Who do you think gets credited for making the very first “lyric video”?

Three clues for you:

  1. The video was released back in 1987.
  2. The song is “Sign o’ the Times.”
  3. The artist is Prince.

Did you guess Prince? Amazing.

If only the stars of "Alphabet Street" had cooperated, this honour would have been theirs.

The cast of “Alphabet Street” had no vision.

You’ll see it debated that Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” is the original. Regardless, Prince’s focused concept of showing a song’s entire lyric in a video affected George Michael. This evolved to Cee Lo Green, which made professional lyric videos extremely popular.

lyric videos infographic
Look, Mom, I learned how to make an infographic.

But what do words in music videos have to do with education, anyway?

It’s a hook to help with literacy.

Look & Listen

To further your child’s interest in reading (and music), look up a song’s lyric video on YouTube. The benefit? She can connect what she hears with the words she’s seeing onscreen. (It’s like when you put a name to a face: “I thought that word sounded familiar. Yep, I definitely recognize it now.”)

Lately I get to hear songs with a more mature appeal while my daughter watches words pop up in Bruno Mars’s “Treasure” and Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” which helps to improve her vocabulary (with parental assistance).

Since she can see the lyrics, she asked about words from those two tunes, too (e.g., “blue” means sad, and a “fuse” is for an explosion). While later listening to Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’,” she inquired:

“What is ‘Jesus’?”

And I reminded her:

“He’s the little baby that you took out of Grammie’s nativity scene and got stuck in the Fisher-Price gas station elevator shaft.”

Prescreen Videos

You might be in a hurry for your kid to switch from Wiggles to Buggles… Baby Beluga to Achtung Baby… “Humpty Dumpty” to “Humpty Dance”…

You’re either the best parent or the worst. 

But, just like a teacher must do with any video, you should prescreen the content of YouTube videos. The “Treasure” intro has swearing (!!) and in the “Free Fallin’” link everything is crashing to earth: spelling, capitalization and punctuation. (Those YouTube users should watch more lyric videos to improve thei–oh, yes, I do see the problem there.)

If it’s a recent song, however, look for the official lyric video that’s manufactured by the artist or label. Those ones are done correctly.

Don’t be a passive viewer – show interest to watch videos with your child for this to be effective as a teaching tool. Lyric videos give you a chance to chat with your kid about a piece of writing, which is rare since you and youth likely don’t read the same literature. But a lot of youths that don’t enjoy studying a book will stop to read the fantastic “Roar” lyric video from Katy Perrys record company.

Yes, I credit a Katy Perry song for promoting literacy. You build your method of instruction with the materials the kids want to play with!


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Written by Peter Cullen

Peter Cullen loves to teach children. He specializes in literacy (elementary level) and has a lot of fun creating games and activities for class lessons. He also writes, manages social media accounts and announces roller derby games.

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