“Two-Step” into Creative Writing

Using Texas music during a language arts class can spur creative writing for today’s 21st-century, musically inclined generation. “We can use Texas music in the classroom for any number of reasons, as a gateway into the ‘serious’ works of literature, to deploy the critical reading of texts, or to explore themes related to places, identity, history, romantic love, morality, and memory,” says Jason Mellard of the Center for Texas Music History.

It is a well-known fact that music can be used for relaxation. In fact, the original instrumental music of Gary Lamb has been used successfully and enthusiastically around the world as an effective classroom tool. This music helps educators create a peaceful, relaxed environment—prime for learning and using long-term memory.

Music also helps build a creative classroom environment, which in turn helps make the brain more receptive to deeper critical thinking. Music also helps students write. It enhances creativity, encourages focus, keeps students in the mood to write, and promotes inspiration. Students in my classroom are both more creative and more attentive to their work when I have music on in the classroom.

Finding music to inspire the type of writing educators want their students to accomplish can pose challenges. For this purpose, pleasing instrumental music might not be the answer. Understanding which songs an educator needs for language arts assignments is as important as the assignment!

In language arts, writing exercises for figurative writing can be a challenge by itself, but an educator just needs to look closely at Texas songs their different genres to find a wealth of subject materials. Below are a few great Texas songs that will help get the creative juices flowing for our 21st-century learners:

  • Rodney Crowell, “Earthbound,” teaches themes of mortality and life’s lessons.
  • The Dixie Chicks, “Travelin’ Soldier,” uses a rich amount of imagery and conflict and speaks to social issues.
  • Steve Earle, “Copperhead Road,” is a song with strong narrative that can be paired with “Travelin’ Soldier” by the Dixie Chicks.
  • The Flatlanders, “Dallas,” is a master showcase of metaphors, using the city of Dallas as a backdrop.
  • Waylon Jennings, “Bob Wills Is Still the King,” is a good song to help students think about context and tradition.
  • Willie Nelson, “Hello Walls,” presents a literary point of view in its anthropomorphic conversations with household objects, including the walls.
  • Willie Nelson, “Red-Headed Stranger,” provides a good lesson on teaching narrative. This song is about a fugitive on the run in the Old West.
  • Lydia Mendoza, “Mal Hombre,” offers a woman’s perspective on unfaithful men. While the song is in Spanish, it can be easily translated.
  • Pedro Rocha and Lupe Martinez, “The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez,” is a prime example of a “corrido”—a border ballad that interprets a historical event, allowing students to think of the narrative through different points of view.

For more information about Texas music, visit the Center for Texas Music History, which maintains a range of online resources for educators, including digital access to copies of the annual Journal of Texas Music History.

Hector Cruz has been teaching for 29 years. He is an English IV teacher at Weslaco High School and is a member of the ATPE Board of Directors, representing Region 1.

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