Month: Jan 2014

Working with songs: Hurricane (Bob Dylan)

Using songs in ELT is a great way of keeping learners motivated, and exposing them to new language and accents other than their teacher’s! There are so many different ways to employ songs – as language practice, as a prompt for discussions, and the list goes on.

Here are some tasks based on the song “Hurricane” by Bob Dylan. They focus on various language aspects to demonstrate all the things that are possible with song texts, and there are also discussion questions to extend the work with the song.

Note: The song “Hurricane” is easily found on platforms such as YouTube, and on many good compilation CDs!

First, get the learners to listen to the song all the way through and try to understand the gist of the story it tells. You could pose these specific questions and get them to take notes: What is the song about (what is the story about)? / What is the main theme of the song’s message?

Hand out the worksheet with the song’s text and activities. It’s probably best to work through verse by verse, focusing on the language task and replaying/pausing several times to enable all learners to get the answers.

Bob Dylan – Hurricane

_____ shots ring out in the barroom night
Enter Patty Valentine from the upper hall.
She sees the _____in a pool of blood,
Cries out, “My God, they _____them all!”
Here comes the _____of the Hurricane,
The man the _____came to _____
For somethin’ that he never done.
Put in a _____cell, but one time he could-a been
The _____of the _____


1)      Listen to the song and fill in the blanks with the correct words.

2)      Find synonyms for the words you’ve inserted.


_____ _____lyin’ there does Patty see
_____another man named Bello, movin’ around _____.
“I didn’t do it,” _____says, and he throws up _____hands
“I was only _____ the register, I hope you understand.
I saw them leavin’,” he says, _____he stops
“One of us had better _____ the cops.”
And so Patty calls the cops
And they arrive _____the scene with their _____lights flashin’
In _____ _____New Jersey night.


1)      Listen to the song and fill in the blanks with the correct words.

2)      Parse the words you have inserted (i.e. say what kind of word they; verb, noun, etc)


Meanwhile, far away in another part of town
Rubin Carter and a couple of friends are drivin’ around.
Number one contender for the middleweight crown
Had no idea what kinda shit was about to go down
When a cop pulled him over to the side of the road
Just like the time before and the time before that.
In Paterson that’s just the way things go.
If you’re black you might as well not show up on the street
‘Less you wanna draw the heat.


1)      Summarise this verse in two sentences.


alfred bello had a partner and he had a rap for the cops
him and arthur dexter bradley were just out prowlin around
he said i saw two men runnin out they looked like middleweights
they jumped into a white car with out of state plates
and miss patty valentine just nodded her head
cop said wait a minute boys this ones not dead
so they took him to the infirmary
and though this man could hardly see
they told him that he could identify the guilty me


1)      Add the correct punctuation to the text. (TIP: listen to where the singer pauses as well as thinking about the punctuation rules you know)


Four in the mornin’ and they haul Rubin in,
Take him to the hospital and they bring him upstairs.
The wounded man looks up through his one dyin’ eye
Says, “Wha’d you bring him in here for? He ain’t the guy!”
Yes, here’s the story of the Hurricane,
The man the authorities came to blame

For somethin’ that he never done.

Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world.


1)      Some letters of even whole words have been omitted (see underlined parts). Write these words/phrases out in full.


Four months later, the ghettos are in flame,
Rubin’s in South America, ________________________________

While Arthur Dexter Bradley’s _____________________________

And the cops are __________________________, lookin’ for somone to blame.
“Remember that murder that happened in a bar?”

“Remember you said you saw the getaway car?”
“You think ________________________________the law?”
“Think it might-a been that fighter that you saw runnin’ that night?”
“Don’t forget that you are white.”


1)      Listen to the song and fill in the blanks.

2)      The phrases you have filled in are metaphors – what do they mean?


