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Learning with Bob Dylan

May 24, 2021

This May, Bob Dylan will celebrate his 80th birthday! The iconic American singer-songwriter is considered one of the greatest artists of all time, selling tens of millions of albums and writing more than 500 songs since his debut in the 1960s.

“Blowin’ in the Wind” is one of Dylan's most well-known songs and has been recorded by hundreds of artists worldwide. In this post, we will explore why this song is an excellent choice for the classroom, and we'll look at an activity idea that uses related lessons and resources from ESL Library.

The Song

“Blowin’ in the Wind” was written by Bob Dylan in 1962. The song is considered a protest song, posing rhetorical questions about war and freedom.

It's a great song to study with English students as it contains many common language features to discuss and explore. View the full lyrics.

Related Lesson

Bob Dylan

In this Famous People lesson, students read a short biography on Bob Dylan, learn new vocab, and discuss the lyrics from his song "Blowin' in the Wind."

Language Features

1. Idioms

The name of the song, as well as its main refrain, contains an uncommon idiom. 

"The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind, the answer is blowin' in the wind."

What does it mean to "blow in the wind"? The Collins definition is "to be thought about and discussed, but not decided upon or resolved."

In Dylan's own words to Sing Out! magazine, "There ain't too much I can say about this song except that the answer is blowing in the wind...just like a restless piece of paper it's got to come down some...but the only trouble is that no one picks up the answer when it comes down so not too many people get to see and know...and then it flies away."

Other idioms in the song:

  • turn one's head: to avoid paying attention to something uncomfortable or inconvenient
  • have one's ear: to have someone's interest or attention

2. Singular & Plural Nouns

With more than a dozen nouns, the song also works well to teach new vocabulary and review singular and plural nouns.

"Yes, ’n’ how many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?”

Full list of nouns:
road, man, sea, dove, sand, time, cannonball, answer, friend, wind, year, mountain, sea, person, head, sky, ear, death

Related Lesson

Singular & Plural Nouns

In this Grammar Practice Worksheets lesson, beginners learn how to form regular and irregular plural nouns. Students will also review common spelling and pronunciation rules for plural nouns.

3. Verb Conjugations

The song also features many different verb conjugations. Students can also see examples of the simple present (call), present progressive (is blowing), present perfect (have died), passive (are banned), modals (must, can), negative forms (doesn't see), etc.

"Yes, ’n’ how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?”

Full list of verbs:
to walk, to call, to sail, to sleep, to fly, to ban, to blow, to exist, to wash, to allow, to turn, to pretend, to see, to look, to have, to hear, to cry, to take, to know, to die

Related Resource

Verb Conjugations

Students will learn or review verb conjugations for 12 verb tenses in this handy Grammar & Usage resource for all levels.

4. Contractions

"Blowin' in the wind," contains many examples of words that have been shortened by dropping one or more letters. Ask your students if they know why the contraction 'n' has two apostrophes. (Answer: The first represents the missing "a" and the second represents the missing "d" from the word "and.")

"Yes, 'n' how many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?"

Full list of contractions:
'n', blowin', they're, it's, doesn't

Related Lesson

How to Use an Apostrophe

This Writing in English lesson includes a section on how to use apostrophes to form contractions. Students will also review common errors that people make with apostrophes.

5. Rhetorical Questions

Almost every line of the song takes the form of a rhetorical question.

"How many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea?"

Related Lesson

Identifying Rhetorical Devices

This Reading in English lesson includes a section on rhetorical questions. Students also learn about the art of persuasion and how to identify rhetorical devices.

Activity Idea

Give students a copy of the song lyrics with certain words blanked out. Play the song and have them fill in the blanks with the words they hear. Depending on the level of the class, you could give them the words beforehand, or let them try on their own first and reveal the answers to them later. 

If you choose to blank out the nouns, you can have students sort them into singular and plural after filling in the blanks. You could also ask them to convert the singular nouns that appear in the song to their plural form, and vice versa.

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Comments (4)

John C.(Teacher)

Nice job! Very detailed in your use. I'll definitely be using this! Thanks!

Reply to Comment

Simone Armer(Author)

Thanks, John! Happy to hear that :)

Nancy R.(Teacher)

Thank you for this lesson. I just saw a wonderful documentary about Bob Dylan and this lesson has given me some great ideas to use in my classroom.

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

We're happy to hear that, Nancy! Thanks for your comment.

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