Songs In the Key Of ELT – Wish I Was Skinny

An occasional series of lesson ideas using songs you’re not likely to hear in a coursebook…

 

Artist: The Boo Radleys
Song: Wish I Was Skinny

Written by: Carr, Martin, James

Lyrics:

Wishing I was skinny
Wishing that the whole world knew my name
Wishing I was thrilling, that I would never be to blame
Wishing I was kissing a girl with lips smooth as pearl
Wishing I was pretty
Wish that I could twist the world ’round my finger
Wishing I had money, wishing for the time to spend it all
Wishing I was pretty
Wish that I could twist the world ’round my finger
But I would always love you

I guess that would never change

Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Objective: Practicing wishes and regrets

1) Before you play the song, ask the students to get the gist of it on the first listen. What’s it about? Can you hear any words or phrases?

2) See how much they are able to get from the song. Obviously what they get depends on their listening ability, and even at an advanced level I wouldn’t expect them to get much more than a fragment of the idea.

3) Share some of the key vocabulary from the song. In my class I wrote it on the board, but you could use this Wordle if you have the means.


Play the song again and ask the students to note down as many of the singers wishes as they can, using the vocabulary to help them.

4) Check to see how they did in understanding what he was wishing for. This is their chance to really comprehend the song, so use the time to discuss what the wishing phrases mean:
Wishing I was skinny – I wish I was slim (and therefore attractive)
Wishing that the whole world knew my name – I wish I was famous
Wishing I was thrilling – I wish I was exciting
That I would never be to blame – I wish I could do anything I wanted, without consequences
Wishing I was kissing a girl with lips smooth as pearl – I wish I could could kiss a really pretty girl with really smooth lips
Wishing I was pretty – I wish I was attractive (unusual for a man to describe himself as “pretty”)
Wish that I could twist the world ’round my finger – I wish I could make everyone do whatever I want

Wishing I had money, wishing for the time to spend it all – I wish I had lots of time to spend lots of money (suggests he doesn’t want to work)

5) Now they know what the song is about, ask them to write down the singers wishes in a variety of ways. My students were revising ‘wishes and regrets’, so they wrote things like:

“He wishes he was better looking.”

“He regrets eating so many donuts.”

“He thinks “If only I could meet a pretty girl”.”

6) Because this was a revision activity, I stopped there, but you could then go on to ask your students to write their own wishes and regrets at this point.

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Songs In The Key Of ELT – New York I Love You

It’s time for the third part of my extremely occasional series of lesson ideas based on songs, especially the kind of songs that don’t usually appear in coursebooks. Here’s a track by one of my favourite bands of all time…


Artist: LCD Soundsystem
Song: New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down
Written by: James Murphy

Lyrics:

New York, I Love You
But you’re bringing me down
New York, I Love You
But you’re bringing me down

Like a rat in a cage
Pulling minimum wage
New York, I Love You
But you’re bringing me down
 
New York, you’re safer
And you’re wasting my time
Our records all show
You are filthy but fine
 
But they shuttered your stores
When you opened the doors
To the cops who were bored
Once they’d run out of crime
 
New York, you’re perfect
Don’t please don’t change a thing
Your mild billionaire mayor’s
Now convinced he’s a king
 
So the boring collect
I mean all disrespect
In the neighborhood bars
I’d once dreamt I would drink
 
New York, I Love You
But you’re freaking me out
There’s a ton of the twist
But we’re fresh out of shout
 
Like a death in the hall
That you hear through your wall
New York, I Love You
But you’re freaking me out
 
New York, I Love You
But you’re bringing me down
New York, I Love You
But you’re bringing me down
 
Like a death of the heart
Jesus, where do I start?
But you’re still the one pool
Where I’d happily drown
 
And oh.. Take me off your mailing list
For kids that think it still exists
Yes, for those who think it still exists
 
Maybe I’m wrong
And maybe you’re right
Maybe I’m wrong
And maybe you’re right
 
Maybe you’re right
Maybe I’m wrong
And just maybe you’re right
 
And Oh..
Maybe mother told you true
And they’re always be something there for you
And you’ll never be alone
 
But maybe she’s wrong
And maybe I’m right
And just maybe she’s wrong
 
Maybe she’s wrong
And maybe I’m right
And if so, is there?
 

