Not Ready to Make Nice

Bullying is seen across all cultures;

Bullying is omnipresent;

Bullying is prevalent in all walks of life and is not limited to school settings.

While some are targets of physical violence or threatening words, others are face the possibility of being ex-communicated from social groups.

Bullying is a topic that is familiar to people of all nationalities and can be a springboard to many a meaningful discussion in the language classroom.

The American country band Dixie Chicks made a comment at a concert in London in 2003, and quickly became the target of bullies in their home country. The bullies started acting as a mob, as they often do, and soon, Dixie Chicks were receiving death threats in the mail and were banned from country music radio stations.

Picture taken from dixiechicks.com

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In response to the bullying, the band started to write an album. However, when it was suggested to Natalie Maines, the lead singer, that perhaps the songs should be about how everyone ought to just get along, she found herself unwilling to back down and instead produced the hit single Not Ready to Make Nice.

The song went on to win 3 Grammy Awards, and the album Taking the Long Way ended up winning 5 Grammys, perhaps all a sign of support for the girls who have been the target of bullying.

Being a song very close to my heart, I have felt it appropriate to create a lesson around it. However, unlike most receptive skills procedures seen in more recent approaches, this lesson takes a more bottom-up approach to listening, allowing students to use their linguistic knowledge to piece together the lyrics of the song.

In what way do you think a bottom-up approach to this lesson could make a difference to the usual top-down approaches?

(Notes for teachers are in brackets.)

Lead-in:

Picture taken from http://www.safenetwork.org
Click on picture to read more about bullying.

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(Elicit lexis: Bullying, a bully.)

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Discussion questions:

  1. Why do people bully others?
    .
    (Possible Answers: insecurity, jealousy, prejudice, etc.)
    .
  2. Where can bullying occur?
    .
    (Possible Answers: at school, at the office, online, etc.)

    .
  3. What kind of things might a bully do?
    .
  4. What can we do if we are being bullied?
    .

Pre-listening

(Hand-out)

Fill in the gaps with the appropriate word. Use your knowledge of language and rhyming words to help you.

.

Forgive, sounds good

Forget, I’m not sure I c_____

They say time heals e_______

But I’m still waiting

.

I’m through with doubt

There’s nothing left for me to figure o___

I’ve paid a price

And I’ll keep paying

.

Chorus:

I’m not ready to make nice

I’m not ready to back d____

I’m still mad as hell and

I don’t have time to go round and round and round

It’s too late to make it r_____

I probably wouldn’t if I could

‘Cause I’m mad as hell

Can’t bring myself to do what it is you think I s_____

.

I know you said

Can’t you just get o____ it

It turned my whole world a______

And I kind of like it

.

Bridge:

I made my bed and I sleep like a b____

With no regrets and I don’t mind sayin’

It’s a sad sad story when a mother will teach her

daughter that she ought to hate a perfect st________

And how in the w______ can the words that I said

Send somebody so over the e_____

That they’d write me a l______

Sayin’ that I’d better shut u__ and sing

Or my life will be o____

.

Chorus (x2):

I’m not ready to make nice

I’m not ready to back d____

I’m still mad as hell and

I don’t have time to go round and round and round

It’s too late to make it r____

I probably wouldn’t if I could

‘Cause I’m mad as hell

Can’t bring myself to do what it is you think I s_____

.

Forgive, sounds good

Forget, I’m not sure I c_____

They say time heals e_______

But I’m still waiting

.

Listening for specific information

Listen to the song and check your answers.

(Note: the teacher might use the feedback stage to clarify some of the more useful or crucial lexical items)

.

Forgive, sounds good

Forget, I’m not sure I could

They say time heals everything

But I’m still waiting

.

I’m through with doubt

There’s nothing left for me to figure out

I’ve paid a price

And I’ll keep paying

.

Chorus:

I’m not ready to make nice

I’m not ready to back down

I’m still mad as hell and

I don’t have time to go round and round and round

It’s too late to make it right

I probably wouldn’t if I could

‘Cause I’m mad as hell

Can’t bring myself to do what it is you think I should

.

