Metaphor through music videos

Video killed the radio star. But it gave birth to modern culture.

One of the main roles of being a teacher is to build student knowledge and develop the necessary comprehension to be able to engage with society at large for the rest of their lives. In the majority of subjects, developing comprehension tends to be based on the written word. However, whether we like it or not, a great deal of what defines us culturally is attributed to image; it is a dominant force in communication, and it seems remiss of current curricula to not engage in its teaching.

Image often relies on metaphor to communicate. An image will use a certain subject/colour/frame/ to represent or symbolise something else, and like the written word, it is effective because it opens up the reader’s thinking. The concept of metaphor is of course key to the English syllabus, driving the majority of texts, and allowing artists to describe, challenge, and celebrate the world around us. However, understanding metaphor can be a difficult thing for many students as it moves thinking into the abstract. Music videos can offer the chance to engage students with metaphor by modelling and explaining how meaning is made from what is presented visually. We know that skills are rarely transferable, but I believe that an understanding of visual metaphor significantly helps students understand the concept of metaphor, which they can then more easily engage with when in written form. Many of the metaphors used in video can just as easily be used in a written form.

Studying visual metaphor can also be used to stimulate thematic discussion, comparisons with existing texts, and even creative writing ventures.


I have developed a resource HERE that has collated some quite interesting video clips that students may or may not have access to, and most likely haven’t thought about the layered meanings contained within them. The process is straightforward: students view the video, and then are asked to answer the questions provided on the slide. Often the second viewing is needed; this is okay, because what you are actually doing is modelling how to comprehend video/visual texts, stopping the video at relevant sections to help all students see the answers to the questions. Questions are usually based on meaning, as well as film/language technique (usually colours or setting) used to enhance the message. 

Whilst the development of this comprehension may not have any relevancy to your specific curriculum studied in terms of assessment, understanding the concept of metaphor is imperative, and the videos are a very accessible way of approaching such an important abstraction, which as already stated, can be difficult for some students. The absolute bonus is that sometimes, when you may be exhausted or you just feel that the time is right to ease off a particular piece of work, or just to vary the delivery of content, these videos are excellent learning opportunities that thoroughly engage the students, and always result in them asking for more.

How is it designed?

The resource is stored as a dropbox file, which has the benefit of being able to be continuously updated and added to. By the time you work your way through the current 20+ videos, I would have added lots more.

The level of difficulty of the questions and possibly the video content is currently aimed at upper secondary, but the beauty of the resource is that once you get a feel for the template, you can of course choose your own videos and level of difficulty of the questions to suit your classes.

If you feel you have some videos that could be added, like @alwayslearnweb who suggested the song Grenade by Bruno Mars, based on a favourite lesson she teaches, please let me know. I would love your recommendations.


I’m Paul Moss. Please follow me on Twitter @edmerger, and follow this blog if English resources and general education discussions are your thing.

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