Handout: here
Level: Intermediate / Advanced

1) Ask if any of your students have been to New York. If they have, ask them to share their experience (if they haven’t, skip to 2). Make a note of any descriptive language the student(s) use to describe the city and put it on the board when they’ve finished. 

2) Ask the students to write down as many words and phrases as they can to describe New York. If you have students who have been there, you can ask them to add to what you’ve already written. If they haven’t, elicit a few suggestions and put them on the board first before asking them to add to them.

3) Collect their suggestions and go through them, making sure the meaning is understood and the students have an idea of how they are used. A quick online search brought up these suggestions, although if you have students who are this good there’s probably not much point teaching them!


If you want to, you can go into some quite detailed language work at this point. If you think the learners would benefit from this kind of work, I say go for it.

4) Tell the students they will hear a song about New York. Ask them to listen and think about the singers opinion of the city. Take feedback as a class. They will probably only have a rough idea of what he is singing about, but hopefully the tone of his voice should suggest disappointment. They may also understand the idea of ‘bringing me down’. Or they may just hear “New York, I love you” and not hear the rest of the line. Either way, it’ll be interesting.

5) Looking at the words to this song in the Oxford 3000 text checker, there are very few individual words that I think the students would find difficult, but together as phrases, I think it becomes a lot more tricky. 

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-10-54-57


For example:

shuttered your stores
 
New York, you’re perfect
Don’t please don’t change a thing 
(he’s being sarcastic)
 
So the boring collect
I mean all disrespect 
(there are many boring people now in the city, he knows this sounds disrespectful and he doesn’t mind)
 
There’s a ton of the twist
But we’re fresh out of shout
(there are plenty of good things, but there are a lot of bad things too)
 
Like a death in the hall
That you hear through your wall
(a reference to New York’s small and intimate living spaces, it means that you know bad things are happening even if you can’t see them)
 

There’s a lot of ambiguity, double meaning, irony, dark humour and cultural referencing here, so I don’t think it’s worth spending a lot of time on the vocabulary. You can explain some of the phrases if you wish, but I don’t think the students need a detailed understanding of the song, rather they should use it as a springboard to reflect on the complexity of living not just in a big city, but anywhere.  So next I’d give them the handout of the lyrics and play the song again, asking them to underline any phrases that demonstrate how he feels about New York.

6) After listening, I hope they would notice the following phrases:

bringing me down
wasting my time
freaking me out


Those are the ones I think are particularly worth talking about with the learners.

7) Ask the students what they think he means by the phrase

But you’re still the one pool
Where I’d happily drown


(But despite everything, he knows that NYC is the only place where he can live. Also notice how he sings “Maybe I’m wrong” and “Maybe I’m right”, which suggests that he can’t make up his mind.)

8) Ask the students if they identify with the singer when they think about where they live. Ask them to divide a piece of paper into two columns, and write 5 things they love about their city / town / village etc in one column, and 5 things they don’t in the other.

9) Ask them to share with a partner and discuss the similarities and differences. When they’ve finished, put all their ideas on the board, also in two columns, and together identify the recurring themes.

10) Put students in groups of threes or fours (not including their previous partner) and ask them to discuss the issues raised by these lists. Do they think there is anything specific that can be done to improve the negatives and maintain the positives? You could extend this into a project where they identify problems where they live and suggest a plan of action.


To see more of my Songs In The Key Of ELT, click here.

Songs In The Key Of ELT – Alphabetical Genre Song

kenny-g
This man is to jazz what I am to synchronised swimming

Music often turns up in course books, and you’ll normally find a dry and somewhat out of date list of music genres listed in the book. Even though I think that you can know about something even if it’s not your favourite subject, it seems from my experience that most students have little interest in knowing that rock ‘n’ roll is a type of music that was popularised by Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Elvis Presley (“Oh yes, of course! I’ve heard of him”, cry the students). Continue reading