Last week I made a wonderful new discovery while I was looking for podcasts to listen to for my daily commute to school. I’m not sure how I stumbled upon it but this is of little matter here. The podcast series in question is BBC Radio 4’s Soul Music, a series of programmes which average a running time of about half an hour each. A song and the history behind it is presented and then a handful of people talk around it and share the emotional impact that that song has had in their lives and why it is meaningful and relevant to them.
From a language standpoint, one gets to hear a myriad of different accents and varieties of English. The sound quality is good and clear and this makes great material for teachers to exploit in the classroom, as the song may be played in class and ensuing work may be done around it. Also, you may handpick a speaker or two and play those recordings for additional listening and vocabulary practice.
As it’s always the case, best ideas find you when you are not at work, so I particularly enjoyed listening to Feeling Good, showcased song in the first programme I clicked on, and as equally enjoyable was the lesson that was unfolding in my head in my drive. Although the song has had many cover versions, it is Nina Simone’s rendition which undoubtedly stands out above the rest. I learned, however, that Feeling Good was originally written for a musical and was first performed in public in 1964 by Cy Grant, the first black man to appear regularly on British TV. His daughter is one of the featured speakers and you can listen to her at 7:05 in the programme (good teaching material there).
So this is what I did. I played Nina Simone’s version for about a minute and asked my students if they had heard the song before. About a third of them had. Then I let them know about Soul Music and how I fell in love with the concept. Even though Nina Simone’s cover still remains my favourite version, I decided to go ahead with Michael Bublé’s, as it is considerably easier to understand and a bit more catchy and uplifting.
And this was the task: “As you listen to the song, write down any words or chunks that you identify or have time for that you can relate to nature”. Just that. Nice and simple.
Then I elicited answers, which I wrote on the board (“birds flying high”, “sun in the sky”, “fish in the sea”, etc.). Some were easy enough for the Intermediate level; some others were considerably more challenging (“breeze drifting on by”), so this makes ideal listening material for mixed levels.
Next I asked them to look for the lyrics on their phones (no need to make copies if they are just going to read the lyrics and they are allowed to use their phones but you may decide to project the lyrics on a screen). Then they had to identify extra words or chunks that they may have missed in the listening part (“breeze drifting on by”, “blossom on a tree”, “dragonfly out in the sun”).
Finally you can have a discussion around what makes them feel good, the kinds of things they enjoy doing in life or you could even tie this in with the general topic of nature or the environment.
Things couldn’t get any simpler or better. It made me feel good. And it’s such a feel good song too. Next, in two weeks’ time, a listening/writing/speaking mediation activity with content from Soul Music. Until then, I hope you are all feeling good.