I know you said

Can’t you just get over it

It turned my whole world around

And I kind of like it

.

Bridge:

I made my bed and I sleep like a baby

With no regrets and I don’t mind sayin’

It’s a sad sad story when a mother will teach her

daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger

And how in the world can the words that I said

Send somebody so over the edge

That they’d write me a letter

Sayin’ that I better shut up and sing

Or my life will be over

.

Chorus (2x):

I’m not ready to make nice

I’m not ready to back down

I’m still mad as hell and

I don’t have time to go round and round and round

It’s too late to make it right

I probably wouldn’t if I could

‘Cause I’m mad as hell

Can’t bring myself to do what it is you think I should

.

Forgive, sounds good

Forget, I’m not sure I could

They say time heals everything

But I’m still waiting

.

Reading for Detailed Understanding

Read the lyrics again, and answer the following questions

(Note: There are no right and wrong answers here. Every question offers a chance for the student’s own interpretation to come through.)

  1. How does the singer feel about being bullied?
    .
    (Possible Answers with song lyrics in quotations: Angry, ‘mad as hell’, and not ready to forget. But she feels that her conscience is clear and she knows she has not done anything wrong because she says ‘she sleeps like a baby’.)
    .
  2. What kind of things do you think the bullies did?
    .
    (Possible Answers with song lyrics in quotations: They wrote her a letter to tell her to ‘shut up and sing’ or they’d kill her.)
    .
  3. Why do you think the bullies did that?
    .
    (Possible Answers with song lyrics in quotations: She said something the bullies didn’t like. ‘And how in the world can the words that I said send somebody so over the edge’)
    .
  4. Does she blame the bullies?
    .
    (Possible Answers with song lyrics in quotations: No, she blames society. ‘It’s a sad sad world when a mother would teach her daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger’)
    .
  5. What is she going to do?
    .
    (Possible Answers with song lyrics in quotations: She is not going to blame herself but she is not going to give up fighting against the bullies. ‘I’m through with doubt. There’s nothing left for me to figure out’; ‘I’m not ready to back down’)
    .
  6. What do you think the mood of this song is?
    .
    (Possible Answers: Angry? Sad?)

.

Follow-up Productive Task

(This follow-up task requires students to have access to the internet. They could either make use of their mobile devices, i.e. smartphones or tablets, or this could be conducted in the Self-Access Centre, where students have at least one computer per group)

In groups of 3, use of the internet to find out more about this song and the band, Dixie Chicks.

Answer the following questions.

Report your findings back to the rest of the class.

(Note: the answers can be found on Wikipedia pages on ‘Not Ready to Make Nice’ and the lead singer ‘Natalie Maines’)

  1. Is this song based on a true story?
    .
    (Answer: Yes)
    .
  2. Why were the band targeted by bullies in the 2003?
    .
    (Answer: The vocalist made a comment at a concert in London, UK, on the eve of the Iraq invasion that they were ashamed that their President George Bush was from Texas, where they are from. This angered a lot of Americans.)
    .
  3. Why did the band write the song?
    .
    (Answer: They wanted to write their reaction to the bullying mob.)
    .
  4. What kind of things did the American public do to the band?
    .
    (Answer: They were banned from many country music radio stations and received death threats in the mail.)
    .
  5. How did the lead singer Natalie feel after writing this song and the album?
    .
    (Answer: She felt that the album was like therapy and helped her to find peace with everything and move on.)

.

——————————————–

When presented with a reading or listening text, students can either utilize a bottom-up processing approach and use their knowledge of words and grammar to build up an understanding of the text, or attempt a top-down approach where they make use of their knowledge of the genre, the situational and cultural context, and the background knowledge about the topic as clues to comprehension (Thornbury, 2006).

