Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Slice of Life: Close Reading of Songs

The weekly Slice of Life is hosted by the writing teachers at twowritingteachers.wordpress.com. Everyone is welcome to participate through posting or commenting!

Yesterday, I attended a workshop given by Kate Roberts, our district's staff developer. Mel wrote about Kate's new book here that Kate co-authored with Christopher Lehman, Falling in Love With Close Reading. Since the book came out just last week, it was especially exciting to host Kate and get to see her work with teachers and students in our district.

Kate talked about close reading and distributed copies of the lyrics for the Bruno Mars song, Grenade. (There are many websites that offer lyrics, some with more ads than others.) Every adult in the room was engaged as we analyzed the one-sided, co-dependent relationship depicted by the song:

Easy come, easy go

That's just how you live, oh
Take, take, take it all
But you never give
Should've known you was trouble
From the first kiss
Had your eyes wide open
Why were they open?

Gave you all I had
And you tossed it in the trash
You tossed it in the trash, you did
To give me all your love is all I ever asked
'Cause what you don't understand is...

from azlyrics.com

I had even more fun with this when I brought the idea of close reading song lyrics home to our dinner table. My 15 year-old, who is usually in a hurry to get back to her homework, sat and co-analyzed American Pie, pulling out her phone (usually prohibited at the dinner table) to show us a website that she knows of that had annotated and researched all of the lines of American Pie. I have to admit that, even though I know all the words to that song, I knew very little about its meaning until last night. My father has dementia and rarely participates in dinner conversations, but he loved this activity and he knew all about the Buddy Holly references. "February made him shiver," my dad said, then went on to explain the reference to newspapers. Our entire dinner table (last night there were seven of us) lingered and sang Grenade and American Pie. Outsiders would have definitely wondered about the song choices!

Loved last night and love the idea of close reading with songs.

Enjoy your days,


  1. Try some Beatle songs. You could make an assignment even before dinner. 5 min. Internet search for the lyrics of a particular song, dinner discussion of the lyrics, 5 min. Internet search for meanings others have researched, dessert discussion of findings...and on into the night! Sounds like fun!

  2. That sounds like fun! I'm sure you'd have fun with "We didn't start the fire" too :)

  3. Lucky, lucky you! I just began reading Falling in Love W/ CR, and started a FB group for discussion, too. I hope to see Chris and Kate at NCTE, too - so much to learn from them!

  4. Oh yes! I'm in Kate envy also...just ordered the book. I loved doing this song when I taught 7th grade. Lyrics offer so much...Dave Matthews ...has changed my son's life....as James Taylor changed mine. Thanks for sharing Melanie. xo PS I always have been a bit of an Outsider :)

  5. Melanie,
    Thanks for sharing a bit of both your experiences close reading in staff development with Kate and life at your dinner table. This post is clear evidence supporting Chris and Kate's claim that we need to be "close reading" for life! Now that I've read the book, I understand so much more about why we need to consider music or video as another part of our demonstration and "learning" as we continue to deepen our knowledge of what reading and writing will look like in the WORLD!

    Now, off to look up the lyrics for "American Pie." Need to satisfy my curiosity!


  6. I did this with the song "Say" during an interactive read aloud unit on voice and silence. I guess it could be considered close reading, right?

  7. As I listen to songs on the radio, I've often thought about the meaning behind the words. I know kids would love to do this, but you would have to choose the songs carefully these days.

  8. Can I come over for dinner and analyze song lyrics with you? Music is a perfect way to engage kids in this kind of thinking. I love using songs to practice visualizing. There are so many possibilities!