“Hurt Feelings” by Flight of the Conchords – lesson plan

Level: strong pre-intermediate to weak upper-intermediate.
Ages: teens or (young) adults.
Type: raising awareness of phonemes; song; gapfill.
Skills: pronunciation; listening; writing and speaking (in the follow-up).
Language focus: textual cohesion (grammar and vocabulary); informal vocabulary.

Note: I found an interesting approach to using songs in the classroom in The Resourceful English Teacher, by Jon Chandler and Mark Stone. They suggest making gapfills out of the final words of songs with rhyming lyrics, especially with raps, and asking students to work together to think of rhymes and then complete the gaps with these rhyming words. They then listen and check their ideas. This lesson is an outgrowth of that concept.

Warning: if you have extremely sensitive students, you might want to avoid this song, as its lyrics contain the mildly subversive “have you ever been told that your ass is too big/… you’re mediocre in bed?/… Were you ever called ‘homo’…?” Perhaps try the Superstition or She’s Leaving Home plans instead, if you’re after song lesson ideas.

Materials: you will need access to the youtube video below (you can find it here – you might want to use a program like keepvid or savevid to download it, though beware – it may be illegal in your country to do so!). You will also need:
copies of this gapfill and the completed lyrics for each student;
copies of this worksheet for each group of four – five students;
some blu-tack or other means of sticking paper to walls.
If you’re not sure what the phonetic symbols in stage one (below) mean, this online chart will help you – and, if you have time, this presentation by Adrian Underhill will show you how you can introduce the symbols generally in your lessons.

Stage 1 – phoneme awareness

  • Board /iː/ /ɪ/ /a/ /e/ /ʊ/ and /ʃ/. Explain that these are phonetic symbols and that your students can see them in dictionaries. Explain that they show you how to pronounce words in English, and that they are all English sounds. Elicit the sounds, and elicit which one is “long” (/iː/). Show how /ː/ makes a sound longer and let your students practice saying /iː/ and /ɪ/.
  • Board /aɪ/ and ask your students to say, first, each sound separately, and then to put them together. Ask them if they can feel the glide from one sound to the other. Board /eɪ/ and do the same again.
  • Ask your students which sound on the board elicit which one is not a vowel (/ʃ/) and elicit the sound again.
  • Finally, board /ˈɪʃʊs/ and ask your students to say these sounds. Elicit what the stress marker does (/ˈ/ comes before the main stressed syllable in a word – you could also elicit secondary stress, which is /ˌ/).

Stage 2 – introducing and doing the rhyming task

  • Elicit a word that ends with /ˈɪʃʊs/ (you could draw a picture, or act, someone going “mmmm!” over a delicious plate of food here). Elicit another word that ends with the same sound (nutritious, perhaps).
  • Board /ɪɡ/ and /eɪ/. Again, elicit the sounds and elicit two words that end with the same sound (e.g., big, pig, wig, swig; away, today, hooray, eh?, …).
  • Board “rhyme” and explain that the two words under each piece of phonetic script rhyme.
  • Divide the class into groups of 3 or 4 students and show them the worksheet (it has phonetic script in bold, each page divided into 3 sections).
  • Ask each group of students to work together to find and write as many words as possible that rhyme with the sounds in phonetic script. Elicit that these words don’t have to be just one syllable, and can be nouns, verbs, adjectives or other words. Elicit they should write clearly, too!
  • Set a time limit of a few minutes and distribute the worksheets, one per group.

Stage 3 – introducing and doing the gapfill task

  • Distribute the blu-tack and ask one student from each group to stick their worksheet on the wall behind them, and then to sit down.
  • Show students a still from the youtube clip below (perhaps about 6 or 7 seconds in) and tell them it’s from a song they will hear. Elicit what kind of song it is, and what they think it will be about.
  • Show them the song with gapfills. Point out that there are some phonetic symbols (which should seem strangely familiar) next to the gaps and elicit what you want the students to do (complete the gaps with a word that rhymes with the phonetic script).
  • Elicit that, as the students’ own ideas about what words rhyme are around the room, they should take the gapfill sheet and a pen or pencil, and look at the different posters for possible missing words. Elicit that they should still work together in groups for this, so they can discuss what words might go in the gaps. Finally, elicit that they can do all this before they listen to the song.
  • Set a time limit of about 5 – 10 minutes for this, give out the gapfill task and ask your students to look at the different posters to complete the gaps.
  • Monitor and check this, giving occasional clues, or helping with unknown vocabulary, if students really get stuck.

Stage 4 – checking by listening

  • Once a group thinks it has finished (and you’ve checked their work to make sure their words grammatically fit), ask all your students to sit down. Make sure they all have a copy of the gapfill task in front of them.
  • Tell them they’ll now hear the song so they can check their ideas.
  • Play the whole song through once, then ask your students to check their work together in pairs.
  • If necessary, ask your students to change pairs and compare notes, then play the song again.
  • Give out the completed lyrics and ask your students to quickly check their answers.
  • Get their reactions to the song – what kind of song was it? Who liked it? Who thought it wasn’t their cup of tea? What song would they most like to hear? etc.

Possible follow-ups
You could prepare some discussion questions on the subject of “hurt feelings”, or do some more reading about the subject, but it might be better to return to the focus on pronunciation. You could:

  1. ask students to look at the posters again in their groups, choose their 3 favourite rhyming pairs from each poster, and make a rap or other song using those rhymes. You could board a few genres – comedy, horror, romance – to help students decide the theme of their song.
  2. board the name of your school (if you think it has some interesting rhymes) and ask your students to think of rhymes for it. They can then look at the posters again, choose their favourite rhyming pairs, and use these words plus some of the school rhymes to make a song or rap about the school.

These could (if your students are willing) be practised and performed or recited.

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