Many argue that the tendency for students when reading in a foreign language is to cling on to the individual words of the text and try to decipher its meaning, and therefore it is the responsibility of the teacher to encourage top-down processes through the use of activities that activate content schema, such as prediction and gist reading tasks.

Upon examining the current approaches to teaching reading and listening in ELT, from CELTAs to the design of activities in coursebooks, there is perhaps enough evidence to show that the focus is largely on using top-down approaches, before integrating bottom-up approaches for detailed understanding.
Have a look at the following ‘receptive skills procedure’ that is often seen on CELTA courses and in coursebooks.

  1. Lead-in and/or Prediction Activity (Activating the Schema)
  2. Skimming (Gist) and/or Scanning Tasks (Extensive Reading)
  3. Reading for Detailed Understanding (Intensive Reading)
  4. Follow-up Productive Task

It becomes apparent that the Extensive-to-Intensive, Big-Picture-to-Detailed-Information, Top-Down-to-Bottom-Up approach to reading and listening has not only gained a strong foothold in ELT, but has also been taken for granted by some in our field as the best way of integrating the top-down ‘higher level’ skills with the bottom-up ‘lower level’ skills to form an integrated approach.

But is this necessarily always the best way of integrating the two?

While the use of top-down processing approaches is certainly a valid and useful way of integrating the two, it is also perhaps important to occasionally offer practice of bottom-up processes where learners are able to practise making use of their existing linguistic knowledge to try and make sense of a text.

In this sample lesson, I took the song, Not Ready to Make Nice, and get students to use their linguistic knowledge (bottom-up data-driven text-based processing) to fill in the gaps in the lyrics, after a short lead-in to contextualize the general topic.

Through piecing together the lyrics (and learning some new collocations and phrases along the way), they start to gain a detailed understanding. This understanding would hopefully generate interest in getting more information about the interesting background story to the song.

In a song like this one, the focus on bottom-up processing could create suspense and perhaps be more interesting for students when the story reveals itself as they re-construct the text.

Are there any other times you would choose to use such a bottom-up approach to reading or listening?

References

Thornbury, S. An A-Z of ELT. Oxford: Macmillan.

Further Reading:
Nuttall, C. (2005) Teaching Reading Skills in a foreign language. Oxford: Macmillan.

Silbersteing, S. (1994) Techniques and Resources in Teaching Reading. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Author: chiasuanchong

I am a freelance communications trainer and a teacher trainer based in York, UK. With 13 years of experience training students from all over the world to communicate better in English (and in particular, Business English), I am also a professional blogger, materials writer and intercultural trainer.

25 thoughts on “Not Ready to Make Nice”

  1. A very interesting choice of song and topic Chia. I will be banking this lesson idea for next time. The topic, as you mentioned, is seen across perhaps all countries and cultures. It will provoke debate and conversation which could lead or provide opportunities to explore and scaffold emergent language.

    1. Wow! Martin! Quickest to comment!
      I’m glad you find the post useful.
      It’s a difficult topic to broach in the classroom but one that is important to get talking about.
      And I think the adult classroom could benefit from the discussions that could spring from this song as well…

      Have you seen the video?

      C

  2. I like this but…. I for one have no idea what half the lyrics are in songs. Why? Maybe because I was always brought up to like the tune. Thus, I use to talk jibberish when trying to sing Radiohead songs as nobody had a clue what he was saying most of the time.

    France on the other hand pride themselves on having songs with meaningful lyrics. Sadly, often at the sacrifice of a good tune.

    Back to ELT…If we’re teaching with music shouldn’t we be discussing the tune and working at that as much as the lyrics. Moreover, if we want to get at the themes do we need to do a full gap fill?

    Would this lesson work better using the music video as they are supposed to reflect the song and are part and parcel to the music experience thanks to MTV.

