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Write a Song About
American History



  • Arts & Humanities
    --Language Arts
  • Social Studies
    ----U.S. History


  • 6-8
  • 9-12

Brief Description

Songs about events in U.S. history inspire students to write their own songs.



  • learn about the historic background behind the song "The Battle of New Orleans."
  • develop a deeper understanding of U.S. history by exploring other songs that reflect upon events/periods in history.
  • write their own song lyrics to tell about an event/period in American history.


Battle of New Orleans, Great Depression, Titanic, World War II, songs, ballad, lyric

Materials Needed

Lesson Plan

January 8 is the anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans. The Battle of New Orleans, which took place during the War of 1812, has been made famous by the song "The Battle of New Orleans."

Well, in eighteen and fourteen we took a little trip along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip. We took a little bacon and we took a little beans, And we caught the bloody British near the town of New Orleans

Do you know the story behind that song? The song was written by James "Driftwood" Morris. Morris was a high-school teacher in Arkansas who was having difficulty getting his students interested in history, so he used his interests in singing and songwriting to get his students to pay attention. His song "The Battle of New Orleans" was written to engage and teach his students about that famous battle.

Learn more about the story behind the song.

Arrange to play this song for your students. Perhaps your library has a copy of the song, sung by Johnny Horton, or you might download it from the Internet.

Song Sources

  • Battle of New Orleans (a copy of the lyrics also provided here)
  • Song Music Downloads: "Battle of New Orleans" by Johnny Horton

    After playing the song for students, provide textbook or supplemental resources to help students learn some of the history behind the battle that inspired the song.

    Learn More About the Battle

  • Battle of New Orleans
  • The Battle of New Orleans (Source: Wikipedia)
  • The South in 1814: Background to the Battle of New Orleans
  • The Battle of New Orleans (Source: Louisiana State Museum)

    Talk about historical facts gleaned from those resources that support the song lyrics. For example,

    • Colonel Andrew Jackson led the U.S. forces.
    • The Americans were outnumbered by the British forces ("We fired our guns and the British kept a'comin"), but the Americans turned them back.
    • Pirates, led by Jean Lafitte, were known to have supported the American effort.
    • The Americans whipped "the britches off of Colonel Packingham." British forces, under Major General Edward Pakenham, were soundly defeated. They suffered more than 2,000 casualties.

    You might share some other songs about famous events in history from the History in Song Web page:

  • Dance Band on the Titanic (Harry Chapin)
  • Sixteen Tons (about the Great Depression, recorded by Tennessee Ernie Ford)

    After listening to the song(s) and discussing the facts behind the lyrics, invite students to write their own songs about famous events or periods in American history. Students might work in pairs to research and write their songs. If you wish to provide a "seed list" of events about which students might learn and write songs, here is a starter list:

    American West Amistad Revolt Berlin Airlift
    Berlin Wall Comes Down Buffalo Soldiers California Gold Rush
    Civil Rights Movement Civil War Colonial Virginia
    Dred Scott Decision "First Thanksgiving" Gettysburg Address
    Great Depression John Brown's Raid McCarthyism
    Nat Turner's Rebellion Orphan Trains Prohibition
    Revolutionary War Rosa Parks' Bus Ride Salem Witch Trials
    Spanish American War Thirteenth Amendment Whiskey Rebellion

    Additional Resources

  • The War of 1812: More American Songs
  • "We'll Sing to Abe Our Song"
  • America Singing: Nineteenth-Century Song Sheets
  • What the Lyrics Say


    Students' song lyrics will be graded (by teacher and/or peers) based on the
    • inclusion of accurate/researched historic information (to be explained by they students).
    • ability of their song lyrics to "teach" about an event or time period in history.

    Lesson Plan Source

    Submitted By

    Gary Hopkins

    National Standards

    FINE ARTS: Music
    GRADES 5 - 8
    NA-M.5-8.7 Evaluating Music and Music Performances
    NA-M.5-8.8 Understanding Relationships Between Music, Other Arts, and Disciplines Outside the Arts
    NA-M.5-8.9 Understanding Music in Relation to History and Culture
    GRADES 9 - 12
    NA-M.9-12.7 Evaluating Music and Music Performances
    NA-M.9-12.8 Understanding Relationships Between Music, Other Arts, and Disciplines Outside the Arts
    NA-M.9-12.9 Understanding Music in Relation to History and Culture

    LANGUAGE ARTS: English
    GRADES K - 12
    NL-ENG.K-12.1 Reading for Perspective
    NL-ENG.K-12.2 Reading for Understanding
    NL-ENG.K-12.4 Communication Skills
    NL-ENG.K-12.5 Communication Strategies
    NL-ENG.K-12.6 Applying Knowledge
    NL-ENG.K-12.8 Developing Research Skills
    NL-ENG.K-12.9 Multicultural Understanding
    NL-ENG.K-12.12 Applying Language Skills

    GRADES 5 - 12
    NSS-USH.5-12.1 to 10 All Eras

    See more Lesson Plans of the Day in our Lesson Plan of the Day Archive. (There you can search for lessons by subject too.)

    For additional history lesson plans, see these Education World resources:

    Education World®
    Copyright© 2009 Education World

    Originally published 01/03/2006
    Last updated 03/25/2009