One of my favorite projects to assign my middle school general music classes is this Popular Music Through the Ages Hyperdoc. It’s an extended listening assignment that has students listen to randomly selected top hits from different decades in history according to Billboard.com.
The “random selection” comes in the form of a family/friend/school survey. Students must input the birth date of people listed in the Top Hits chart then go to the Billboard website and look up the top song on each of the dates from the chart. What I’ve tried to do here is choose people of varied generations so that the differences in top hit songs would span decades, but the songs would still be popular and more than likely, most students would hear different songs from the same generations.
The last slides have music videos of some of my favorite songs from each decade (70s-2000s) along with “Fill in the blank” lyric sheets and short answer questions. I tell the students to watch the video then listen to the song while filling in the missing lyrics on the following slide. I really want to reinforce that this is not a time-waster. I spend a lot of time discussing lyrics with kids. I try to instill in them serious appreciation for lyrics and their connection to the music. Asking students to fill in the blanks while listening to music really helps them to bridge that connection.
Finally, the last slide is an essay. I like to encourage kids to share their unabashed opinions on the music and why they think it was so popular at the time. I’ll eventually edit the essay to be more of a discussion with peer interaction but I haven’t quite decided on how to do it.
IMPORTANT: When you allow students to find songs on the Billboard Top Hits website, some will inevitably come across music that is ill-fitted for a school assignment (cussing, inappropriate content, etc.). I spend a lot of time building trust with students when it comes to internet usage for music. We discuss at length the differences between music we listen to on our own personal time and how some of that may not meet the expectations of professionalism in school. Ultimately, I leave the choice of song up to them and I explain that if the top hit for a certain date seems inappropriate or might make someone uncomfortable to hear in class, skip to the next one down.
Happy listening and please, let me know how it goes!