Using “Girl In the War” as a Teaching Tool

11 Sep

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If you have read this blog somewhat consistently over the last few years, you may know these two facts: 1.) I am a High School English teacher and 2.) I greatly appreciate all things Josh Ritter. Thus, it is always a pleasure to combine these two elements into a lesson plan, and next week I will utilize Ritter’s “Girl in the War” in a lesson reviewing figurative language. Students will not only identify the plethora of writing devices Ritter uses in his 2006 anti-war classic, but also they will assess how Ritter’s use of these devices ultimately made his song more effective. Through it all, I’ll make sure to have “Girl in the War” blast over the sound system in my room – perhaps a few times.

I’ve used Josh Ritter before in my classroom. Last year, students explored “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe and “Another New World” by Josh Ritter. It was rewarding to see students unravel the similarities between Ritter’s tribute to Poe’s classic about a “love that was more than love.”Since Ritter’s lyrics are so cogent, intellectual, and literary, the transition from iTunes playlist to classroom is quite simple.

I’m eager to hear the 16-year-old’s take on “Girl in the War” next week. The song contains several allusions, including the biblically-inspired conversation between apostles Peter and Paul. It also utilizes such clever metaphors as “talkin’ to God is Laurel beggin’ Hardy for a gun,” which I anticipate going over the heads of my students; a little clarification will certainly need to be in order. Ritter’s plea, eloquently sang through the lens of Peter and Paul, should be evident for students, as the “girl in the war” is repeated throughout and Ritter uses words like “yell” and “hell” – a sagacious rhyme in an otherwise “holy” song – when Peter begs to the angels that are “locked inside the kingdom.”

I hope students catch that Peter has the “girl in the war.” Peter is also the individual in charge of the pearly gates, with say of who gets to enter heaven. However, Peter has no say about his “girl in the war,” whose collective fate is out of his holy hands and is left, ultimately, to tears falling on Earth as the song ends.

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