    How about these for alternative listening tasks:

    1) Write the chorus
    2) Note down how many time the chorus is played
    3) Write a summary of each verse (would require pausing)
    4) Write down recurrent language
    5) Write 3 examples of how words and images work together

    I also like the idea of identifying a theme before, working on language and then giving them a gapped text where sentences with that language in are missing such as back down, mad as hell, get over it, shut it. Next, you could look at how they work with the video and other related language. And , of course, expand the song, rewrite it from another perspective, another victim’s or even a bully’s. I think Pearl Jam did one:

    Clearly I remember
    Pickin’ on the boy
    Seemed a harmless little fuck
    But we unleashed a lion
    Gnashed his teeth
    And bit the recess lady’s breast

    How could I forget
    He hit me with a surprise left
    My jaw left hurting
    Dropped wide open
    Just like the day
    Like the day I heard

    Now that would get them talking. Especially if you just gave them the lyrics then later played the video. I mean, who would buy, liste to and sing along to a song like that eh?

    1. Thanks for your very useful comment, Phil.
      You are absolutely right in saying that using songs in the classroom does not always have to be about the lyrics.

      But in this particular case, I found the lyrics particularly important to the meaning of the song…at least for me.
      I have noticed that people listen to songs very differently.
      Some pay attention more to the melody, some more to the lyrics.
      I tend to be the lyrics sort of girl.

      And I also learn languages through song lyrics quite easily.
      It was Laura Pausini when I was learning Italian (Ok…I know, cheesy ballads…)
      and Hikaru Genji when I was learning Japanese (Yes yes, 80s Bubblegum pop)
      and singing along with the lyrics repeatedly really helped me learn lots of vocabulary and grammar structures.

      In the case of ‘Not Ready to Make Nice’, I thought there were some really good phrasal verbs and phrases in there, but more importantly, it is an emotional song, and the theme made for a very good springboard to lots of discussion.

      Chia

      1. What I find interesting about the above video is that it’s become a hit everywhere and people are singing along with it not knowing what the heck they are saying. Who needs lyrics? Or maybe it’s the melody that the lyrics accompany.

        One British song that used to get criticised a lot was No Limit. People used to say “no no,no no, no no lyrics”. Yet it still had more than some other songs by The Prodigy and Chemical Brothers. They seemed to have found the bare minimum of words a song needs to be popular. Without them they wouldn’t have done so well, I think.

        1. Absolutely, Phil.
          A song doesn’t have to have lyrics to be popular.
          After all, house and dance music does have a huge following.

          But that doesn’t mean that a song with meaningful lyrics is not worth listening to either.
          Neither does it mean that songs that haven’t made it to the Top 10 charts are not worth us using in the classroom.

          I think we are talking about two different things here.
          One is the use of songs for the lyrical and linguistic content. If one is using songs like this, the lyrics have to be clearly sung and audible.

          Then there is the use of songs as a springboard to discussion.
          ‘Gangnam Style’ is a great example of how music can really be international and can get a reaction out of people of all ages and types.
          It is also a great example of how the internet (and Youtube) has given rise to a whole different trend in music. We no longer need to wait for the local media to publicise songs on the local radio and TV stations.
          We see what is trending on Youtube, we click on it, and voila, we are transported to another part of the world.
          And if something is catchy and attention-grabbing, we’re going to watch it and pass it on.

          But I must say, catchy doesn’t necessarily equal good.
          And catchy doesn’t always equal ‘worthy of the language classroom’.

          For those reading this discussion between me and Phil, I urge you to watch the video of Gangnam Style that Phil posted.
          I’d love your opinion on the song and how you’d (or wouldn’t) use it in the classroom.

          Chia

        2. Yep so here here for more interesting songs in books and not just old ‘safe’ ones that are only chosen because of the high frequency of the present continuous etc. All my female students love Gaga but their books have Simon and Garfunkel in I think. Hmmmm.

        3. Totally agree, Phil.
          We should write a book about using songs in the classroom with different section to it.
          Back when I did my Delta (ages ago), we had a Portfolio Assignment, now known as LSAs, called Materials and Resources.
          For my assignment on Materials and Resources, I chose the topic ‘Using songs from musicals in the classroom’, and used Moulin Rouge in my practical assessment. I did really well on it…

          So, what do you reckon?

