Words & Music

for Grades 3-6

Student Resources

  • curricular connections

    Music, Language Arts

  • select standards

    CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.10

About Words & Music

Welcome to Words & Music: Teach Language Arts Through Lyric Writing. This unit plan helps your class explore the art of lyric writing through ten complete lessons. Aligned with Common Core Standards, this interdisciplinary unit also can be tied to math, music, social studies, and visual arts.

The lessons in this guide are designed to encourage collaborative, exploratory learning that can be tailored to a variety of learning styles and levels. Whenever possible, students should be encouraged to try new ideas and share them with one another.

The Words & Music unit is composed of ten 45-minute lessons. The lessons are cumulative, each one building on the next, so none should be skipped. The final project, writing a polished set of lyrics, combines everything students have learned in previous lessons. Final lyrics are sent to the museum to share with a professional songwriter, who will select a few works to set to music. Ultimately, students will hear the songwriter perform some lyrics as finished songs.

Though lyric writing is short-form creative writing, it requires no less ability than any other kind of creative writing. Of course, it also is just part of the task of songwriting, along with musical composition. Students will gain a firsthand knowledge of the skill necessary to craft art that is memorable, evocative, and appealing—a skill that, in the hands of a seasoned lyricist, can create great music.

Prior to teaching Words & Music for the first time, teachers are strongly encouraged to attend a Words & Music professional development training. For a list of upcoming trainings, please visit countrymusichalloffame.org or email schools@countrymusichalloffame.org.

Lessons

  • "Somebody's Daughter"

    Performed by: Tenille Townes

  • "Country Girl"

    Performed by: Carolina Chocolate Drops

  • "On the Road Again”

    Written by: Willie Nelson
    Performed by: Willie Nelson
    [Time: 2:09]

  • "Forever and Ever, Amen”

    Written by: Paul Overstreet/Don Schlitz
    Performed by: Randy Travis
    [Time: 4:16]

  • "Love Hurts”

    Performed by: The Everly Brothers

  • "Love Hurts"

    Performed by: Rodney Crowell and Emmylou Harris

  • "You Are My Sunshine”

    Written by: Jimmie Davis/Charles Mitchell
    Performed by: Jimmie Davis
    [Time: 2:42]

  • "You Are My Sunshine"

    Performed by: Ray Charles

  • "When You Say Nothing at All”

    Written by: Paul Overstreet/Don Schlitz
    Performed by: Alison Krauss
    [Time: 4:34]

  • "Ride Out in the Country"

    Performed by: Yola

  • "Man in Black”

    Written by: Johnny Cash
    Performed by: Johnny Cash
    [Time: 3:41]

  • "Hungry Eyes"

    Performed by: Merle Haggard

  • "Coat of Many Colors”

    Written by: Dolly Parton
    Performed by: Dolly Parton
    [Time: 3:32]

Methodology

The intent of this unit is to give students a positive experience with creative thinking and writing. Though students will have the opportunity to hear and discuss recorded music, the primary purpose of the unit is to develop language-arts skills. Writing well takes practice; students will be asked to produce a large quantity of work. Writing well also requires the development of creativity. Many of the assignments use a broad prompt to allow for the greatest variety of student ideas, but you should feel free to refine the prompts to encourage maximum creativity. You also can alter approximate instruction times, included with each lesson, according to your classroom needs.

In addition to writing, students will analyze other song lyrics. In many cases, students will find that the songs they admire do not conform to all of the rules taught in this guide. Students should be reminded that many great artists in a variety of disciplines studied and followed the rules before choosing to break them.

The ultimate goal of Words & Music is for students to complete a song lyric; however, not all lessons are focused on this goal. Throughout the lessons, students will write a great deal, generating a large amount of content. Students should be reminded often that their writing could become part of their final song, but the majority is intended as practice. You may want to tell students during each activity to be looking for a final topic. Some students may know what they want to write about in the first lesson; others might not know until the end.

Common Core Standards

This unit meets a variety of ELA Common Core State Standards, which are listed at the beginning of each lesson. All of the lessons incorporate collaboration with peers (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1) and writing routinely over extended and shorter time frames (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.10), so these standards are not listed at the beginning of every lesson. A full list of standards, including National Core Arts Standards and National Association for Music Education Standards, is located in the Appendix.

Interdisciplinary Connections

Words & Music is primarily a creative-writing unit, but many topics in the songwriting curriculum have connections to other subjects, such as math, music, social studies, and visual arts. This guide notes opportunities to connect with peers in other subject areas to explore collaboration.

