ON DEMAND: Building Student Empathy and Perspective-taking Skills through Popular Music (15 mins)

  • Shelley Wong George Mason University
  • Thuy Tu George Mason University
  • Anwar Hussein Birzeit University
  • Johanna Hermanson George Mason University
  • Anita Bright George Mason University
  • Gertrude Tinker-Sachs Georgia State University


In today’s contentious political climates worldwide, how do you approach social justice issues with your students in a non-threatening way? The presenters answer this question with freedom songs from different countries. They engage participants from STEM, communication, social sciences and education in the creation of listening, speaking, writing, reading assignments that utilize songs as a springboard for discussion.

This presentation offers many ways in which freedom songs can be a tool for peace and cross-cultural understanding in a world of increasing interethnic, interracial, intercultural, and international conflict. Among the objectives of the presenters are to:
1) showcase language lessons that are applicable to multiple cultural and socio-political contexts;
2) engage participants in the creation of such interdisciplinary lessons; and
3) exemplify the power of music to transform language learning, promote peace and foster intercultural understanding.

The cognitive and affective advantages of using music in language teaching are clear. The research demonstrates the pedagogical benefits for students of all ages, from young children (Shin, 2017) to adults (Lems, 2005). Music can also help students overcome shyness in small group discussions (Cunningham, 2014; Duarte Romero, Tinjacá Bernal, & Carrero Olivares 2012). Beyond this, music affords students of all language backgrounds, ages, and levels of proficiency, a way to gain global awareness and cross barriers of culture, race, gender, and social class.

The songs in this presentation explore themes of freedom, justice, peace, and reconciliation while providing contexts for the teaching multilingual English language learners various subject matters from Math, Science, to Teaching English to Speakers of Other languages. Each presenter shares a particular challenge they encountered in working with these topics and the strategies they use to address them in designing their lessons based on freedom songs from around the world. Participants will be provided with opportunities to design their own teaching activities and lessons using freedom songs. Participants will be able to take away numerous resources including sample activities, exercises, and supplemental readings for students of various ages and levels of English language proficiency. 

On Demand Pre-recorded Presentation