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ONE - U2: a lesson plan by Seamus O'Muircheartaigh
- 1
One cover

Teacher’s Notes - To the lesson materials

Level: Upper intermediate


  • Pictures of the buffalo

You could start off the lesson by getting students to look at the cover of the CD single. If you don’t have the single you can find an image here:

Get students in pairs to look at the pictures and describe what they see, what they think is happening and why. (it’s probably a good idea to blank out the name of the song and the group) After doing some feedback let students read the short text on the back of the CD cover.

The image on the cover is a photograph by the American artist David Wojnarowicz, depicting how Indians hunted buffalo by causing them to run off cliffs. Wojnarowicz identifies himself and ourselves with the buffalo, pushed into the unknown by forces we cannot control or even understand. Wojnarowicz is an activist artist and writer whose work has created controversy recently through its uncompromising depiction of the artist’s homosexuality, his infection by the AIDS virus and the political crisis surrounding AIDS .

They could compare their ideas with the text and from there you could go on to talk about AIDS and how things may have changed from when the song was released in 1991.

  • One in different languages

Students match the word one in English with it’s translation in the other languages. Here are the answers.




Gaeilge (Irish)













  • Vocabulary Pre-Teach

Students check the meaning of the words/phrases in a mono-lingual dictionary.

  • Listening Option 1

Students listen to the song and as they do, complete the feedback form found in Tim Murphey’s book ‘Music & Song’ ‘Song Feedback’ p.90
From uk:
or something similar that you design yourself.

  • Listening Option 2

Students listen to the song to put the different sections in order.

  • Reading & Speaking

Students read over the lyrics in the correct order and discuss in pairs/groups what they think the song is about.

  • Translation Option

Students read over the lyrics and translate it into their own language.

  • Reading

Students read over the different interpretations of the song and discuss which one they are most convinced by and why. I first saw some of these texts being used by Serge Nicaudie on a CELTA training course in April 2004.

  • Video Clip Design

Students in pairs/threes think about what the video of the song might look like. You could then get students to watch the video. (There were actually three videos made, one in Berlin, one in a bar and the other with the buffaloes. You can find two versions, the one from Berlin and the one in the bar on The Best Of U2 - Volume 2 DVD. The one from Berlin is the most interesting to use.)
From uk:

As the students watch the video they could answer the evaluation sheet taken from Tim Murphey’s book ‘Music & Song’ ‘What makes a good video’ p. 115. After they have watched the video they could compare their ideas and again discuss which of the interpretations the video suggests. The video which is shot in Berlin ends with two old East German Trabants facing each other in front of the Olympic Stadium. U2’s royalties from the sale of the single went to AIDS research. The band appear in drag (which they were actually worried about in that it might have been misunderstood that they were suggesting that AIDS was only a problem for a certain section of society) and the old man in the video is actually Bono’s father, Bob Hewson.

  • DVD – Gist Listening

The script comes from a U2 documentary regularly shown on the Biography Channel If you don’t have a copy you can always simply let the students read the script and for gist decide which of the interpretations from the previous reading the band talk about.

  • DVD – Vocabulary Development

Students read over the script again and match the vocabulary items with the appropriate definitions from the context.





























  • DVD – Gist Listening Optional

If you have a copy of the U2 hits DVD, one of the extra features is a documentary ‘The Making Of One’. In this there is a description of the background to the song and an explanation of why the band made three different videos. It has subtitles in various languages so students could simply sit and watch if you wanted to.

  • Reading Optional

Students read over part of the text ‘Take out your phones’ to see how the song is being used in the concerts on the current tour. See the end of the materials for the text.

  • Speaking Development

To finish off students could discuss these questions in pairs/threes.

  • A few other U2 songs to use

‘Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own’ - Father-Relationship

Bono says,

I sang the song Sometimes You Can't Make it On Your Own at my father's funeral. He was a very tough old boot of a guy, Irish, Dub, north side Dubliner, very cynical about the world and the people in it, but very charming and funny with it. His whole thing was, don't dream. To dream is to be disappointed. That's really who I think my father was, and that was his advice to me... he didn't speak it in those words but that's what he meant. And of course that's really a recipe for megalomania, isn't it? I was only ever interested in big ideas, and not actually so much dreaming, but putting dreams into action. Doing the things that you have in your head has become an important thing for me. Anyway, the song Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own is dedicated to him, it's a portrait of him, and it also explains that he was a great singer, a great tenor. A working class Dublin guy who listened to the opera and conducted the stereo with my mother's knitting needles - he just loved opera. We didn't talk very much, so in the song I say to him, can you hear me when I sing, and I hit one of those big tenor notes that he would have loved so much.

‘Running To Stand Still’ – Drug/Heroin Abuse

‘Peace On Earth’ - The Omagh bombing of August 1998.

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