Mix Tape Writing Assignment
By Nick Britton, November 12, 2010
- High School
- Language Arts
Students will anthologize their own collection of songs. Appealing to their personal taste in music will engage them. Reflecting on their decisions about the central theme, title, and order of the mix will prepare them to build a literary anthology later in the school year. Prototyping first draft, second draft, and final iterations (both of the playlist and the accompanying explanation) will both teach effective editing and engaging students in the design process. They will research/observe how peer readers (clients) categorize their music during the warm-up activity. They will collect feedback from these reader clients during the critique process. In this lesson, every student will participate as both an anthology (mix tape) designer and as a reader.
Standard 1. Level IV. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process
2. Uses a variety of strategies to draft and revise written work
4. Evaluates own and others’ writing
11. Writes reflective compositions
Students will be able to:
- create clarity and logic
- maintain central theme, idea, or unifying point
- develop meaningful relationships among ideas
“1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die” by Tom Moon
- excerpts from the Tom Moon book (Note: These are to help get students thinking about writing about music. Choose a diverse mix of artists and genres. Make enough copies for every student in the class to select their own unique excerpt – one artist or band/group per student.)
- sticky note pads, one per student (Note: Use the lined, large format – 3x5 or comparable.)
- MP3 players and headphones (if school and classroom policies permit)
- anthology: a collection of selected literary pieces or passages or works of art or music
1. Warm students up by asking them to select one of the artists written about in the Tom Moon book. Once everyone decides on a musician/album to read about, instruct students to read actively: they should highlight or underline the title of the passage and the sentences that stand out as most interesting/effective. Students will likely choose artists with whom they are familiar. Ask them to pay attention to anything new they learn.
2. Allow five to ten minutes to read the short selections and then call for volunteers to share aloud, summarizing what they read and highlighting the parts that stood out. Discuss that writing about music is something like dancing about architecture – the two arts work differently. Ask students to consider overlaps in the mediums of writing and music. (Note: Both can appeal to rhythm – for example, poetry; both can appeal to emotions; text/lyrics are usually written from the perspective of one or more characters, etc.)
3. Next, have students take out their sticky note pads and use separate sheets to brainstorm different categories of music. Discuss the types of playlists they have on their music players (wake-up songs, break-up songs, get pumped music, etc.). Have them write their playlist categories one per sheet and stick these to the wall. Each student should post several sticky note sheets. Then discuss some of the postings and ask for examples of songs that fit under each sample sub-heading.
4. Divide students into small groups, four or so per group. Assign groups the task of gathering an assortment of about five sticky notes from the wall that they must organize into one cohesive collection with a logical progression. Tell them they will need to bring these back to their desks and put them in order of a proposed umbrella playlist with a title that encompasses all the sub-headings. For example, nature music and ambient tunes and sleepy time music might all fit together into a Chill Out mix that goes from a relaxing day to a peaceful night.
5. Allow about ten minutes for the groups to shop the wall and then work at their desks. Then call for volunteers to share what they came up with. Ask them to justify the order and title of their mix.
6. Now the students ought to be ready to draft an initial list of tracks they would like to write about (independent work). If school and classroom policies permit, allow them to use their music players with headphones to begin browsing for songs they’ll use. Explain that they must create a mix of at least ten songs that fit together around a central theme or a logical progression. Although the task at hand is to draft the initial mix, they need to know that they will write about the songs later in an accompanying explanation. Tell them they will have the option to reflect on each song as it appeals to them emotionally or musically, or to tell a story about one or more characters through the chosen music (autobiographical or fictional), or to write an extended poem or a collection of short poems that speak to the connections between songs.
7. Allow approximately fifteen minutes to choose music. Then have students identify the overall theme and draft a working title for the mix. Once they’ve decided on a direction, have students go back and edit the sequence of songs to fit together in an order that can be explained. Point out they may need to add or remove individual songs in order to unify the whole collection. Give them the remainder of class time to begin drafting their accompanying explanation. They must finish writing their first draft of the explanation, then proofread and type a second draft for homework. At least two typed (12-point Times New Roman or comparable), double-spaced pages is a good goal. Tell them to bring the typed second draft and sticky note pad for next class. Provide them a copy of the writing rubric for reference.8. Mix Tape Writing Assignment: A minimum of ten tracks is required. Each song must be chosen for a particular reason, and the ordering of the songs must be considered as well. An accompanying explanation (two typed, double-spaced, 12 point Times New Roman or comparable font) will give you the chance to explain/express why the songs were chosen and what the overall narrative of the mix tape is. You may write your explanation as a non-fiction essay, an autobiographical or fictitious story, or poetry. Remember to title your mix and essay thoughtfully.
1. In this class, have students critique the work of four of their peers. Tell them: Leave your typed second drafts out on your desk, then travel with your sticky note pad to another desk. Read silently and then leave quality feedback on a note sheet. Your feedback must include at least one compliment and one recommendation for improvement. Both parts of the feedback must be specific. Make direct reference to which part of the writing your comment addresses. Once you finish reading and critiquing each sample, come to the front of the room quietly and wait for a desk you have not yet visited to open.
2. After the critique process, direct students to return to their own seats and review the feedback they have received. They must use this feedback to write a final draft of the assignment. (Note: I have them post their final drafts on our class page at edmodo.com, where I can grade them from the Web and post my own comments.)
I use the six point writing rubric attached for assessing final drafts.
Enrichment Extension Activities
Students could apply this process of using another medium to trigger writing and editing an anthology in a visual art class. They might take photos in response to a question such as, “What makes our school special?” They could then organize their best photos (or drawings, paintings, designs) into a visual journal with written reflections.