Keeping revision on track

29th June 2007 at 01:00
Forget notebooks and flashcards, teenagers are preparing for exams with the help of MP3s - and rewritten pop songs. Colin Nicolson reports

Flashcards are a good way to help with revision, but we've noticed children tend to remember song lyrics. So in the RE department, we have developed the idea of turning textbook and revision notes into short tracks, recorded in MP3 format, which pupils (aged 14 to 18) can play on their computers or mobile phones. Lasting three to four minutes each, these MP3s combine familiar pop songs with spoken text which we have adapted from condensed revision notes and turned into lyrics.

The pop track fades after about 15 seconds and I or my colleague, David Ramage, principal teacher of RE, begin reading the text. This is recorded using either a Mac with GarageBand software or a PC with Audacity, which is downloadable free from the internet. For a microphone, we use the USB Snowball.

Dealing with the story of Genesis, for example, we begin with the Eurythmics' hit Missionary Man and the line "I was born an original sinner". This fades after 15 seconds and I begin reading my lyric, which is about whether the story is mythical or historical. It starts:

"Historical interpretation of Genesis 3 A real Adam and Eve and a real apple tree.

They were tricked by a serpent, they were tempted to sin

And the fourfold consequences made things very grim.

Moral, physical, environmental and spiritual

Things would never be the same, things are now getting critical."

To date we have produced about 20 tracks, on topics such as genetic engineering and moral philosophy. The pupils have a hand in choosing the songs, which should have some connection with the topic. For example, eternal life is represented by Bat Out Of Hell by Meatloaf, in which the narrator dies but the heart breaks out of the body and flies away.

Euthanasia is accompanied by the Mary J Blige version of the U2 song One, with its reference to playing Jesus.

In a few cases, we have gone a step further and put the lyrics to original music, played on acoustic guitar by my colleague David. The next step is to get the pupils writing and recording verses themselves and we hope to compile all the results on a website next year.

But for now, tracks are burned on a CD or can be sent to pupils' mobile phones who can then "file-share" with others. Some pupils have been plugging in their iPods and falling asleep at night to the sounds of Snow Patrol and Thomas Aquinas Colin Nicolson is RE teacher and principal teacher of pupil support at Bellshill Academy, a secondary in Bellshill, North Lanarkshire

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