co-hyponyms in songs

A practically zero preparation way of reviewing vocabulary with your students is to compile a list of lexical items you would like to review (ten to fifteen seems to be a fine number) and then ask them to get a piece of paper and draw three columns in it headed: I know, Not sure and I don’t know. Then dictate the words. As you dictate the words at normal speed but allowing a few seconds in between items, the students will write down those words in the appropriate columns according to whether they know them, they think they know them or they don’t know them. Then they can mill around and ask each other about the words they don’t know. Click here for my blog post Dictation 3 where you can read a detailed description of this activity.

This morning, while listening to Sting’s last album, 44/876, it dawned on me that this type of activity presents itself well for certain types of songs that contain a fair number of co-hyponyms. I know, a baffling term as puzzling as Sting’s album title (a reference to UK/Jamaica dialling codes).  Co-hyponyms are words that are all examples of a particular kind of thing. For example, hammer, pliers, level and screwdriver are co-hyponyms as they are all kinds of tools in a toolkit box. The song in question that I was listening to is Crooked Tree and I noticed that it contained a lot of co-hyponyms so a convenient way of pre-teaching/reviewing key words for the song as well as activating schemata and creating interest would be to bring the “I know/Not sure/I don’t know framework into play. These are the words that I would dictate:

  • (the court is) called to order
  • (serious) charges
  • (how do you) plead
  • guilty (as charged)
  • arson
  • murder
  • (grand) larceny
  • theft
  • drug dealing
  • human trafficking
  • to pass a sentence
  • to add to one’s defense


I would pitch this song at B2 level and I would expect all students to know some of these items. Guilty, murder, drug dealing and human trafficking are familiar terms for the language level. How do you plead and the court is called to order will render diverse reactions. Larceny will definitely go in the “I don’t know” column. Notice that not every single item on the list is a co-hyponym per se but they nevertheless fit the bill in terms of  sharing the same topic area.

There are many ways in which you could exploit this song. I would probably create gaps for the words the students have seen and have the students fit them in the gaps prior to listening to the song. Then play the song just once for the students to check. If you would like to just include co-hyponyms, you could provide the ones from the song and add a few distractors, such as burglary, mugging, smuggling, pickpocketing or shoplifting and then ask your class to identify the ones contained in the song.

Finally, you could have a debate around “nature or nurture”, which seems to be the song’s underlying theme. Needless to say this song is just the ticket if you are discussing “Crime” with your students.

Sting never fails to always bring at least one song in each of his albums that is just perfect for class exploitation. Crooked Tree -or at least the activity that I present here- is adequate for B2 levels. However, check out Dreaming in the USA from the same album for A2 (and possibly A1 as well). In fact, I will be figuring something out to share next week regarding this song.

Here‘s a review for the album from the Daily Telegraph and below a live version of Crooked Tree.

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