Materials

Ideally, students should have a spiral-bound journal (for free writing, brainstorming, and journaling prompts) and a folder or binder (for handouts and worksheets). For classroom instruction, you will need to access recordings of the songs that appear in the lessons.

All lessons require photocopying worksheets, templates, lyric sheets, and/or rubrics for in-class use. Materials are identified in boldface in the introductory boxes that begin each lesson. The name of the material reappears in boldface in the body of the lesson, indicating when to use them in class.

Free Writing

Every lesson includes time for free writing, which is intended to:

  • Allow students to open their minds and enter into a creative spirit.
  • Create a bank of ideas that students can draw from as they begin writing their songs.
  • Teach students to write consistently and continuously for the time allotted.
  • Encourage students not to feel inhibited by spelling, grammar, and other conventions.

Brainstorming

Each lesson includes a brainstorming session for individual, partner, or group work. Brainstorms begin with a prompt to students. These sessions, intended to last no longer than five minutes, should:

  • Be completed in the students’ writing journal.
  • Add to the bank of ideas that students can draw from when writing songs.
  • Allow students to experience spontaneous thought, which is necessary in any creative pursuit.

Teacher Tips

Each lesson includes teacher tips that offer additional clarification and guidance for key topics. Many tips derive from feedback gathered from teachers and songwriters who have participated in Words & Music or assisted with the writing of this guide.

Vocabulary

Vocabulary words are listed at the beginning of each lesson and then introduced in boldface within the body of the lesson.

ESL and Struggling Students

While all students should attempt to work alone, co-writing can be a powerful tool for supporting students who are struggling, and it is acceptable for students to co-write for the final song project.

Since the primary goal of the unit is to develop creative thinking and writing skills, English-language learners should be encouraged to do their free writing and initial creative work in their first language. This will provide bilingual students with opportunities to make connections between two languages through a creative-thinking process. Students then can translate their writings into English, which will further support their English development. Point out to students that many successful songs are written in one language and then translated and recorded in another. Note: Rhyming may be too challenging for students who are translating their work into English. Translations will be acceptable if they do not rhyme.

Assessment and Rubrics

Assessing Student Work

Assessment opportunities in this unit include free writing, in-class work (assignments and participation), homework, lyric revision worksheets, and the final song lyrics. Suggested grade weighting for the unit is indicated in parentheses:

  1. Free-writing activities (10%) are intended to be assessed as a completion grade. They should not be assessed for content or for proper grammar, spelling, or punctuation.
  2. In-class work (25%), including brainstorms, class discussions, partner work, and worksheets, is part of every lesson. In-class work provides students with a daily opportunity to learn from their peers as well as share their work with a larger audience. Showcasing their ideas and writing also encourages students to be invested in the creative process. In-class worksheets reinforce the key information in each lesson. They can be graded to gauge student understanding of the concepts.
  3. Homework (25%) can be collected and used as a daily grade.
  4. Lyric revision worksheets (10%), including the songwriting checklist (Lesson 8) and the partner revision worksheet (Lesson 9), exhibit student understanding of the key concepts of lyric writing. They should be weighted separately from the other worksheets because they assess cumulative comprehension.
  5. Final song lyrics (30%) are the main summative assessment. A pre-assessment is included in Lesson 1 to capture a baseline of student knowledge of lyric writing. The pre-assessment can be compared to the final song lyrics. Rubrics for the pre-assessment and final lyrics are in the supplemental materials. Note: Conventions are notably absent from rubrics because lyrics are not required to follow the conventions of standard English. Use your discretion in correcting spelling and grammar; assess errors only in terms of whether they interfere with the meaning of the writing assignment.

Assessment Opportunities by Lesson

Lesson 1

  • “Try a Song” Worksheet (Pre-unit assessment)
  • Songwriting Research
  • Songwriter Quotes Homework

Lesson 2

  • Song Outline Worksheet
  • Song Structure Practice Homework

Lesson 3

  • Writing Titles and Hooks Worksheet
  • Title Writing Homework

Lesson 4

  • Theme and Message Worksheet
  • Theme Journal Homework

Lesson 5

  • Rhythm and Syllables Worksheet
  • Rhythm Journal Homework

Lesson 6

  • Rhyming Worksheet
  • Rhyming Journal Homework

Lesson 7

  • Five Senses Brainstorm
  • Images From Memory Worksheet
  • Memory Journal Homework

Lessons 8 and 9

  • Songwriting Checklist
  • Partner Revision Worksheet
  • Final Song Lyric (Final Assessment)

Lesson 10

  • Copyright Laws and Royalties Worksheet
  • Post-Unit Reflection Journal Prompts

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