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How music can inspire strong student writing and discussion

By Nathan Garvin
September 24th, 2014

ELA teacher Nathan Garvin describes how he uses music to elicit ‘creative, deep, and original writing’ in his classroom

music-student-writingOn the first day of school, I give my students a pep talk. My goals for the year are laid out. I tell them I expect them to leave my class better writers and more careful readers. But beyond that, and more importantly to me, I want them to leave as better people.

I want them to walk away as young adults who are able to problem solve, empathize with others, think out of the box, and be prepared to contribute to society. I put my usual sarcasm aside for a day and get all inspirational. It’s my Michelle-Pfeiffer-in-Dangerous-Minds moment.

There’s another goal, however, that I don’t tell them. It’s part of a diabolical year-long mission. I call it musical indoctrination. My taste in music is pretty much the exact opposite of theirs. They like bad music; I like good music. I have one year to plant the seeds that hopefully will bloom into a more refined musical palate. I do this by using songs I like in class.

Music is a natural fit in the English/Language Arts classroom. You can find narratives to discuss and poetry to analyze. Themes, mood, tone, and plenty of other literary topics are also set to music. Words alone are powerful, but when combined with the right music, students are able to connect with them on a deeper level. It can also inspire them in their writing.

Pitch-perfect journal prompts

One way I use music in my classroom is for journal writing prompts. I want my students to love writing. My hope is that they’ll enjoy writing the longer essays I assign, but we have to build up to that point. Students typically come into my class carrying some kind of emotional baggage from prior writing experiences. They say it’s just not something they do well or that they’ve always hated. So I start with smaller journal writings that will build confidence. My goal is to cultivate a love for writing over time.

(Next page: Garvin’s favorite journal prompt—and how he uses a learning management system to facilitate discussion and reflection after this exercise)