Arthur Dexter Bradley said, “I’m really not sure.”
Cops said, “A poor boy like you could use a break
We got you for the motel job and we’re talkin’ to your friend Bello
Now you don’t wanta have to go back to jail, be a nice fellow.
You’ll be doin’ society a favor, that sonofabitch is brave and gettin’ braver.
We want to put his ass in stir
We want to pin this triple murder on him
He ain’t no Gentleman Jim.”


1)      This verse includes a lot of direct speech in informal language. Re-write what the cops say in the most formal language you can.


Rubin could take a man out ________________________________
But he ________________________________ll that much.
________________________________, he’d say, and I do it for pay
And when it’s over ________________________________

Up to some paradise
Where the ________________________________and the air is nice
And ride ________________________________.
But then they took him to the jailhouse,
Where they ________________________________.


1)      Fill in the rests of the lines.


All of Rubin’s cards were marked in __________
The trial was a pig-circus, he never had a __________.
The judge made Rubin’s witnesses drunkards from the __________
To the white folks who watched he was a revolutionary __________
And to the black folks he was just a crazy __________.
No one doubted that he pulled the __________.
And though they could not produce the gun,
The D.A. said he was the one who did the __________
And the all-white jury __________.


1)      Fill the blanks with the correct words from the song.

2)      Which pairs of words rhyme? Can you think of other words which rhyme with these?


And the newspapers, they all went along for the ride.

To see him obviously framed
How can the life of such a man

Be in the palm of some fool’s hand?

Bello and Bradley and they both baldly lied
Where justice is a game.

The crime was murder “one,” guess who testified?

Rubin Carter was falsely tried.
Couldn’t help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land


1)      The lines of this verse have been jumbled. Put them into the correct order, then listen to the song and see if you were right.


Now all the __________in __________coats and __________ties
Are free to drink martinis and watch the sun rise
While __________sits like Buddha in a ten-foot cell
An innocent __________in a living hell.

That’s the __________of the Hurricane,
But __________won’t be over till __________clear __________name
And give __________back the time __________done.
Put in a prison cell, but one time __________could-a been
The champion of the world.


1)       Fill the blanks with the correct words from the song.

2)       What kinds of words are missing? Which specific words are used to replaces others? 



  1. Have you heard about any of the issues raised in the song anywhere else? In the news?  In films?
  2. What could be done to prevent such miscarriages of justice?

Have they got the point?

How do you know that your students have understood the main message of what you’re aiming to teach them? There are many short activities that teachers employ at the ends of their lessons to check whether the key information or point has really been understood and taken on board by their students.

Here’s a new one I have been trying out recently – with success!

Text messages. SMS. Whatever you want to call them … they are an excellent tool that can be employed quickly and effortlessly at the end of your lessons. Most students these days have a mobile phone, and probably spend a lot of their free time using it. So why not allow them to use it at the end of your class, and actually make them use it in a way that is meaningful for their learning.

Try it: At the end of your lesson, where you have taught some new information, ask your students to send you one SMS text message with their summary of the lesson’s main point. Although many may be using internet-based services which allow them to send longer messages (often for free), limit the message to a standard text message (about 180 characters) to ensure they express themselves concisely.

You can then either read out a couple of the best, or respond individually (probably best if you use a free service for this!) to give feedback. Reading the short messages will give you a good indication of whether your learners have got the point you were trying to teach, and whether you need to re-cap anything in the next lesson.

As a variation, you could pose a quiz-style question which re-caps your lesson’s content and get them to answer it by text message. This is especially helpful for EFL classes – you can pose a question that requires them to use the target language structures in their answer, and then check whether they’re able to use the new language accurately.

And the usefulness of text messages continues… if you are asking your students to write an essay or prepare a presentation and you want to check that they are on the right track, as them to text you the thesis statement or overarching message of their work. This enables you to give feedback where necessary, and also ensures that the learners actually have an overarching thesis for their work!

Nowadays, texting is so quick, easy, and cheap (if not free) – so why not embrace it to enrich your teaching?

Note: You may want to buy a pre-paid SIM card so that you don’t need to give your learners your private phone number. 🙂