Standard Lesson

On a Musical Note: Exploring Reading Strategies by Creating a Soundtrack

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Four 50-minute sessions
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No matter where you teach, students are likely to listen to music. Their tastes may vary widely—pop, rap, country, classic, jazz, R & B. Regardless of their preferences, they each bring a rich knowledge of musical tunes and lyrics to the classroom. This lesson takes advantage of that interest by asking students to create a soundtrack for a novel that they have read. Students begin by analyzing how specific songs might fit with a familiar story. Students then create their own soundtracks for the movie version of a novel they have read. They select songs that match the text and fit specific events in the story. Finally, students share their projects with the class and assess their work using a rubric. Examples in this lesson focus on The Beast by Walter Dean Myers, but any piece of literature can be used as the basis of students' soundtracks.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

In "Film and Reading Strategies," Chapter Two from Reading in the Dark: Using Film as a Tool in the English Classroom, John Golden explains that "anytime we can get students fully involved in a text, we know we have done our job" (59). This lesson plan accomplishes that goal by encouraging students to match their knowledge of musical texts and film with the novels that they are reading. While such activities may at first seem nontraditional, Golden tells us students tap traditional reading strategies such as "predicting, responding, questioning, and visualizing" (59), all of which are important skills for students to develop and practice. Additionally, the project becomes one of multimodal exploration, as it asks students not only to compose words but to match words with sounds to make meaning.

This lesson was adapted from the "Soundtrack" activity explained in Reading in the Dark.

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).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 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.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 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).




Student Objectives

Students will

  • read a selected text.

  • take notes as they read.

  • brainstorm songs to complement passages from text.

  • compile a soundtrack for a book they have read.

  • create a CD cover for their soundtrack.

Session One

  1. Ask students to brainstorm a list of movies that they have seen recently. They can include movies they watched for pleasure as well as those that they watched in class or for an assignment.

  2. Invite students to share details that they remember about the movies on the list. Guide the discussion by asking students to talk about:

    • the characters and the actors who portrayed them

    • setting and scenes

    • special effects

    • sound effects, music, and songs
  3. When the students have wrapped up their conversation, ask them to elaborate more on the sounds and songs of a movie. Guide the discussion by asking questions such as the following:

    • What is their purpose?

    • How do they make you feel?

    • Do they attract or detract from the story line of the movie?
  4. Explain the soundtrack assignment, telling students that they will compile a soundtrack for a text that they have read. The text may have already been turned in to a movie or may be in the process of being developed as a movie. However, it may be just a great text that students enjoyed.

  5. Using a text that has just been read in class as an example, choose three to four songs as examples. If the example text is The Beast by Walter Dean Myers, you can share the following songs:

    • "Força" by Nelly Furtado

    • "The Number of the Beast by Iron Maiden

    • "The Lord's Prayer" by Aretha Franklin

    • "Harlem" by Duke Ellington
  6. Play each song individually for the class.

  7. Pass out copies of the Film Terminology and Cinematic Effects handout if students need help with terms and concepts.

  8. As you play each song, ask questions such as the following to guide students' listening and related analysis:

    • Where would this song best fit into a movie of this story? What action would be happening on screen while this song was playing? Why does this song fit this place in the story?

    • What would the scene look like while this song was playing? Shot type? Angle? Lighting?

    • Why does the technique fit?

    • If you could select only on of these songs, which one would you choose? Why?
  9. Point out that not all of the music used in a soundtrack has lyrics. Instrumental music is also acceptable and is sometimes more desirable. Encourage students to talk about when instrumental music might be preferred for a scene.

  10. After playing your examples for the class, ask them to share songs they know of that they think could fit into a movie-version of the same novel.

Session Two

  1. Review the process of matching songs to a text from the previous session.

  2. Explain the assignment that students will complete-creating a soundtrack for the movie version of a novel they have read. Ask students to choose any six songs they feel match the texts or to find songs for specific events in the story.

  3. Pass out and discuss the rubric so that students understand the expectations for the project.

  4. Use the sample bookmark to demonstrate how to record thoughts and passages as they read the text the first time or to record notes during a rereading.

  5. Pass out copies of the blank bookmark for students to use.

  6. Allow time between Session Two and Session Three for students to complete their reading and record notes on their bookmarks.

Session Three

  1. Once students have completed their reading and recorded notes on their bookmarks, demonstrate how to record information on the Soundtrack Song Chart, either using the print or online version, both of which ask students the same kinds of questions as they answered in the class discussion of soundtracks during the first session.

  2. Pass out or display the Soundtrack Chart Example, and discuss the responses included so that students understand the goals for the activity.

  3. If students need help thinking of songs, or if they want to conduct research, share music Websites with them such as iTunes.

  4. At the end of this session, students should have selected up to six songs for their soundtrack, and justified their choices using the print or online chart.

Session Four

  1. Once students have chosen their soundtracks, allow time for the students to share their projects.

  2. Ask students to tell the class what book they used as inspiration, the songs they chose to accompany the movie of their text, and where they envision the songs in the movie. If resources and time allow, students might share some of the songs that they have chosen.

  3. Ask students to provide justification and examples for all of their choices.

  4. As the students share their projects, assess their work using the rubric.


  • If students create a soundtrack for a text that has already been made in to a movie, ask them to compare the two soundtracks. What is similar? What is different? What affects do each of the soundtracks have? Complete a Venn Diagram documenting the comparisons.

  • Examine the lyrics of the selected songs. How do the words of the songs complement the words in the text?

  • Invite students to write their own original song that represents the text they are reading.

  • Complete a genre study of CD jewel cases and labels as a class, looking at a range of CDs from the library or personal collections. Ask students to design their own CD covers for the front and back of the jewel case. Extend the exploration further by studying and designing labels for the CDs as well. Students can use the CD/DVD Cover Creator to design and print their work.

Student Assessment / Reflections


  • Focus on observation and anecdotal note taking as students work on their projects to provide ongoing assessment of their progress. In particular, listen to discussions of the text as students complete their bookmarks and search for music.

  • Use the Rubric to assess the soundtrack and students’ comprehension of the themes from the book.


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