It’s not an original idea, but it’s so fun and effective that teachers come back to it again and again: using song titles and/or lyrics to teach geography.
Here is a sample list for teaching the “A” states:
Alabama — “Sweet Home Alabama,” Lynyrd Skynyrd
Yes, it’s a controversial song, so much so that American Idol wouldn’t allow Bo Bice to sing some of the lyrics when he performed it on the show. The song is interpreted by some as a racist redneck Southern anthem and by others as a defense against stereotyping–just because some people are racist doesn’t mean everyone is. But that’s part of the beauty of the song; in addition to the geography, the song also teaches some American history (and some psychology and sociology). Consider:
In Birmingham they love the governor (boo boo boo)
Now we all did what we could do
Now Watergate does not bother me
Does your conscience bother you?
Tell the truth . . .
The allusions to American history lead to some obvious questions for your students:
- Who was the governor in Birmingham, and why does Lynyrd Skynyrd boo?
- What do they mean by “we all did what we could do”?
- What is Watergate, why would it bother (or not bother) anyone?
Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers
And they’ve been known to pick a song or two
Lord they get me off so much
They pick me up when I’m feeling blue
Now how about you? . . .
- What is Muscle Shoals, and who are the Swampers?
Sweet home Alabama
Oh sweet home baby
Where the skies are so blue
And the governor’s true
Sweet Home Alabama
Lord, I’m coming home to you
Yea, yea Montgomery’s got the answer
- Why is the governor true? Or is it sarcastic? If so, then why isn’t the governor true?
- Why does Montgomery have the answer? Or not?
Alaska — “North to Alaska,” Johnny Horton (also Dwight Yoakam)
The cool thing about this song is that you can also watch North to Alaska, the 1960 John Wayne western in which Horton’s version was featured. The film script was based on the play Birthday Gift by Hungarian writer Ladislas Fodor. Historical era: Alaskan Gold Rush.
Arizona — “Tucson, Arizona,” Dan Fogelberg
It’s a dark, sad song, but the symbolism of the desert and the plot line make it study-worthy, particularly for a literature class:
The lonely desert skies reflect
the anger in his eyes
Arkansas — “Arkansas (You Run Deep in Me”), Wayland Holyfield
You may not be familiar with Holyfield as a performer, but you will recognize some of his songs recorded by other artists (e.g. “Could I Have This Dance,” Anne Murray; “Some Broken Hearts Never Mend,” Don Williams).
“Arkansas (You Run Deep in Me)” was written for the 1986 Arkansas Sesquicentennial celebration, was named one of Arkansas’ official state songs in 1987, and was performed (by Holyfield) at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1992.
(As a Little Rock, Arkansas column, this column will soon feature songs exclusively about Arkansas.)
Next in this series: teaching songs about California. Stay tuned!