You're the Top! Pop Culture Then and Now

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Estimated Time
One 50-minute session
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Students write about present-day pop culture as well as learning about pop culture of the past by using Cole Porter's song “You're the Top!” (1934) to touch on many issues relevant to a language arts classroom, especially the literary technique of cataloguing. After an introduction and context information about Porter's song, students listen to the song and examine the lyrics. They look at the list of the pop culture items referenced in the song to see what they feel is still valid today, brainstorm replacements for other items, and create revised lyrics for the song. They then present their updated lyrics to the class.

The lesson also provides opportunities for student research on particular time periods. Students can include pop culture items from those particular time periods (relevant to the literature they are studying, for example) in expressing the “tops” in pop culture.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

This lesson employs the teaching strategy of "text-tapping," which Lynn Langer Meeks and Carol Jewkes Austin describe as "a combination of guided reading and writing strategies that use a text as a source for ideas and instruction." The idea is to use one text in order to produce another, student-created text. In this way, students use their primary discourses (those acquired mostly subconsciously through daily interaction) in order to learn and demonstrate secondary discourses (those learned through formal schooling). In doing so, the students understand that their primary discourses are valued, and thus they will be more inclined to participate in secondary discourses. Common strategies of text-tapping include having students write newspaper articles based on literature, update Shakespeare's language into modern language, and write alternative endings to literature. These activities build on the connection between reading and writing that Glasser describes: ""Reading influences writing as assuredly as diet influences health. The effect of writing on reading, a less treated theme, is also potent."

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Audio copy (or several versions) of "You're the Top." Recordings by Ella Fitzgerald, Stacey Kent, and Barbara Streisand are recommended.




  • Get an audio copy (or several versions) of "You're the Top." Recordings by Ella Fitzgerald, Stacey Kent, and Barbara Streisand are recommended.

  • Make copies of the lyrics and chart, one for each student.

  • If you choose the online option for reflection, test the online self-reflection checklist on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tool and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

Student Objectives

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.

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.


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.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • 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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