When trying to learn something new, it helps to have a catchy tune to help make it stick in your mind. That was a lesson learned by American children of the 1970s and ’80s through the iconic television program Schoolhouse Rock.
Every Saturday morning, mixed in among the cartoons were short animated musical clips covering many topics academic subjects like American history, mathematics, science, and — importantly for our purposes — English grammar.
Earlier this month, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Schoolhouse Rock’s debut, composer Bob Dorough reminisced about the genesis of the idea in an interview with NPR. He was working composing music for commercials when his boss complained: “My sons cannot memorize their times tables — yet they sing along with Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones, and they get their words.”
From that idea grew the Schoolhouse Rock concept. The songs were indeed catchy, and they may prove useful for CELSA students trying to improve their English. Each song explains a part of speech. For example, if you need to get your thing in action, you need a verb — a lesson taught energetically in “Verb: That’s What’s a’Happenin’!”
Prepositions can be particularly tricky from one language to another. That topic is tackled in the song “Busy Prepositions.”
For Generation Xers, the show is a beloved childhood memory. In the late 1990s, a group of alt-rockers and hip-hop artists recorded a tribute album called Schoolhouse Rock Rocks that included artists like Moby, Pavement, Blind Melon, Biz Markie, and Skee-Lo’s funky take on subjects and predicates, “The Tale of Mr. Morton.”
Other clips cover topics like adjectives, conjunctions, interjections, and pronouns. The official Schoolhouse Rock website features printed lyrics to all the songs and links to YouTube videos for each.