How music can inspire strong student writing and discussion

A favorite recurring journal prompt of mine is one that combines images and instrumental music. I start by playing a song for them. One song I use is “Intro” by The xx. After the song hits the 20-second mark, I start showing a series of four images.

When I get to the last slide, they begin writing. I give directions before I start the song, so they’re ready to write as soon as the last slide appears. They’re instructed to write a paragraph about which image they feel is the best match for the song. Being as specific as they can, they have to articulate why they chose that image. They detail exactly what about the song and image made them think the two were a good pair. They aren’t allowed to say that it reminded them of a movie, commercial, TV show, etc. Their responses have to be original.

Creating harmony with Edmodo

One thing I love about this activity is that it allows for a variety of responses. Some students prefer to tell a mini-story. They create a character who’s either shown in the picture, or the picture is seen from their point of view. They describe what’s happening to that character right at that moment. Other students talk about what emotions the song and the image invoke. Students who are more knowledgeable about music can be more technical in their description of the music and why it connects with a certain image.

I usually play the song through twice to give all the students time to write. When it ends, I ask them to log in to Edmodo. On Edmodo, I’ll have four posts that simply have the letters A, B, C, and D. I ask them to reply to the post that has the letter they chose and type their paragraph. I give them a few minutes to read the other students’ writing, then I wrap it up and move on with class. It’s a simple journal prompt that can lead to creative, deep, and original writing. I repeat the same format with different songs and images three or four times over the course of the year.

Here are some other songs that work well for this assignment:

“Whale & Wasp” by Alice in Chains
“Mount Modern” by Dad Rocks!
“Emer’s Dream” by Colm Mac Con Iomaire
“Penultimatum” by Jamie Saft (from the Murderball soundtrack)
“Coloring the Void” by M83
“Wire” by The Low Anthem

Nathan Garvin is a seventh and eighth grade English Language Arts and Reading teacher at Walnut Grove Middle School in Midlothian, Texas. He has been teaching there for nine years and graduated from Murray State University in Murray, Ky.

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