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Step Up to Writing®
by Michael Milone on Sep 21, 2017
Let's get right to the point. Students are most interested in what they are interested in. (This is kind of tautology-ish, so forgive me.) In any classroom, the range of interests is infinite and changes whimsically. However, there are two things nearly every student is interested in: movies and music. That means movie scripts and song lyrics can be amazing reading resources in many ways. And they are available online, free of charge.
So, here's what you do. Conduct an informal survey of your students (which involves a little math) to identify popular movies and songs. The titles don’t have to be current, and you can use favorites your students enjoyed in the past. Track down these scripts and lyrics online, use your brilliant creativity, and craft lesson ideas to help reach goals you have for your students.
But wait, you are probably asking yourself: "Where can I find these wonderful resources?" I'm not providing any links because there are so many sources. Also, I don't want to be accused of promoting some sites while ignoring others. If you search for them, they will come.
Another voice might ask: "Are all scripts and lyrics appropriate for my students?" The answer is a resounding NO. Some scripts and lyrics might be a bit edgy, so preview the texts. You also have the option of choosing sections or excerpts of the scripts or texts that are useful for your purposes without being questionable in any way. If ever in doubt, don't use it.
Now that you have found some interesting scripts and lyrics, screened them, and selected appropriate excerpts, what can you do with them? The answer is, pretty much anything. Just use your aforementioned brilliant creativity.
Here are a few examples, but you are going to find that these resources can be used in countless ways:
• Let's imagine you are teaching second grade using a phonics-based approach. Here's the first stanza of Let It Go.
The snow glows white on the mountain tonight
Not a footprint to be seen.
A kingdom of isolation,
and it looks like I'm the Queen
The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside
Couldn't keep it in;
Heaven knows I've tried
Many of your students will be familiar with the lyrics, but they might have misheard them, (e.g. Have a nose I tried.) This is a perfect opportunity to expose students to relatively complex text in a fun way. A class reading (or singing) followed by your word-by-word reading will expose students to words they might be unfamiliar with in other contexts (isolation, swirling).
Or, you can work on some phonics principles, like the diphthong ow in snow and glows or the different long-i spellings in white and tonight as well as inside and tried. Dive in and go through the high-frequency words, the words that feature some phonics rules you have taught, and preview some concepts you plan to introduce soon.
Don't forget the use of idioms. Heaven knows (not have a nose) is a phrase many students might not have heard or won't understand. Clarifying this expression and highlighting common literary phrases (wind is howling) will add to students' background knowledge in meaningful ways.
• When working with older students, movie scripts can be an incredible resource for reading and writing. Scripts are written in a specific format, and this requires thinking that will be unfamiliar to most students yet readily understood once it is learned. For example, the location of a scene is specified, reinforcing the notion of setting. Characters are identified clearly by name, and their actions are described. These hints help to crystallize students' understanding of character and plot, both of which are generalized to traditional reading.
The language of movie scripts is an interesting combination of complex ideas stated in straightforward language, allowing viewers to follow the plot with understanding. This type of writing is reader friendly, so struggling students won't be left behind. They may, in fact, be motivated to apply skills in ways not available to them when reading traditional texts.
When you get a moment, check out some online resources for scripts and lyrics. Be sure to include contemporary and classic movies and songs. Be alert for distraction, since you will undoubtedly be tempted to get a little too cozy with the scripts of great movies like Casablanca, and then you will wonder where the time went. Here's looking at you, kid.
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