I was fortunate to attend the National Council for Social Studies convention when it was held in St. Louis with my colleague and fellow #worldgeochat moderator Chris Heffernan (@cheffernan75) . We had decided to divide and conquer by attending different sessions. When we met up at the end of the day, he told me he had attended a great session by Craig Divis called “Mandela’s Ipod”. Divis shared with the attendees of his session numerous songs that focused on the Apartheid era. I have curated some of these songs on this Youtube playlist here: Aprtheid Playlist.

When chatting with Chris after the sessions, we thought Divis’ “Mandela’s Ipod” idea would be a very cool way to tie in one of our district’s core focuses–including the study of more primary resources–with our curriculum target about how the Apartheid era has impacted South Africa today. In order to do that we first needed to teach what Apartheid was. Chris and I both thought that using these song lyrics would offer engaging audio and text for students as well as address this important topic beyond the articles and textbook pages that we had been using.

Chris and I have both been using these songs and lyrics with our students since 2013. Lyrics

Before utilizing the music, I set up with some background about the Apartheid era via articles and video clips. On the 1st day of using the music I start with these Pre Listening Questions. After students answer them we discuss as a class.

Next, we begin listening to the songs and analyzing the lyrics. I’ve used these questions. You could also use The Library of Congress Primary Source Analysis tools. This year, to continue our work with Claim, Evidence, and Reasoning, I provided a claim statement for each song we use and had students find lyrics that support the claim as well as have them explain why those lyrics support the claim. I used the interactive presentation Nearpod to do this. They have a great feature called collaborate which is like embedding a Padlet into your presentation. It worked great and made an engaging lesson even more so! You can preview this Nearpod lesson here.

After two class periods working with these songs I concluded by asking, “how did these songs give you a better understanding of the Apartheid era in South Africa?” Students have always stated they have enjoyed these lessons and that using the music of this era definitely gave them an understanding of Apartheid that they probably would never have understood just by looking at our textbook pages that cover this topic.

If you are looking for additional materials on music and Apartheid you could also utilize the excellent resources from Project Explorer run by Jenny Buccos (@goodglobalcitiz).

How do you teach Apartheid? What resources and strategies have you found most effective for utilizing music in your classroom?

7 thoughts on “Music Lyrics: Engaging Primary Sources

  1. One of my favorite lessons was teaching about the changes in Russia in the 1990s through the music of one of the first Russia’s first rock bands – Boris Grebenshikov.


  2. Album is Radio Silence and the song I used most was the title track, Radio Silence. It is about censorship under the Soviets. I also like Young Lions which is about World War I.


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