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Popplet and the Learning Power of Song

Humans have been treading the earth for around 200,000 – 300,00 years. We developed the ability to speak to each other some 50,000 years ago. As the human voice is considered to be the very first musical instrument, most evolutionary biologists believe that speaking and singing are inseparable. This makes song a deeply innate instinct, and a powerful learning tool.

Most parents begin singing to their children in the first weeks of life and infants usually learn to sing songs before they develop intelligible speech. Through song and music, children first experience and learn about letters, numbers, colors, animals, and everyday objects and events Using songs as a part of learning activities outside of the music classroom for teenage learners is rare. Perhaps teachers believe that music and song are the realm of the music classroom, or that the songs they choose might not interest the students, but songs are as universal as language and can, therefore, be used to develop skills in a wide range of subjects.

  • Literacy: songs can teach vocabulary, improve reading skills, highlight idiomatic language in context, clarify complex ideas with reverse learning filtering through to a student’s writing.
  • Language learning: songs have become a language classroom staple.
  • Structure: songs are poems and they follow set patterns. Essential skills can be learned from studying songs and applied universally.
  • History: almost all periods of modern history have songs attached to them. Romantic, patriotic, rebellious…whatever the subject, the songs are memorable and evoke strong emotions and leave a record of the time.
  • Social commentary: popular songs document significant current affairs and issues are popular and can form the basis for discussions and projects.
  • Emotional intelligence and self-awareness: learners often identify strongly with certain songs. Exploring why can lead to a better understanding of ourselves and others.
  • Songs are fun and generate activities that are naturally collaborative. Some learners might respond better to song-based learning activities than more traditional ones.

Popplet Song Activities – Choosing the Right Song

There is so much that can be learned from a good song and Popplet can facilitate this learning. However, some thought does need to be given to what you are trying to achieve in terms of learning outcomes before you decide which song to use. If it’s a particular language point you’re trying to teach, then obviously the song should contain suitable language. A history class about the Vietnam War needs a memorable song from the period. On the other hand, don’t underestimate your students, songs mean different things to different people and they will almost certainly disagree on what parts of a song means. This is productive and we will even learn more as educators. Don’t worry if your students haven’t heard of the song you choose or the artist, nobody can resist a good song…or a good story.

Song Popplets In History and Social Studies

You don’t have to look far to find songs which were written as a result of tumultuous events in human history. War and struggle evoke powerful feelings and these emotions often find their expression in songs. One such event was the Vietnam War (1965 -1975), which resulted in a great many songs. Let’s look at Fortunate Son (1969), by Creedence Clearwater Revival.

  • Firstly, ask students to create an appropriately named popplet and have them add this YouTube video of the song, which contains the lyrics.
  • Next, ask students to watch the video once and when they’ve finished watching it (stopping and starting if necessary) have them source and add images to their popplets.
  • When they’ve finished adding images, repeat the previous step but ask them to add words or short phrases that occur to them while listening to the song. Alternatively, you could avoid images all together depending on how much time you have.
  • Finally, the students can display their popplets and explain their thoughts about the song and what it says about the topic.

Popplet Lyric Puzzle

For this activity we are going to study the song White Flag, by the UK singer Dido, which she wrote after a relationship ended – there’s a lot of songs about this subject, so they’re difficult to avoid! However, as breakups are a part of life, there’s much to be learned from identifying with others. You could begin by letting the students listen to the song, but for most purposes, especially where the language is the focus, it’s better to begin with the lyrics. One way of doing this is to break the song up into its parts – verses and chorus – and have the students reassemble them into the correct order. Here are the jumbled lyrics to White Flag.

  • Begin by asking students if they know what a white flag signifies.
  • Next, tell the students they are going to study a song called White Flag, by Dido. Ask them what they think the song might be about. Don’t tell them anything else about the song.
  • Then, as this is a group activity, either distribute one set of the jumbled lyrics to each group and have them create a popplet or collaborate with each group on your popplet and have them attempt to put the lyrics in the correct order. When transferring the lyrics to a popplet it’s important to have the lyrics displayed/aligned correctly, like a poem.
  • With White Flag, the correct order of the lyrics is not obvious so help students by revealing that the chorus is in the red popple and that it is repeated three times at the end of the song. Remember, the point of the exercise is to focus the on the language, rather than getting the correct order.
  • Finally, when the students have finished add the YouTube video of the song to the popplet and have students watch it to check their answers.

Depending on what the learning outcomes are for your lesson, there are now a great many ways to use the song popplet. For example:

  • Ask students what their understanding of the song is: Is the singer happy or sad about the end of her relationship? Is her former partner happy or sad? What does she mean when she says: “I’m in love and always will be.”?
  • Focus on the language, especially idiomatic expressions: “go down with this ship”, “put my hands up”, “hold my tongue”…
  • Have students add images to the popplet to emphasise the lyrics and ideas expressed.
  • Depending on the age of the students, engage in a discussion about relationships.

Popplet Gap-fill

Gap-fills are common activities used in most subjects. They are often used in assessment but can also be used as a learning device, especially in literacy classes or by language teachers. Songs make great material for gap-fills as they encourage listening and help students to learn new vocabulary and new concepts.

  • Get the students to see if they can guess where the missing text (blue popples) belongs in the main body of the lyrics. If they think they know, they can connect the text to the corresponding popple.
  • When that’s done, play the video and have the students listen without watching to check their answers. If they want, they could type the lyrics into the body of the song.
  • Then, let the students watch the video and ask them why the song is called Ironic.
  • Check the students’ comprehension of the language by checking their understanding of phrases such as: “sneak up on you”, it figures…
  • Depending on the objective of your lesson, you could also ask students about how they have experienced irony in their lives.

Personal Song Popplets

Everyone has a song that is important to them and reminds them of a particular event or time in their life. A good homework assignment is to ask students to find the lyrics and the YouTube video of a song that is special to them and create a popplet about it. If the students are young, then maybe they could ask a parent about a song that is important to them instead. Students should add images to their popplets and present their work to the class. Ask other students if they have had similar experiences.

Here’s a Popplet from a parent. The song is Don’t You Forget About Me, by Scottish band Simple Minds. The song found fame in the classic movie The Breakfast Club and was very important to somebody in 1985!

This activity could be done without adding the song lyrics. The song title, the video and images expressing why the song resonates with the learner may even be a better way to study the song. Or, students could simply brainstorm words and phrases that express what the song means to them – they might not resemble the lyrics at all!

Do you use songs to teach students in your classes? If you do, we’d love to hear from you. Share with us, the Popplet community, on Twitter, and on our Facebook page.

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