Rock and Roll Persuasion - OVERVIEW
Common Core Standards:
SL.6.5. SL.7.5. SL 8.5. SL 9-10.5 SL 11-12.5. Include multimedia components (e.g., graphics, images, music, sound) and visual displays in presentations to clarify information.
SL.6.6. SL.7.6. SL 8.6. SL 9-10.6 SL 11-12.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.
I love this unit the way I love Tag Team Shakespeare – for its shear absurdity. It’s an irreverent take on something that we normally take quite seriously, which is the skill and power of public speaking. At the same time, neither unit is as easy to manufacture as students might think, which is okay, because I want them to have the illusion of simplicity so that they immediately latch on to it as a fun unit rather than a purposeful one. The beauty of this insidious task is that while the kids will get caught up in the music, lyrics and laughter, you can parlay it into a sound review project on proper speaking skills.
Okay, here’s the deal. You know how rock in roll is often more about the music than the lyrics; how the words can often border on the ridiculous and that’s fine so long as the tune is good? For this project that’s just perfect, because what your students will be doing is taking a song where the singer is trying to persuade someone to do something and use those lyrics (as goofy as they may be) as a speech designed to reinforce our good old friends eye contact, pause, facial expression, delivery, conviction and gesture.
The assignment is fairly straight forward. What they are going to do is play twenty to forty seconds of their chosen song, stop the music and then deliver the words of the song as an argument. My own modeling example is Michael Jackson’s, “Beat It”, and I must tell you that it’s one thing to listen to that song but quite another to make it into a persuasive oration to teenagers. Go ahead and say to your students - with the straightest of faces - “Showin' How Funky Strong Is Your Fight”. They will never view you the same way again as you tell them to “beat it” in any number of somber tones. I also enjoy speaking, “Build Me Up, Buttercup - particularly to the males of the class - just to make them howl.
What is the hardest part about this project? - keeping a straight face. It is definitely a lesson in self control when you have to coolly tell your students not to be a “macho man” and mean it. Just mean it. Just mean it. Mean it. Mean it. Mean it. Just Mean it. Yet, that’s the point of the experience; because in addition to honing gestures and movement, the students will be developing their sense of poise and composure. They have to go through the exercise without breaking a smile and losing their control. The hardest challenge for students will be to take “Oh babys” and “ooh wah oohs” and make them sound meaningful.
The point of the whole unit is to prepare the students for those moments in life where you have to speak in front of an audience that doesn’t support you, doesn’t listen to you and isn’t particularly concerned with what you have to say. Teenagers always assume that classroom conditions for a presentation are the same as they are in the real world. The fact is, many situations involve a hostile or apathetic audience and the kids have to prepare themselves for what that could be like. Since you can’t have your students acting poorly while a students is presenting, you do the next best thing - create a situation where they are laughing at the speaker and see how well the student holds up. This project is about poise, to be cool under fire and not break your concentration under adverse conditions - conditions which the class creates for themselves.
Additionally, this will be the first project that seriously deals with the skill of movement in front of an audience and that’s why it’s best placed ( if you can) before the other more formal speaking presentations. Mind you, we touched on it in Persuasive Speaking from the first book, but this project really calls on all of the presenters to add movement to their repertoire, so make it a requirement. If you never include Persuasive Speaking, Extemporaneous Speaking or Competitive Debate in your curriculum, at least they will receive some experience from this unit.
If this unit really grabs your imagination, you might want to perform the duet version of the unit (I include it in the students’ introduction to the unit. We used for the first time this year and the kids loved it. Our demonstration pieces were, Twist and Shout and Wild Thing. If nothing else, this just might be a great closing unit for the school year.
When I began my research for extremely recognizable tunes with persuasive lyrics that would last from four to six minutes, I had no difficulty finding sources on the net. That means that none of your students should have any excuses for not locating material. To help those who are musically-challenged, I’ve included six pages of songs (pre-2000) that are guaranteed to meet the requirements of this project (If the titles mean nothing to them, all they have to do is sit down with their parents or grandparents and the bonding session will lead them to some great options.).
The only difficulty you may run into is that your school’s computer censorship program may stop them cold. Our own system seems to block anything, but even so, it still allows them to have quite a bit of access to musical sites, so I’m going to bet you shouldn’t have too much difficulty either. Should your filtering system be even more Draconian than ours, it means that you might need to take requests from your students and handle the research end under your own name for those who have no computers at home. Stop watches, cell phones or a classroom clock with a second hand will be needed as this project has specific time limits.
Additionally, you’ll want to have reserved some location that will allow you to play music without disrupting your fellow teachers and a boom box that plays cd’s. If you can reserve your library or a multi-purpose room for this unit, either would make for a good fit. Of equal value were students who had I-Pod speakers and were gracious enough to bring in their system and help us out. Keep in mind that many songs can also be had by going to YouTube, but the process of doing so really slows down the presentation time and I don’t recommend it. The fastest system used was where the students burnt their two songs onto a cd. It was simple, quick to load, boom box friendly and always reliable. The current smart phones are good, but without speakers their volume is poor. You could set up a microphone linked to a speaker and that would help the cell phone students manage. Naturally, you’ll have to have that type of equipment available to you.
