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Lesson Plan

You're the Top! Pop Culture Then and Now

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You're the Top! Pop Culture Then and Now

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Minilesson
Estimated Time One 50-minute session
Lesson Author

Susan Spangler

Susan Spangler

Fredonia, New York


National Council of Teachers of English


Student Objectives

Instruction and Activities


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • work independently or in groups to reflect on items in pop culture of the past to determine items' place in pop culture.

  • brainstorm "tops" in pop culture of the present day.

  • use rhyme and rhythm to imitate Cole Porter's "You're the Top!"

  • discuss and critique items worthy of recognition in today's pop culture.

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Instruction and Activities

  1. Begin by setting the context.

    • Use this lesson plan after the class has become familiar with Walt Whitman's work, which extensively uses the stylistic device of cataloguing (a list of people, things, events). Review what the class has learned about the cataloguing technique in writing and brainstorm a list of popular songs that include this technique. This lesson can also be used after the ReadWriteThink lessons Put That on the List: Collaboratively Writing a Catalog Poem and Put That on the List: Independently Writing a Catalog Poem.

    • Use this lesson with any other work in which one character expresses affection for another. For example, students can brainstorm expressions that Romeo uses to describe Juliet ("rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear," "Juliet is the sun," "bright angel") and discuss the value of such compliments. Ask students to think of more modern compliments and ways of saying that someone is "the top."

    • Use this lesson with any major text in which you want to teach more about the culture of the time. Students can put themselves in place of the characters and complete the lesson as though they are members of a specific time period.
  2. Introduce the song "You're the Top" with a little background—It was written in 1934 by Cole Porter, who uses items from pop culture to express his feelings about another person. Cole Wide Web: The Cole Porter Resource Site provides more extensive background information, if needed.

  3. Preview the activity for students: They will listen to the song, look at a list of the pop culture items to see what they feel is still valid today, brainstorm replacements for other items, and create revised lyrics for the song.

  4. Hand out the lyrics, and listen to the song.

  5. Respond to any immediate comments that students have about the song.

  6. Hand out the Lyrics Analysis Chart.

  7. Ask students, working independently or in groups, to discuss the current cultural relevance of items and to brainstorm a list of items they'd like to include. You can encourage students to be as exact with rhythm and rhyme as Porter is, depending on your own purpose for using this lesson. For a discussion of the rhythm and rhyme in the song, see "Cole Porter On Lingua Franca" by Andrew Ford.

  8. While students work, if desired, play the song (or several versions) in the background so they can become more familiar with the tune, rhythm, and rhyme.

  9. If reference materials are available, encourage students to look up any details from the song that they need more information on before choosing a substitute. The Slate article Bloomsday for Dummies: A Skeleton Key to "You're the Top", as well as the NPR interview with its author, Slate's Chatterbox: "You're the Top," Today, provides annotations for the many cultural references in the song.

  10. For the rest of the period, students can re-write the lyrics and prepare to perform their new version of the song at the end of the period.

  11. At the end of the period, students share their lyrics through reading or singing.

  12. For homework, ask students to complete the self-reflection worksheet or online self-reflection checklist as a final self-assessment of their participation in the project.

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For extended research projects, students can explore the significance of Porter's references and better evaluate the relevance of the references today. The song provides plenty of resources for short research projects. Students can investigate a particular item mentioned in the song, explain what the item is, and state its significance for the time period when the song was composed. The finished work could be a class-annotated version of the song, created using HTML or simply using poster paper.

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  • Students may be informally assessed through completed lyrics and class discussion or group participation (see rubric). Have individual students complete the self-reflection worksheet or use the online self-reflection checklist. Review students’ comments, and provide support for accurate reflections on their participation in the activity.

  • Collect students’ Lyric Analysis Charts as evidence of their reflection on the relevance of pop culture items. Teachers might create “Grammy” awards for best lyrics, best performance, most precise rhymes, best adherence to rhythm, or other student-voted favorites. For extended projects, students can be assessed on essays that analyze the original lyrics’ relevance or the student-created lyrics’ relevance.

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