The Other Side of Town

Paraisopolis, Sao Paulo

Resources for an ELT class on ghettos and ghettoisation

A recent class I have done that worked well with adults and undergraduates was on the theme of ghettos. Indeed, the picture above, for which I do not have a photo credit, was actually shared with me by a student who responded well to the material. Showing the vast social divide between the shanty towns and luxury apartment complexes of Paraisopolis in Sao Paulo, it captures evocatively a modern form of ghettoisation which even many comparatively egalitarian countries experience to lesser or greater degrees.

Instead of providing a detailed plan of the class here, I have decided to summarize. The songs that I have chosen work well from B1 level upwards, depending on what you want the students to do with them.

I began by showing some powerful photos of oppressively dense looking housing estates not unlike the one of Paraisopolis above. There are many to find online that work equally well for the purposes of eliciting group discussion, which should be as student-focused as possible (asking the students to describe what they see and how the pictures make them feel, for example).

The first song I worked with was Curtis Mayfield’s Other Side of Town (1970). I recommend having students first predict what the song is about based on the title alone. If you think some of the vocab will be difficult for them, you could extract a few words and create a pre-listening activity in which the students have to match some of the vocab to definitions. If you do this, you could get them to do their predictions about the story told in the song after that (they will have more “clues” as a result).

Before doing any detailed comprehension exercises, have the students listen to the song once to form their own views about it. To do this you should give some simple gist questions first (Is there a story? What is the style of music? How does the song make you feel? Do you understand any of the lyrics?), to which they can respond in small groups and then together with the whole class.

Depending on the level of the students, you can then move on to a comprehension activity like a gap-fill or jigsaw listening. The choice of words you remove could have a link to any language points you want the students to focus on, or otherwise just rhyming words (for example).

Once students have shared their answers in groups, review the answers together as a class before moving on the the next song, Elvis Presley’s 1969 song In the Ghetto. For this you could take a similar approach to the first song, or even simplify the process given that it is easier to understand than the Curtis Mayfield.

To make the activity more challenging you could have the students listen once, make notes, and try to complete a gap-fill of the lyrics in groups from their memory and what they have jotted down. Alternatively, you could give them the gap-fill but not allow them to complete it until the song is finished, again using their (collective) memory to find the missing words.

Once you have reviewed the answers you can lead a small discussion comparing the two songs (what are the similarities and differences between them? Which do they prefer? Do they reflect real life today? etc.). After that, I recommend some kind of creative activity which would enable the students to put into practice some of the new vocabulary and/or structures used in the songs. This could be a pastiche or imitation of one of the songs, in which the students write a new verse in the same style as the original, or a piece of creative writing in which the learners assume the position of one of the characters. Alternatively you could hold a debate on the theme of ghettoisation or even encourage the students to present songs they know or like on a similar subject. There are lots of possibilities!

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