While “Beat It” makes for an amusing model piece, I would recommend that you search for another piece as well so that you can illustrate for them what the four to six minutes of speaking feels like. We have set up the unit so that every part of it, from the music set-up to the playing of the songs to the completion of the speeches are all included in the time period. Students often come up with great selections but they don’t time them out well enough and they come up on the short side of the unit’s minimums. No matter how much they fall in love with their chosen lyrics they still have to be mindful of project requirements. When it came to modeling, I have done so with my teaching partner, Mary Lynn Crawford as well as a student, Zack Bonds. I had a blast with both of them and I encourage you not to do the model alone. If you could get a buddy to work with you, I think you’d find the modeling experience as enjoyable as I did.
If the students fall in love with a shorter piece, that’s fine, but their second selection (or even their third) has got to have some length to it. I tell my guys that they can’t write new lyrics to the song, but they can use the refrain more than once. Certainly they should never cut out the sounds made by the singer (or their back-ups) that are not in word form. Those “ooooooo’s” and “aaaaaaaa’s are what make the project so much fun. By all means, don’t remove them from your own. My persona with my students could sometimes be described as “austere”, so the chance for them to see me at my self-mocking best is a treat to be sure. To see me do it twice – priceless. The problem with lyrics on the web is that they don’t include the background vocals, so by all means encourage your classes to listen to the actual song as they write out their words. In this way they’ll find even funnier material and it will help to increase their speaking time.
A final warning? Make sure that your own delivery is so well rehearsed that you don’t break a single smile when you perform. There should be an air of gravity about your entire presentation no matter how much your students might laugh. If you break, it will give them tacit permission to do the same when it’s their turn. As far as steering your students towards the best material, suggest that they start with the sixties and the Billboard Top 100 sites. Mom and Dad should definitely play a role as well.
In a sense, this project is very similar to the student’s earlier unit, Poetry Reading. What’s different is that gestures, movement and stance are a part of the expectation and that the subject matter is treated seriously. Moreover, by now your level of expectation should be much higher when it comes to the quality of work. In the earlier project they could take lyrics from a song and have fun with them. In this instance they have to lend a formal, persuasive quality to the presentation. In fact, it has to be continuously stressed that the materials must be argumentative throughout. Lyrics that would have been acceptable for Poetry Reading can’t be used here if the song isn’t trying to convince someone to do something. Be prepared for any number of students who won’t be able to grasp that concept. Perhaps it would be time well spent if you showed them the difference between The Beatles, I Want to Hold Your Hand and All My Loving.
For some of you there might be a desire to place this project back in Oral Communications Unit 1, between Narrative Joke Telling and Impromptu Speaking. At first glance it does seem like a natural fit as both gesture and stance are a part of impromptu’s expectations. In a sense I wouldn’t blame you if you did as it tends to be a fun way to ease students into the physical demands of oration. I place it here because I’ve set these books up as the ground work for two speech classes and it makes for an even better review unit for foundation skills than it does as an introduction to gestures and posture. For those who aren’t setting up a speech class, by all means plug it in as a third, simple unit for public speaking. Goodness knows with Poetry Reading, Narrative Joke Telling and Rock and Roll Persuasion, it’s as gentle a line-up for teaching students public speaking as I can offer you.
When it comes to the introduction of this assignment, try to give the students at least one week’s notice between the time you explain it to them and the day they are required to bring in their lyrics. This will allow students the chance to consider a range of choices and those without access to computers will have the opportunity to give you their titles so that you can locate them in time. You also have to keep in mind that students need to secure copies of the music and that might take some doing as well. Our students seem to download everything to I-Pods and smart phones but that’s just our school. You may have a completely different situation. It may well be worth polling your students to find out who has access and who doesn’t. I’m not saying it will be a huge problem - as this generation is incredibly tech savvy – but it’s worth knowing the lay of the land before you begin.
By allowing your students to network and share their sources it might help out some of your less advantaged students. In my own classes we never had an issue where someone wouldn’t step up and lend a hand and that’s always good to see. By the way, in the course of these two books you must be getting the impression that I either hold my students in too little regard or simply find their efforts so insubstantial as to merit mention. In point of fact, I have always been blessed with year after year of remarkable young ladies and gentlemen who seem to find the tradeoff of enduring my unceasing demands for better efforts - or leaving the class for another - to be worth their patience and fortitude. Mind you, they are middle school students and I have concluded that you are always wisest to dole out your praise in limited quantities as they rarely know what to do with it once extended. Incidentally, one other element to remember – parents. One of the pleasures of this unit is to see moms and dads pitching song ideas to their kids – and the students actually listen. For once parents actually seem to know a thing or two about an area that their children assume is completely beyond their grasp – music. In a world where teens always feel they own to the rights to all things that are musically cool, this is a rare phenomenon.
The following, based on the usual conditions of twenty-five students in a fifty minute period, is how I would base this unit:
Day 1 – introduce the unit, model the final product (30 – 40 minutes)
Day 2 – (at least one week later) edit songs brought from home for time (20 minutes) OR begin research (40 minutes - 50 minutes)
Day 3 – first practice (30 minutes) OR more research (40 minutes)
Day 4 – second practice (30 minutes) or editing and timing (50 minutes)
Day 5 – third practice (30 minutes)
Day 6 – lambs (15 minutes) OR more practice (20 minutes)
Day 7 – lambs (15 minutes) OR more practice (20 minutes)
Day 8 – full lambs - or last rehearsal (20 minutes)
Day 9 – presentation day one (all period)
Day 10 – presentation day two (all period)
Day 11 – presentation day three (all period)
Note: If you decide to do the duet version of this project you will probably have to add more time because the coordinated movement between the two students requires considerably more practice time.