    Thanks for sharing, I too, will give this ago. A neat way to engage learners. Thank you.

  3. Lagi Auva'a
    | Reply

    This is like… WOW!!!!

What do you think? Share your thoughts...

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *