Figurative Language In Song Lyrics Assignment Of Mortgage

Astrid Stawiarz/Getty ImagesJay-Z signs copies of his book “Decoded” at a Barnes & Noble in New York.Go to related article »

Overview | How can using writer’s notebooks and practicing the use of literary elements help writers develop ideas? In this lesson, students examine the lyrics of rap artist Jay-Z for literary elements including rhyme, metaphor, puns and allusions, then consider what he says about his own writing process. Finally, they analyze additional lyrics and apply lessons from Jay-Z’s process to their own reading and writing.

Materials | Computer with projection equipment and speakers; music player (for student presentations); copies of the lyrics to “Empire State of Mind” and the handout “Empire State of Mind Literary Elements Hunt” (PDF)

Warm-Up | As students enter class, play on audio or video Jay-Z’s popular song “Empire State of Mind”. (Note: The lyrics are provocative. Be sure to preview them to gauge appropriateness for your group.) Ask for reactions to the song. What do they like about it? What are the main ideas and themes of the lyrics? Is it literary? Why or why not?

Distribute the lyrics to “Empire State of Mind” and the handout “Empire State of Mind Literary Elements Hunt” (PDF). Challenge students to identify an example of each of the literary elements on the sheet in Jay-Z’s lyrics.

Once students have shared their examples and you have discussed their accuracy, ask: How has Jay-Z used these literary elements to express his own experience? Why does he use them? What effect do they have on you?

Related | In the article “Jay-Z Deconstructs Himself,” Michiko Kakutani reviews Jay-Z’s “Decoded,” a memoir chronicling his evolution as a writer and artist:

“Everywhere I went I’d write,” Jay-Z recalls in his compelling new book, “Decoded.” “If I was crossing a street with my friends and a rhyme came to me, I’d break out my binder, spread it on a mailbox or lamppost and write the rhyme before I crossed the street.” If he didn’t have his notebook with him, he’d run to “the corner store, buy something, then find a pen to write it on the back of the brown paper bag.” That became impractical when he was a teenager, working streets up and down the eastern corridor, selling crack, and he says he began to work on memorizing, creating “little corners in my head where I stored rhymes.”

In time, that love of words would give Jay-Z more No. 1 albums than Elvis and fuel the realization of his boyhood dream: becoming, as he wrote in one of his earliest lyrics, the poet with “rhymes so provocative” that he was the “key in the lock” — “the king of hip-hop.”

Read the entire article with your class, using the questions below.

Questions | For discussion and reading comprehension:

  1. As a young man, how did Jay-Z use his notebook to capture ideas for lyrics?
  2. How did Jay-Z’s former life as a drug dealer contribute to his development as a writer?
  3. How did writing help Jay-Z make sense out of his life?
  4. What are some examples of ways in which Jay-Z uses traditional literary devices to help him express street life?
  5. What does “postmodern” mean? In what way could Jay-Z’s work be considered postmodern?

Activity | Both the main activity detailed below, which guides students in examining song lyrics for literary elements, and the Going Further activity, which discusses how students might use writer’s notebooks to develop their own ideas for writing, revolve around Jay-Z’s writing process. Either could be the focus of your lesson.

To begin an examination of how writers use literary elements, call students’ attention to this paragraph from the article:

In the end, “Decoded” leaves the reader with a keen appreciation of how rap artists have worked myriad variations on a series of familiar themes (hustling, partying and “the most familiar subject in the history of rap — why I’m dope”) by putting a street twist on an arsenal of traditional literary devices (hyperbole, double entendres, puns, alliteration and allusions), and how the author himself magically stacks rhymes upon rhymes, mixing and matching metaphors even as he makes unexpected stream-of-consciousness leaps that rework old clichés and play clever aural jokes on the listener (“ruthless” and “roofless,” “tears” and “tiers,” “sense” and “since”).

Discuss how this applies to the lyrics from “Empire State of Mind” with the following questions:

  • What themes does Jay-Z address in this song?
  • How does his use of literary elements help bring out these themes?
  • Where in the lyrics do you see layers of metaphors?
  • What are the effects of his “language tricks” on you as a listener?

To go deeper on lyric analysis, have students examine another favorite song for literary elements. Artists might include Bob Dylan, Ray Davies, Fall Out Boy, the Beatles and many other lyricists. Some artists lend themselves better than others to this sort of analysis, so you might ask students to get your approval on their selections before moving forward.

Have them print out the lyrics to their chosen song and annotate them by highlighting key words, literary elements and devices, observations they make about the text and ideas about theme. Then, have them find examples of as many literary elements as possible within the lyrics. Once they have done this, ask them to choose three literary elements to examine more closely. One way they might do this is by creating and filling in a chart with three column headings: “Passage,” “Literary Element” and “Analysis.”

Reconvene as a class for presentations. After students have finished sharing, ask them the following questions:

  • What musical genres seemed to make the most use of literary elements? Why do you think this is?
  • Why would musical artists use the same old literary devices we study in class?
  • How do these artists keep these devices fresh and avoid cliché?
  • What would the lyrics be like without these literary elements?
  • Which of these lyrics would you call literary?

Going Further | Remind students how Jay-Z uses writer’s notebooks and used to jot down ideas for rhymes on the fly. How might he use these notes to develop songs? Tell them to start a writer’s notebook and use it, as Ralph Fletcher, a writer who champions writer’s notebooks, says, “to breathe in the world around,” and to include a variety of writing in their notebooks about things they notice, wonderings, small, intriguing details and seed ideas, as Jay-Z does.

Have students keep a writer’s notebook to capture details, scenes and emotions from their lives, schools and neighborhoods over a period of days or weeks. Encourage them to carry their notebooks with them always and to use them in ways that reflects them, whether that means drawing pictures, making lists, jotting down their thoughts in rhyme or writing fully fledged paragraphs. A writer’s notebook is a place for experimentation, creativity and risk taking. This can be done using a pad of paper or tech tools like the iPod Touch.

Alternatively, students create and keep commonplace books, in which they jot down snippets of lyrics they hear, bits of poetry and other quotations, as well as their ideas about these. Different from writer’s notebooks, in which students consciously write and record their own ideas, commonplace books serve as sort of collecting places for students to react and respond to other people’s words, which of course, can prove valuable fodder for their own writing.

You might give creative and personal writing assignments – including songwriting – designed to encourage students to mine the raw material in their notebooks and develop more polished pieces.

Standards | This lesson is correlated to McREL’s national standards (it can also be aligned to the new Common Core State Standards):

Language Arts
1. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process
5. Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process
6. Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies for reading a variety of literary texts
7. Uses general skills and strategies to understand a variety of informational texts
8. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes

Music
7. Understands the relationship between music and history and culture

Arts and Communication
1. Understands the principles, processes and products associated with arts and communication media
2. Knows and applies appropriate criteria to arts and communication products
3. Uses critical and creative thinking in various arts and communication settings
4. Understands ways in which the human experience is transmitted and reflected in the arts and communication

Life Skills: Working With Others
1. Contributes to the overall effort of a group
4. Displays effective interpersonal communication skills

Language Arts

Teaching ideas based on New York Times content.

RELATED RESOURCES
From The Learning Network
From NYTimes.com
Around the Web

Overview | How are metaphors used in both writing and everyday life? What is the role of metaphors in shaping our reality? In this lesson, students raise their awareness of the prevalence and function of metaphors in our everyday language by investigating common metaphors in poetry and song, analyzing the use of metaphors in a variety of short texts and exploring the metaphors in use throughout their daily life.

Materials | Student journals, slips of paper with metaphors for love from songs and poems (see below), computers with Internet access or print copies of The New York Times

Warm-Up | Before students arrive, write “Love is _______________” on the board. As they enter, ask them to use their journals to fill in the blank with a noun (and an article, if necessary) that best represents their feelings about love.

After two minutes, invite students to share their sentences. Ask the class if they noticed any similarities. If no one mentions it, explain that these sentences are metaphors. Take the time to review or introduce the definition of metaphor and various types of metaphors, and to distinguish them from similes.

Then tell students to pair up, and give each pair a slip of paper with one of the following lines from love songs and poems:

  • “Your love is smallpox” – Paul and Storm, “Your Love Is (Love Song With Metaphor)”
  • “Love is a battlefield” – Pat Benatar, “Love is a Battlefield”
  • “Love is a rose” – Neil Young, “Love Is a Rose”
  • “Love, it is a river” – Amanda McBroom, “The Rose”
  • “Love is a banana peel” – Ben Weisman and Fred Wise, “I Slipped, I Stumbled, I Fell,” (sung by Elvis Presley)
  • “Oh, love is a journey with water and stars” – Pablo Neruda, Sonnet 12
  • “[Love] is an ever-fixed mark / That looks on tempests and is never shaken” – William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116
  • “Love is a truck. Love is a wall” – Connie Kaldor, “Love Is a Truck”
  • “Love’s a loaded gun” – Alice Cooper, “Love’s a Loaded Gun”
  • “Love is a losing game” – Amy Winehouse, “Love Is a Losing Game”
  • “Love is the drug” – Roxy Music, “Love Is the Drug”
  • “Love is a song that never ends” – “Love is a Song” from “Bambi”

For more love metaphors, see About.com’s “Love Is a Metaphor” and the entire Paul and Storm song “Your Love Is (Love Song With Metaphor)” (quoted above).

Explain that the task is to “unpack” one of the lyrics, explaining what the comparison being made tells us about love.

After students share their observations about what these metaphors mean, discuss them, using these questions:

  • What do these metaphors say about love? In what ways do they ring true for you? Do any of them strike you as misleading, misguided or silly?
  • Why do you think songs and poems often use metaphor to discuss love? Why use comparisons and analogies to express views about love?
  • What other metaphors can you recall from popular love songs? What do these metaphors reveal about love?
  • What kinds of metaphors do we use to talk about love – in songs and otherwise? What does this tell us about how love is perceived in our culture?
  • Why are metaphors so common in love songs? Can you think of any songs that talk about love directly, without using metaphors or similes?

Related | In “Poetry for Everyday Life,” the Op-Ed columnist David Brooks explores the “pedestrian poetry” of metaphors in the language we use every day:

To be aware of the central role metaphors play is to be aware of how imprecise our most important thinking is. It’s to be aware of the constant need to question metaphors with data — to separate the living from the dead ones, and the authentic metaphors that seek to illuminate the world from the tinny advertising and political metaphors that seek to manipulate it.

Most important, being aware of metaphors reminds you of the central role that poetic skills play in our thought. If much of our thinking is shaped and driven by metaphor, then the skilled thinker will be able to recognize patterns, blend patterns, apprehend the relationships and pursue unexpected likenesses.

Read the entire column with your class, using the questions below.

Questions | For discussion and reading comprehension:

  1. What is notable about the sentence David Brooks quotes at the beginning of his column? What does this sentence demonstrate about how we use language?
  2. What examples of common metaphors does Mr. Brooks include in his piece?
  3. Why do we use so many metaphors?
  4. What do the examples Mr. Brooks draws from Judaism illustrate about the relationship between language and culture?
  5. Why do you think he decided to promote awareness of our use of metaphors by writing a column about them?

Activity | Situate small groups of students at computers with Internet access or give each group print copies of The New York Times. Assign different groups to different sections of the paper, like opinion, sports, science, arts and style, in addition to the main news coverage. Tell them to work together to find and circle or highlight, or jot down, as many metaphors and instances of metaphorical language as they can in five minutes.

When the time is up, whip around and invite all groups to call out some of the metaphors they found in the newspaper. Then have them share what they noticed. Did any of the sections tend to have more metaphors, or more colorful ones? Or do metaphors seem to be fairly equally distributed?

Choose at least three of the metaphors they found, and closely examine each one as a class. What meaning does it convey? What tone does it set? What effect does it have? How does it help the reader understand the subject matter? Were they surprised by the number of metaphors in the newspaper?

Tell students to return to their groups and select any three of the sentences they found that have metaphors and rewrite them, avoiding the use of any metaphors at all.

Then, have each group team up with another group to share the original sentences and their versions. What’s the difference? What has been lost in the rewritten sentence? Has anything been gained? Which do you prefer, and why?

Reconvene as a class to share sentences and thoughts. Discuss what this exercise reveals about why writers of fiction, poetry, songs and nonfiction – even news – use metaphors, and about the power of metaphors. Do they agree or disagree with David Brooks that “To be aware of the central role metaphors play is to be aware of how imprecise our most important thinking is”?

Going Further | Remind students that, as the column noted, people use metaphors, on average, every 10 to 25 words. Ask if they think this sounds reasonable and then tell them that they are going to find out by capturing metaphors in daily life.

Students note metaphors they overhear in conversations at home or in places where they can listen anonymously, like a coffee shop, bus or train, shopping center or park. If they want to include family conversations, be sure that they tell their families that about the eavesdropping activity and get permission. Specify a minimum period of time that students should spend listening for and recording metaphors over the course of, say, three days.

Then have students analyze their data by counting metaphorical uses of language and assessing their frequency and contexts. How frequently were metaphors used? Every 10-25 words? What kinds of metaphors did they hear? Who spoke them, and in what context? Which did they find particularly interesting? Were there any differences among the types of metaphors they encountered in songs, poems, newspaper articles and daily conversation?

After sharing results as a group, discuss what our use of metaphor does to our thinking. In what ways does it guide our thoughts? Challenge them? Distort and multiply or reduce them?

Students might also use their direct experience with everyday metaphor to respond in writing to the first paragraph listed under the heading “Concepts We Live By” in an excerpt from the Lakoff and Johnson book “Metaphors We Live By.”

Another way to take this activity further is for students to analyze a metaphor in any text that they respond to in some way. Texts to consider might include additional Times articles, song lyrics, advertisements (including political ads), poems, political speeches and dramatic monologues. In their analysis essays, they should consider the central metaphor at hand as well as others that appear and recur in the excerpt, what type of metaphor it is, how it relates to and expresses the central theme or idea of the piece and its effect on the reader or audience. In a future class, students share their selections and analyses.

Standards | This lesson is correlated to McREL’s national standards (it can also be aligned to the new Common Core State Standards):

Language Arts
1. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process.
2. Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing.
4. Gathers and uses information for research purposes.
5. Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process.
6. Uses skills and strategies to read a variety of literary texts.
7. Uses general skills and strategies to understand a variety of informational texts.
8. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes.

Behavioral Studies
1. Understands that group and cultural influences contribute to human development, identity and behavior.

Arts and Communication
4. Understands ways in which the human experience is transmitted and reflected in the arts and communication.

Life Skills: Working With Others
1. Contributes to the overall effort of a group.
4. Displays effective interpersonal communication skills.

Technology
3. Understands the relationships among science, technology, society and the individual.

Language Arts

Teaching ideas based on New York Times content.

RELATED RESOURCES
From The Learning Network
From NYTimes.com
Around the Web

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