Spin Class, Playlist Help Students Learn About Literature Classics

Students in Lora Pirrello’s 12th grade Advanced Placement English Literature class were tasked to create a playlist of songs thematically related to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Once completed, the students had a chance to participate in a spin cycling class to the songs they had selected, seen here, at Evolution Spin in Lakewood.

It’s an age-old challenge for English teachers across the country — how do you emphasize a novel written a century ago and make it relevant for students in today’s day and age?

For Jamestown High School English teacher Lora Pirrello, the equation is simple: meet students where they are using two emerging cultural trends.

Using a popular exercise activity and an increased access to music, Pirrello tasked students in her 12th grade Advanced Placement English Literature course to create a playlist of songs that thematically relate to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, The Great Gatsby. Once completed, students then had the chance to participate in a unique extra credit activity: a spin cycling class using the music they had selected for their literary analysis.

“I always thought it would be a cool idea to have the kids create a playlist based on a novel,” said Pirrello, who also serves as a spin instructor at Evolution Spin in Lakewood.

Book playlists are becoming more and more popular across the United States. Thanks to subscription-based music platforms like Spotify and Apple Music, playlists can easily be created and shared, and authors and literature lovers across the country have already been hard at work, creating companion playlists for readers to listen to along with their book.

“We did this with Hamlet last year — we worked in small groups to come up with songs that would thematically match and explain each song and then we’d listen to one song as a class and discuss it,” she said.

Stationary cycling — known to most as “spinning” — also has seen a gradual increase in popularity across the country. According to Statista, prior to the pandemic, roughly 10 million individuals attended spin classes in 2019.

Last year, Pirrello said, the spin class included others from the community. This year, however, a time was reserved solely for her students.

“We had about 18 students come,” she said. “The students were really energized by it. If they couldn’t attend the spin class on one of their days off, students had another extra credit opportunity to create a separate playlist on the book Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton.”

She added, “I figured that activities like these could help them resonate more with the book and think about it more deeply. I’m really pleased that they enjoyed it so much.”


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