A lesson plan based on the CD reviews by various staff writers in the January-February 2004 issue of L.A. Youth.

By Mike Fricano, Associate Editor

Grades: 6-12
Subjects: Language arts

Overview of lesson plan: Students will learn to write a concise and informative review of a CD.
Suggested time allowance: 45 min.-1 hr.

Students will learn to write forcefully through description and word choice while reviewing a topic of interest to them.

Resources and materials:
— pens, paper
— copies of L.A. Youth January-February 2004 issue (one per student)
— blackboard or whiteboard

There are literally thousands upon thousands of different CDs. How should a teen decide which one to buy with the hard-earned $15 in her or his wallet?

Ask a friend for a recommendation and the conversation might go something like this:

“Yeah, so I saved up and I’ve got enough for a new CD, but I’m not sure what to buy.”

“You should check out BAND X.”

“Never heard of ’em.”

“They’re great. Trust me.”


“It’s hard to explain them. Just buy it.”

It is hard to explain. Even the great American composer Aaron Copland said: “The whole problem can be stated quite simply by asking, ‘Is there a meaning to music?’ My answer would be, ‘Yes.’ And ‘Can you state in so many words what the meaning is?’ My answer to that would be, ‘No.'”

In this assignment students can examine what makes a good review versus a bad review.

1. Discussion. Start by leading a brief discussion on clichés. First define cliché. Webster’s calls it a trite, stereotyped expression. Then continue by writing a few examples on the board, but leaving out the last word. “Time of your _____” “Don’t rock the _____” “Rock your _____” Have the students fill in the blanks. “Time of your life” “Don’t rock the boat” “Rock your world.” Now get them to offer some of their own clichés.

Ask them why clichés are bad in writing. Are they a lazy device used by writers who don’t want to think of something original? Are they vague? What information does the phrase “Time of your life” really tell you?

2. Reading. Have the students read the four CD reviews on page 27. Ask them to note what they like about these reviews and what they don’t. Also, have them look for cliches (hopefully they won’t find any or at least not very many).

3. Brainstorming. Break up the students into small groups (three to four students) and have them create a list of specific pieces of information they want in a CD review. Examples could include information about the artist, the style of music (rap, hard rock, country, house), songs the reviewer likes or doesn’t like, sample lyrics, a description of the singer’s voice, what the songs are about, comparisons to other bands, whether there’s profanity. The list should be as long as they want and specific. You want the students to avoid using general adjectives such as “great” or “horrible.”

The students should feel free to examine the reviews in L.A. Youth as models. Note in Christina Kim’s review of Jeff Buckley how she compares song lyrics to a person’s own thoughts, establishing personal connections with the music. Christina also slips biographical information into the beginning and uses more specific adjectives like “powerful” and “chaste.”

In Andrea Domanick’s review of Interpol, she begins generally but very quickly goes into examinations of the band’s vocals and musicianship.

4. Discussion. Each group should now share its list with the class. (If it’s convenient, write each list on the board). At this point, students should have a good idea of what they and their peers want to know when they read a CD review.

5. Writing. This should take 10-15 minutes. Taking into account the list generated through the discussion, have each student write a review of a CD—one they love, or one they really hate. Students may want to listen to the CD one more time before turning in their reviews. At the teacher’s discretion students can be allowed to finish the review at home and bring it back the next day.

Extension activity:
Just for fun, ask the students to write an “anti-review,” which contains no information about the band or the music and uses clichés. As they write the “anti-review” it will reinforce the rules for writing a good review. Share these with the class.