Eastwood Elementary (New Castle, IN) first grade teacher Susie Allen uses music lyrics to target main idea. After discussing that the main idea is a general, umbrella explanation of what something is about, she plays songs that students aren’t familiar with (e.g., “Lean on Me,” by Bill Withers).

After listening to the lyrics, she has students brainstorm what they think the title of the song is. They consider what the message of the song is, and what it is mostly about. Of course, then the class compares their main idea title to the original.

What a fabulous idea, Susie! I think it would also work for students in older grades. However, the key to this lesson is to pick songs for which students don’t already know the title.

On a side note, here’s a strategy for upper grade teachers to target main idea in novels, plays, and chapter books. As texts get more difficult, the chapters stop coming with titles and are just numbered. Have students develop a list of titles (main ideas) as you read each chapter. This would be a great strategy for summarizing and reviewing plot development, too. Download a chapter title template.

Great Teacher Comments:

Kate Bieker shared:

I teach 6th grade language arts at Willowcreek Middle School in Portage, Indiana. I also use music lyrics–but to teach figurative language. Students can easily interpret similes, but metaphors often go misunderstood. I pick a couple songs kids aren’t familiar with (“The Rose” by Bette Midler, “Sound of Silence” or “I am a Rock” by Simon and Garfunkel, “That’s Amore” by Dean Martin, “Like a Rock” by Bob Seger, etc.). After listening to the songs, I give students the lyrics. They first have to identify the figurative language, then, in small groups, interpret what it means. We go back to whole group to discuss their interpretations.

As a second step, this ties directly into the main idea or message of the song. Once students know what the metaphors mean, they gain an understanding of what the song is about. Lastly, I allow students to find similes and metaphors in their music. They first bring me the lyrics, so I can make sure they are school appropriate. If I approve it, they can bring it in on an iPod, and I play it for the class. They love it!

Kate Bieker – teacher at Willowcreek Middle School (Portage, IN)

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