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Teaching About Tolerance Through Music


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Arts & Humanities
  • Language Arts
  • Literature
  • Dance, Music
Educational Technology

Social Studies

  • Psychology


  • 3-5
  • 6-8
  • 9-12

Brief Description

Students analyze the lyrics of Peter, Paul and Mary songs that express themes of tolerance.


Students will
  • read and talk about the underlying messages in Peter, Paul, and Mary songs.
  • choose a follow-up activity (write a poem, perform a poem, sing a song, or draw a picture) that evokes the feelings or sentiments of one of the song's lyrics.


songs, music, lyric, poetry, tolerance, prejudice, self-esteem

Materials Needed

  • printouts of the words of two Peter, Paul, and Mary songs: Right Field and Don't Laugh at Me
  • recordings of those songs (optional)
  • art supplies (optional)

Lesson Plan

Many Peter, Paul and Mary songs are known as much for their messages as their tunes. The trios lyrics -- without the music -- often stand alone as poetry. In this lesson, share with students the lyrics to two Peter, Paul, and Mary songs that include special messages about tolerance.

Print and hand out to students copies of the poems Right Field and Don't Laugh at Me

Special note: "Don't Laugh at Me" is the title song of a special program Peter Yarrow created for use in schools and camps. The Don't Laugh at Me program has received a great deal of positive feedback from educators. The program's Web site states that, "Through music, video, and classroom activities, the programs (one for use in grades 2-5 and another for grades 6-8) help sensitize children to the painful effects of behaviors such as ridicule, disrespect, ostracism, and bullying. Children learn that by working together they can positively shape their school environment, and eventually bring this message to the broader community."

Right Field
After students have an opportunity to read "Right Field, solicit their reactions to its message. You might ask questions such as:

  • How does the kid in the song feel about playing right field?
  • Does she or he fancy her/himself a great ball player?
  • What does s/he do while out in the field? Is s/he paying close attention to the game?
  • Does s/he feel part of the game? part of the team?
  • Can you tell how s/he feels about always being picked last? Have you ever experienced that feeling? How did it affect you?
You also might share an audio version of the song with students: "Right Field is available on several Peter, Paul, and Mary CDs, including No Easy Walk to Freedom (1986) and Around the Campfire (1998). Music and lyrics are also available in the Around the Campfire Songbook.

Don't Laugh at Me
After reading "Don't Laugh at Me," engage students in a discussion of its messages. You might prompt discussion with such questions as:

  • Who are some of the people mentioned in the poem who are feeling pain? Why are they feeling that way?
  • The poem includes the words "I'm fat, I'm thin, I'm short, I'm tall, I'm deaf, I'm blind, hey, aren't we all..." What do those words mean? How might we all be "blind" to some people?
  • Do you think most people can relate to the words of this song? Have you ever felt the way the people mentioned in the song feel?
  • Is it fair to say that tolerance is one of the main themes of this song?
You also can share this song with students: "Don't Laugh at Me" is available on the Peter, Paul, and Mary CD titled Songs of Conscience & Concern (1999).

You might read aloud the words of one more Peter, Paul, and Mary song that has a message of tolerance: Because All Men Are Brothers.

Extend the Lesson: Curriculum Connections for Multiple Intelligences

  • Art. Paint or draw a picture that evokes the feelings captured in the song.
  • Language/Poetry. Challenge students to write a poem about their own feelings about being left out, about times when they experienced intolerance, or about how it must feel to be in the shoes of somebody else who experiences those feelings. Or students might write about a personal experience related to the theme of "Dont Laugh at Me."
  • Music. Students (perhaps two boys and a girl) join together to perform one of the songs for their classmates.
  • Theater. Perform a recitation/dramatic reading of one of the poems.
  • Technology. Create and illustrate a PowerPoint presentation or video to accompany one of the songs.


Assessment will vary according to the follow-up project that each student selects.
You might ask students to choose the poem they liked best and to write a paragraph explaining why that poem spoke to them.

Lesson Plan Source

Education World

Submitted By

Gary Hopkins

You might find more lesson ideas of interest on our Martin Luther King Jr., Day holiday page.

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