It’s been interesting to see how the literary community has responded to Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize win. Many authors complained that it should have gone to a more traditional writer. However, acknowledging the power and merit of words in any format is a huge win for language lovers. The argument that writers can only be of value if they stick to prose or poetry on the page seems counterintuitive.
While teaching middle and high school English, I found that using well-written, complex lyrics was an effective way to teach reading skills and literary analysis. Here are three reasons why Bob Dylan’s lyrics make the grade.
1. Bob Dylan’s songs are concentrated literary pieces full of figurative language and poetic devices — skills students are required to master. “Chimes of Freedom” alone contains personification, metaphor, alliteration, imagery, assonance, repetition, rhyme and rhythm. That’s a week’s worth of lessons in one song.
2. The messages in Dylan’s songs are a great thematic companion to novels and poetry. It is common practice in the classroom and on standards-based tests to pair a reading passage with a poem to test higher-level thinking skills.
When analyzing the civil rights issues addressed in A Raisin in the Sun or the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., you could use Dylan’s “Only a Pawn in Their Game,” about the murder of activist Medger Evers, or “The Death of Emmett Till” as powerful, imagery-filled companion pieces.
3. Students today are heavily influenced by music. Incorporating a familiar format like song lyrics, especially the rich writing of Bob Dylan, into a lesson plan immediately piques their interest. It also lessens the overwhelmed feeling some readers get when faced with a longer reading passage. Getting students to analyze songs, something so integral to their daily routine, also encourages them to connect what they learn in the classroom with everyday life.
Students get more out of a reading lesson when they both read and hear it spoken out loud. And since using song lyrics to practice reading and literary analysis is also an easy lesson to put together, teachers should consider adding Bob Dylan to their literary playlist. You can buy a sensational collection of Dylan’s song lyrics here. New to Bob Dylan’s music? Start with Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits or Highway 61 Revisited, considered to be his best album of all time.
Angela is a copywriter at Half Price Books.