Alanis Morissette: You live you learn

Tags: listening practice, speaking, discussion, learning
Level: Pre-intermediate, Intermediate, Upper intermediate

Usually I do this song quite early on in the school year. It sets a good basis for the learning environment and offers a new perspective on learning.


Step 1

Ask students if they like learning. I have only had rare students answer yes to this question so it is only natural to ask them also why they feel so negative about learning, how do they learn, where and when. Ask also how often they learn. If you have a very big group, you might want them to do this in smaller groups. Depending on the class, I sometimes tell them that by the end of this lesson, they will feel completely different about learning. This often triggers their attention, because they (as teenagers do) want to prove me wrong.



Step 2

Tell students to listen to the song very carefully and write down any words they catch and understand. I warn them beforehand that the first 2 lines are the most difficult and that they shouldn’t get discouraged by them. This task is good from more points of view:

  • Students need to practice their listening skills and keep listening even if it is hard. Very often, my students just stop trying if they judge the text too difficult.
  • Very often, they understand words but do not know how to write them. They sometimes get quite creative at this point. Fortunately, it is mistakes like this that we learn most from.
  • Students see how an accent can lead them astray into thinking they hear something completely different from the actual lyrics. They hear words that are not in the text at all or misinterpret them. (they think they hear “hi” instead of “I” and similar)

Do not forget to praise them at this point for sustaining their concentration despite the difficulty of the task.

Step 3

Ask students if they managed (even if that was not the task) to understand what the song is about. Then go through the lyrics together, starting with the chorus, but after each line, you ask them specifically about their experiences. For example:

You cry, you learn – “Have you ever cried in your life? If not – Have you seen other people cry? Why? Did you learn anything from it?”

You love you learn – “Have you been in love? What did you learn from it?”

I usually give a lot of emphasis on the last line (You ask you learn) and point it out that they only rarely ask questions and that school has somehow managed to teach them that asking is not ok. I stress the fact that it is their duty to ask when they do not understand something.


Step 4

Go back to the beginning of the lyrics. Ask them why they think she recommends all those things. The answer is always “because you learn something from it”. If they ask or don’t know what exactly you learn, set it as homework to try and report in the next class.

At the end of a lesson, ask them again, if they like learning and how often they do it. J


video with lyrics ( I use this when I can’t get photocopies of the lyrics)



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