April 8, 2011
Good god. Why?
First: You have all the completely unearned, massive engagement of kids who know this song was released only two or three weeks ago to 85 million hits on Youtube. Strong recommendation: don’t wait. Get this into your classroom before two weeks are out.
Second: Like every other human being, kids jump at the chance to be the experts. They ache to be critics on why a piece of writing works or doesn’t. Let them.
Finally: Everyone talks about anchor papers and quality exemplars, but just as instructional– and often a heck of a lot more fun– is looking at work that is really, really bad.
How do I do this?
Since the layers of ridiculousness in this tune are near impenetrable, you have to be exceptionally focused and intentional in how this song is presented, or you’ll be at it for the whole period or longer.
In our classroom, kids have a Figurative Language Cheat Sheet which we tape to the front of their English binders in September (copy available here). We use this constantly as one of the rulers of critically analyzing the pieces we read. It serves not only as a visual reinforcement of the definitions, but also as a means of demonstrating that figurative language is the key to good writing across all genres.
Hand out a copy of the lyrics (available here), and have the kids place the Cheat Sheet side by side with it. Our purpose, I tell them, is to use figurative language to determine why this is the worst song on the planet.
Play through the video ONCE.
They will beg you to see it again. Ignore them.
They will also want to tell you many, many things about the song. Be draconian about not taking these comments until you’ve done the analysis.
Give them a strictly timed three minutes to label any figurative language in the song.
Discuss as a whole class.
Three Real-Time Examples:
Gotta get my bowl, gotta get my cereal. This is where I teach the kids about the phrase “labored rhymes.”
Makes tick tock, tick tock, wanna scream. Onomatoepoeia From Nowhere. About a bus, apparently.
Yesterday was Thursday. Today is Friday. Tomorrow is Saturday. And Sunday comes afterwards. While not strictly figurative language-based, this is the verse where we apply Nancie Atwell’s rule of “So What?” What purpose does this exhaustive list of weekday names serve? (Perhaps Rebecca Black’s audience has trouble keeping them straight.)
And if you have time, discuss the bonus absurdism of the video: for example, how the song moves from 7 to 7:45 AM, when suddenly on the screen there appears to be a massive solar eclipse.
Best Student Comment:
“I’m very glad Rebecca Black didn’t actually get on the bus. She would have had a heart attack. There are just too many seating options.”
And the UnKindest Cut:
“Ms. S, did you know she did another song called ‘Prom Night’?” *
* This is actually a very clever parody. But I couldn’t pass up the punchy ending.