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December 1999 - Issue No. #37 (p.17)

Teaching with Global Issue Songs - Part II

by Jane Joritz-Nakagawa (Tsukuba University, Japan)

In Newsletter #35 (June, 1999) Sunao Shimizu offered a rationale and list of songs for teaching global issues through music. Here I'd like to provide a sample lesson and some practical tips for using global issue content songs in the language classroom.

Finding Songs and Lyrics in Japan

CD rental shops provide an economical way of obtaining music for the classroom. Japanese CDs usually contain lyrics of foreign songs in both Japanese and English. For teachers in areas where English CDs are limited, Internet shops like provide quick service. Home pages on the Internet also list songs; you can use Yahoo to find home pages devoted to a band or musician and quickly find the lyrics to the songs of that artist. This gives you an already typed, easily alterable document for making a cloze or other classroom activity.

Sample Classroom Activities

  1. Cloze: Students can listen to a song and fill in the gaps. One variation is for students to guess the missing words, then listen to check if their guess was correct.

  2. The reading or listening of lyrics can be preceded and/or followed up by group discussion and journal writing.

Facilitating Listening Through Cloze

  1. Include the Japanese translation of the song alongside the English cloze.

  2. Omit relatively few or relatively easy-to-catch words when making the cloze.

  3. Put the cloze answers at the bottom of the page but in random order.

  4. Give the first letter of the omitted word, or use blanks to indicate how many letters the word has.

  5. Have students compare their answers in groups after listening.

Facilitating Comprehension of the Lyrics

  1. Include a Japanese translation as above.

  2. Have students discuss the lyrics in groups.

  3. The teacher provides a partial summary of the song; students work to complete it.

  4. Pre-teach vocabulary or assign different groups a portion of the new vocabulary or assign different groups a portion of the new vocabulary to check in their dictionaries and report to the class (this saves time compared to students looking up words individually).

Facilitating Discussion or Journal Writing

  1. Provide a list of discussion questions or have students create their own questions.

  2. Give sample journal entries in easy English and allow students to collaborate.

Mercy, Mercy by Marvin Gaye (from his album Ecology)
Oh mercy, mercy me, ah.
Ah, things ain't what they _________1 to be, no no.
Where did all the __________________2 skies go?
Poison is the ___________________3 that blows
from the north and south and ______________4.

Woo, mercy, mercy me, mercy father, ahh.
Things ain't what they _______5 to be, no no.
Oil wasted on the _____________6 and upon our ____________7,
fish _________8 of mercury.

Ah, oh, mercy, mercy me, ah.
Things ain't what they _______________9 to be, no no.
Radiation under ______________10 and in the ________11
______________12 and birds who live by
are ___________________13.

Oh, mercy, mercy me, ah.
Things ain't what they ___________14 to be, no no.
What about this over- ______________15 land?
How much more __________16 from man can she stand?
Oh na, na . . . My sweet Lord. . . No. . . My Lord.

Questions for Students

  1. What does the second line mean?

  2. What does "she" refer to (second to last line)?

  3. What does "man" refer to (second to last line)?

  4. Make a list of all the environmental problems that are mentioned in the song.

  5. How many of these are problems in Japan?

  6. Make a list of possible causes for these.

  7. Make a list of possible solutions.

Cloze Answers

1) used   2) blue   3) wind   4) east   5) used   6) oceans   7) seas   8) full   9) used   10) ground   11) sky   12) animals   13) dying   14) used   15) crowded   16) abuse


Socially aware musicians make public through interviews their views on global issues. These can be found in magazines or on the Internet and can be utilized to prompt class discussions. I recommend Heartspark Dollarsign by the band "Everclear" from the CD Sparkle and Fade (1995) on interracial relationships. Also, ask your students to look for or propose songs for the class to study.


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Kip A. Cates, Tottori University, Koyama, Tottori City, JAPAN 680-8551
E-mail: Work Tel/Fax: 0857-31-5650