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If there is one thing that is constant among generations of teenagers, it is the love of music. And if there’s one thing that English teachers know, it’s that music is the perfect gateway to getting students into poetry. Today, I’d like to share an awesome poetry/music pairing to try in your own classroom: Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago” meets Patrick Stump’s “This City is My City”. The Literary Maven has an incredible blog post out about poetry mashups (coming in April!) with lots of suggestions from other ELA teachers, but I wanted to share my mashup here in a bit more detail for you all.
My Glee Mash-up nickname for this lesson is “This City is My City of Broad Shoulders”. Clever, huh? I thought you’d like that. When you teach paired poetry, you’re asking something truly unique and rigorous of them: you’re asking them to consider similarities and differences across genres and often across huge time gaps in history. Asking your students how and why the pieces relate to one another, even just casually, is a beautiful exercise in critical thinking. But you can construct something more purposeful, too! I love the mashup of these two pieces and I’d like to discuss why these two pieces are so cool together.
Stump’s “This City” has lyrics that describe pride in a city despite its flaws and corruption and Sandburg does something very similar in his poem. Stump writes:
and Sandburg writes:
These two voices, so distant in time and genre, have such a scrappy, unapologetic sense of pride for their cities. Both poets use a counter argument structure: they acknowledge the faults of their cities, then come right down and defend their homes. Stump identifies the “unethical politician” while Sandburg references having “seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again”. The reason I enjoy pairing these two together is because Stump’s version is so simple and approachable. His language is plain and the song is catchy, so it makes for a nice scaffold. Once you layer on “Chicago”, the language gets more difficult, but since you’re approaching it in the same context as “This City”, the students already have a frame for the poem.
As you look through these parallels with students (and there are several more!), I would suggest focusing in on four major aspects of the poems: the tone, the message, the speakers, and the figurative language. Depending on your class, you might even narrow that list down to just two things to focus on.
Wouldn’t this be a great opportunity for some close reading practice? I have a few ideas to share with you. Ready?
THREE WAYS TO ENGAGE STUDENTS WITH MASHUPS:
1. The Mashup Poem
Just like this blog post title, this activity asks students to combine the two works together into a unique poem of their own. Have you ever had students write a blackout poem? This concept is similar! Provide both the poem and the song to students printed out. Have students place the two pieces side by side. With a pen, highlighter or sharpie, have students read the poem as if they were blended together across the margins. For example, in the Sandburg/Stump Mashup, the first line would read: “This city is my city/Hog Butcher of the World”. As the students read across the two poems like this, they should use their writing utensil to underline the phrases they like the best and start blending their favorite parts together and eliminating some of the text as they go. By the time they’re done, everyone will have a unique poem even though they all started with the same two sets of text!
For this lesson, I give students a regular ole’ venn diagram, but with a twist. This venn diagram is sectioned off into the four elements that we focused on an annotated as we were reading. To use this venn diagram, you could do stations, you could do a jigsaw, or you might even break students up into small groups and have them present what they found. I would suggest doing one of the sections together as a model and then assign the rest for small group work or homework (depending on their skill level). Encourage students to write direct lines (textual evidence) in the venn diagram as much as they can! They should avoid vague statements and summary as they work through the organizer.
3. Deeper Analysis
Once they’ve finished comparing and contrasting, now they can move on to some writing about their observations. For this next level part of the lesson, students will choose one element that they identified and defend how and why this similarity or difference is significant. For example, if the students identified the tone of “This City” as joyful and the tone of “Chicago” as empowered, students would then discuss how that ultimately impacts the message of each poem and makes them different from one another. This is the part of the lesson that higher level students should work on the most and younger, more inexperienced students should practice with you and be encouraged to try. Don’t skip this step -- it’s HARD, but it’s IMPORTANT!
What are some other mashups that you’d like to try? Let me know in the comments!