Bad Grammar

I stumbled upon a great video parody of Timbaland’s “The Way I Are” once, called “Bad Grammar” by Jamesatwar. I wrote up a lesson plan and did it a couple of times as a filler lesson after unit exams. It went really well. I then accidentally deleted all my lesson plans and even appear to have deleted a post I made about it on this blog–or I think I made a post on it. So here’s a reconstruction of that lesson plan that touches on bad grammar and slang used in pop music. Students will learn common terms like, “ain’t”, “got no”, and “we be”. They then discuss why pop songs often have bad grammar and spelling and also whether these terms are really all that bad.

It can actually be useful to teach students some commonly encountered bad grammar because they will have to understand it when the hear it. So while it can often sound funny when a foreigner says “ain’t” or “like”, they need the recognition skills.

Materials

Warm Up

Ask students if they have heard the song, “The Way I Are” by Timbaland. You might have a short clip ready to help them remember. Then (or alternatively) write this line on the board: “Can you handle me the way I are?”
Ask students what’s wrong with it. Hopefully they will quickly note that ‘I are’ should be ‘I am’.

You can also ask them if they can think of any other songs with bad grammar in them, but this question will also come up later on the discussion questions sheet.

Introducing the Video

This song has a few difficult words in it so you’ll probably want to pre-teach them before they listen. or you might want to wait until they have the lyrics sheet.

Put the following words up on the board:

consonants
vowels
syntax
morphology
linguistics
enunciate
articulate
prodigy
eloquence

Tell the students that two words refer to kinds of letters. See if they can pick them out (consonants and vowels). Explain the difference and write a few examples next to the words.
Tell them that one word means the study of language. See if they can match that definition to “linguistics”
Tell them that two words mean something very like “grammar” (morphology and syntax).
Tell them that two words mean to speak clearly or well (enunciate and articulate)
Tell them that one word means someone who is very good at something (prodigy)
and see if they can guess the last word “eloquence” means to speak well.

Alternatively, you could wait until they have the lyrics sheet and see if they can guess the meaning from context and your hints.

The Video

Tell the students that you are going to show them a video to a song parody of “The Way I Are” which makes fun of bad grammar in pop songs. Tell them to try to listen for any examples of bad grammar in the song.

Note: You may or may not want to show it with the captions. Also note that the video does feature a woman in lingerie and some sexual innuendo. Nothing worse than what they see on MTV, but this isn’t a great video to show to younger learners.

Show the students the Bad Grammar Video.
After they have watched, ask them what examples of bad grammar they heard. Take any contributions but make sure to correct students if they cite good grammar as bad grammar.

Now show the video again, this time with the lyric sheet. Have them listen along and note down any bad grammar that they hear/read. Ask them what they think the song is about and hopefully elicit that the song’s message is that pop music uses a lot of bad grammar.

Go over any vocabulary questions students might have–a few words you can use the video to illustrate. Grills for example is said over a still of grills on teeth. Even enunciate is very clearly enunciated.

Discussion Questions

Now hand out or go over orally the Discussion Questions (Teacher’s Sheet here). These questions help students understand “bad grammar” and think of other examples. Then the discussion can move on to whether these examples are really bad grammar or just normal conversational English.

If you have a longer class, you could get into the subject of parodies and copyright laws. Does Jamesatwar have a right to make this parody? Does it hurt Timbaland by implying that he doesn’t speak English well? Could Timbaland sue Jamesatwar? What are the laws in your country (in the US, parody is protected by free speech, but people do have the right for slanderous parody–i.e. parodies that can be proven to damage the original author)?

Extension

For homework or in a later class you can have students bring in the lyrics of a song with “bad grammar” that they have “corrected”.

Students can also go through a list of examples of dialect spelling and pick the example that they think should be adopted into standard English.

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