          A book?

          Chia

        4. I think English Attack should do more songs maybe but with extra activities related to speaking and writing. An online book/course would suit songs better. I’ve always found playing a CD, handing out paper and checking it a bit weird. Well, nowadays. Back when we had language labs it was OKish but you could argues that MTV has meant students expect videos.

          I also like the idea of students swapping MP3 players/phones, discussion the others playlists and listening to some extracts. Language and grammar work….haven’t got that far.

        5. I used to love making mix tapes for friends. Maybe doing that would be great. So for HW pair up students and get them to make a playlist of 10 songs. then they bring their player/files and listen to either one or two full songs or just skim through the first 30 seconds.

          Following that lots of discussion about why they chose those tracks, what they mean, how they interpret the songs and probably lots of arguments about what is good/bad. I would purposefully pair up a goth and a KPop fan just to get discussion going.

  3. I found this interesting:

    You see how they respond whilst watching/listening. If this is natural then it would support the idea of group listening and commenting as opposed to listening on their own in quiet. The reactions are good too.

  4. Hi Chia (and Phil)
    Sorry to interrupt your discussion about what makes a song catchy and whether meaningful lyrics are important but I would like to comment on the post itself 🙂
    I like this bottom-up text-based processing applied to songs and the fact that the gap-fill takes place before listening and I use it a lot myself. As you said above, Chia, it helps learners draw on their linguistic knowledge when piecing it together.

    As for your question, I’ve always wanted to do a similar activity with “All I Wanna Do (Is Make Love To You)” by Heart but never have – maybe because of what you might call its “mature theme”. It has meaningful lyrics, a story which is easy to follow and a great video to boot. An initial gapfill act activity (before listening) could then be combined with one of the creative writing activities suggested by Phil: writing a summary of each stanza, writing own chorus, writing the last stanza (“how do you think the story ends”)

    And if you ever decide to collaborate on the book you talked about above, I’d like to be involved too. Thanks!
    LEO

    1. Hi Leo,
      Thanks for commenting!
      I think that perhaps our industry has become so obsessed with top-down processing that we sometimes neglect the bottom-up aspects…
      Just because learners naturally resort to bottom-up processes does not mean that we should not try to help them do it better…
      And songs are a great way of doing so…(in addition to being a great springboard for conversation, as Phil has pointed out).

      That book would definitely benefit a lot from having your input in it, Mr Lexical Man! Let’s have a chat about that!

      xC

  5. Great lesson plan!

    When I talk about this topic with higher level classes, I also like to elicit/teach vocab like ‘tease’, ‘slag off’, ‘pull someone’s leg’ and then talk about whether these things are bullying or not. It can be really interesting to get different opinions on where the line between light hearted banter and bullying is.

    I also ask if they think ignoring people or leaving them out is a form of bullying and that brings up some good vocab like ‘to freeze someone out’, ‘to give someone the cold shoulder’, ‘to blank someone’

    I think this topic is always really good for a materials-light lesson.

    1. Hi Claire,
      Sorry, it’s taken me so long to reply…Been a little busy lately, and haven’t paid my blog as much attention as it deserves…
      Thanks for reading the post, and for taking time to comment.

      I think the lexis that I teach students sometimes depends on where they would be using English. ‘Slag someone off’, for example, is quite British and very colloquial and idiomatic, and so if my students are using English in a more international context, I might choose something more straightforward like ‘to insult someone’ or ‘to say something behind someone’s back’. But certainly, when getting the different opinions from students and when the discussion takes flight, there’s a lot of scope for working with the language that emerges and correcting students’ output.

      Thanks once again!

      C

      1. Hi Chia!

        Indeed, it is important to make it clear that a particular expression is only used in one part of the world. I was teaching in London, so most of the students were keen on learning British expressions (many had chosen the UK over other countries because they had a special interest in British culture), but I always marked them with ‘BrE’ and tried to provide more international alternatives when possible.

        Claire

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