Category Archives: poetry

10 Minute Mini-Lesson: Logic and Lyrics, Rhyme and Rhetoric

Here is an assignment I did with my students today that came to me based on a song I heard while I was at the gym. It was great fun and just what we needed as a brief break. I teach all boys, juniors, and this might not be appropriate for all levels (but the idea of taking something and carving it up for students to put back together would still be valid). I am always interested in logic, inferences, rhetorical skills and reasoning–and this has it all. NEVER let anyone talk you out of having FUN in class (a common temptation because then you aren’t “serious” enough).

I gave the students the following set up: What follows are the lyrics to a song. You need to make 4 lines of either 6 or seven syllables. Each line will begin, “I make a…” and then you will pick one from column A and one from column B. You’ll need to account for rhyme (where should the rhyme go?) and though there are several ways to put this together, there is really only one “best” way.

Column A                                                                          Column B

1. Rich Woman                                                               A. Blush

2. Young Girl                                                                   B. Steal

3. Old Woman                                                                 C. Squeal

4. Good Woman                                                             D. Beg

 

The clue that I gave them was that three from column A “violate” our expectation of them and one does what is “expected.” You could, of course tell them it is two lines of hexameter (or a 12 syllable and a 13 syllable line that rhyme). But you still have to get things in the correct order. The most common “mistake” my students made was assigning the Rich Woman to Steal. That makes sense of course but does not leave a particularly good answer for the Good Woman. If you gave the Good Woman “blush” then the Old Woman would be left with either “Beg” or “Squeal”–neither of which is as satisfactory as the best way.  Here is the way that George Thorogood (“Bad to the Bone”) frames it and I’ll say a few words about thinking through the “best” organization”

I make a Rich Woman Beg,

I make a Good Woman Steal,

I make an Old Woman Blush

I make a Young Girl Squeal.

Why is this better than, say switching lines 2 and 4 or 1 and 3. You would preserve the rhyme and cadence in either case. But look carefully, this way allows the parallel construction of the old/young to be paired and both the other ways separate them. (This also goes back to flawed way of doing it from above where if the Rich Woman Steals then the Old Woman/Young Woman pairing is not as strong.) In addition, this way builds from the first three lines of the women acting counter to their nature or experience and closing with the one that A) is not a woman but a girl and B) acts as we might expect.

I was so impressed with my students as they wrestled around through some mistakes–all got the rhyme though some began with a couplet–but that wouldn’t really make the best way to sing it, now would it. In any event, we had a great time–and perhaps the unintended benefit was that the rest of the class (Chapter 23 of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man) was awesome.

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