Library of Congress


The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Presentations and Activities > Lyrical Legacy

These ideas can help you quickly and easily bring the legacy of American poetry and song into your classroom.

  • I Hear America Singing: Patriotic Melodies Visit this Library of Congress Web site. See, hear, and learn more about many of the songs that have now become part of the American national heritage.
  • Poetry 180 Visit this Library of Congress site to make poetry an active part of your students' daily lives. The 180 poems selected by former Poet Laureate Billy Collins offer a reading for every day of the school year. Although targeted for high school students, these poems can be read at many grade levels.
  • Creativity Wall Establish a poetry and song wall at the entrance of your school and have students, staff, and parents add their favorite verses and lyrics.
  • Songs and Poems the Multimedia Way Using photographs, maps and other primary sources from the American Memory collections, have students prepare a multimedia presentation about a song or poem and the historical topic or event it depicts.
  • Choral Reading As you study a song, do a whole-class choral reading of the lyrics, maintaining the rhythm if possible. You might ask for a volunteer to tap out the beat while the lyrics are read.
  • Listen to the Music While studying a historical period, play the music from that period while students are coming to class or as inspiration for student writing.
  • Found Poetry Have students borrow interesting lines of text from a primary source document such as a letter, diary, or speech. Then, use them to create a poem of their own. (Search on "found poetry" in the search box on to get teaching ideas.)
  • History Day Songs If your school hosts an annual History Day event, ask your music teacher to help you present music from a historical period. Invite the school chorus to sing. Have students prepare a brief introduction for each song.
  • Songs for a Field Trip If you are taking a field trip to a historic site in your area, find songs related to the time period and play music or sing songs as you travel to the site.
  • History/Music Collaboration Find song titles from the period you are teaching. Collaborate with your music teacher to see if he or she has recordings of them or can teach them during music class.


  • Home Sweet Home: Life in Nineteenth-Century Ohio Visit this Library of Congress Web site to explore the role of music-making in family life during this period. Compare this to earlier and later periods in history.
  • Hometown Songs Explore the Library of Congress Folklore Music Map of the United States. Click on the map and zoom in to locate songs that have origins in your own home state. Locate complete lyrics for the folk songs.
  • HyperPoetry Have students choose a historic song or poem and enter the text into word processing or presentation software. They can then locate images that illustrate important words and create a clickable version by hyperlinking the words to the associated images.
  • Who's Listening? Have students compare songs in one of the American Memory music collections with the songs of today. Who were the songs written for in both eras? How has the distribution and audience of the music changed with time?
  • Images as Poetic Inspiration In Delights and Shadows, Poet Laureate Ted Kooser uses Civil War drawings by Winslow Homer as inspiration. Select primary source images from a historical period and ask students to carefully observe the images and share their thoughts in poetic form. (Search on "pictorial Americana table of contents" in the search box on for a sampling of images.)
  • Learn from the Masters View Webcasts of great poets reading and talking intimately about their work.
  • Poet Laureate Timeline The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress serves as the nation's official lightning rod for the poetic impulse of Americans. Visit the Poet Laureate Timeline to learn about the position and current and past Poets Laureate and their work. Have students locate poems by these visionaries.
  • Poetry and Song Karaoke Have students select their favorite poems and songs and share aloud with the class.
  • Songs as Patterns for Rhyming Poetry Capitalize on favorite folk songs like "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," or "I've Been Working on the Railroad." Following the rhythmic structure and rhyming pattern, use these songs as models for original poems.
  • Poetry Backpack Make connections between poetry and everyday objects. Gather poetry books and fill a backpack with objects related to the poems. Take a surprise break during the school day and pull an object out of the backpack. Read aloud poems that link to that object.
  • Popular Melodies in Campaign Songs Find examples of campaign songs. Have students use the lyrics or the tunes from these examples as models for writing their own campaign song for a school, local, or national election. (Search on "campaign songs" in American Memory.)
  • Read a Poem a Day (or More) Instill a love of poetry in your students by reading aloud. Read works of current poets and famous poets of the past. Read long poems and short poems. Read rhyming poems and free verse. Build a classroom library of poetry books.
  • Role of Song in Family Life Have students interview older relatives or neighbors and ask them about the role song played in the lives of their families. On what occasions did they sing? Do they remember any song titles or lyrics? Discuss findings and compare with the role of music in today's families.
  • Song Lyrics and Artist's Point of View Help students identify social issues presented in songs of the past. Encourage them to use clues in the song lyrics to determine the artist's point of view, and also to compare these songs to popular songs of today. Are the issues similar or different?
  • Lives of Poets Humanize poetry by reading biographies and nonfiction articles about famous poets to better understand the times and circumstances surrounding their writings.
  • Songs and Poems of an Era Have students make a timeline of the important events of a historical period. Select songs from that period and analyze them to discover the pieces' purpose and what they illustrate about life during that era. (See the Song and Poetry Analysis Tools.)
  • To the Tune Of Have students brainstorm a list of favorite tunes. Use the same rhythmic pattern and tune but change the words to create a new song.
  • Visiting Artist Invite a local musician, songwriter or poet to come to your school to share his or her art with your students.
  • Walt Whitman's "I Hear America Singing" Visit this Library of Congress Web site to learn about Whitman and the poem, and listen to a reading. Use this format as a model for exploring other famous American poets and their work.