Standard Lesson

Songs of Our Lives: Using Lyrics to Write Stories

5 - 10
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Four 50-minute sessions
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Students learn about the life of John Lennon through his lyrics in a breathtaking book, John's Secret Dreams: The Life of John Lennon by Dorren Rappaport. After studying the life of Lennon, students write a short story from their lives following the style of Rappaport by weaving lyrics from some of their favorite songs throughout.  Finally, students create a classroom book including each student's story from their life.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

Does nonprint media-television shows, films, and songs-belong in the classroom? Absolutely! Nonprint media reach students and make connections in different ways from print media. Further, nonprint media often focus on contemporary topics that are not yet included in classroom textbooks. Jerome Evans states, "Artifacts of pop culture serve as advanced organizers for students, who can then connect new material (prominent and persistent themes in American literature) to their own experiences with literature (song lyrics). Once they see that songwriters and performers develop themes in the music they enjoy, discovering those themes (and, of course, others) in literature new to them is simply not so difficult." As Evans discusses, the use of nonprint media aids students when they do need to read and respond to print media.


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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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

  • John’s Secret Dreams: The Life of John Lennon by Dorren Rappaport (Hyperion, 2004)
  • Book making/binding supplies (as well as heavy-weight paper/cardstock for book pages)
  • Art supplies for book making



This site provides information on the author, Doreen Rappaport, as well as a learning guide for the book.

The official John Lennon website, courtesy of Yoko Ono, features the latest news, downloads, videos, and more.

This searchable, browsable free song lyrics archive allows the user to search for the lyrics to songs from a variety of artists, albums, and genres.


  1. Locate a copy of John’s Secret Dreams: The Life of John Lennon (Hyperion, 2004) from your classroom collection, a bookstore, or your local library.  Review the book and the uses of Lennon’s song lyrics throughout.
  2. Acquire the supplies necessary to make a classroom book.  These may include heavy-weight paper, binding materials, and other art supplies needed for the front and back cover.
  3. Make enough copies of the following for each student:
  4. Test the Graphic Map interactive and Book Cover Creator tools and familiarize yourself with the content and layout. Ensure that you have the proper Flash plug-ins installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

Student Objectives

Students will:

  • discuss the book John’s Secret Dreams and the style in which the author chose to write the book, integrating song lyrics from Lennon’s life.
  • research songs and song lyrics that help explain/tell a story from their lives.
  • synthesize their learning through completion of a story related to song lyrics and the creation of a classroom book of stories.

Session One

  1. Show the cover and a few pages of the book John’s Secret Dreams: The Life of John Lennon to the class, and have a short brainstorming session on the board or chart paper about what students know about John Lennon.  Allow students to share information that they know about The Beatles (and/or the time period), as well.
  2. Read John’s Secret Dreams aloud to the class, pausing throughout to point out the quotations and lyrics from Lennon that are embedded throughout the story.  Allow students to point out interesting things about the illustrations, as well.
  3. Return to the board/chart paper to add additional things that students learned about Lennon through the story and his lyrics that they’d like to add to their information.  Discuss why these particular points in Lennon’s life stood out in the book.
  4. Discuss with students why they think that the author chose to embed lyrics from Lennon’s songs throughout the book.  (Make sure students understand that this makes the story more personal and helps readers understand Lennon’s life from his point of view, and also helps create a more broad understanding of this time in history.)
  5. Explain to students that they will be following the same format as the author of this book to write a personal story/essay about their lives and will be incorporating lyrics into the story.  Students will then compile their stories to make a class book of the stories they wrote.
  6. Have students use the Graphic Map interactive (or print a hard copy if computer access is not available) to map out important events from their lives to help them think about certain stories or a time period to write about.
  7. Once students are thinking about a story they’d like to tell or event/time period they’d like to write about, ask students to think about song lyrics from music that they listen to (or from a previous time in their life) that remind them of a story or event they are interested in sharing.  They will use this information for the next session’s activity.

Session Two

  1. Allow students a few minutes to brainstorm ideas (or remember ideas from the last session) for song lyrics that remind them of a certain time period or event from their lives.
  2. Ask students to decide on one interesting story (this can be sentimental, humorous, informational, sad, etc.) that describes an important event/time period in their lives.  They will need to pick a story that can be told to others through writing, and that they can integrate song lyrics into.
  3. Have a discussion with students about what makes an interesting story.  Use the Qualities of Good Storytelling printout as a guide for discussing how John’s Secret Dreams was a well-written story and how they can apply those characteristics to their own story that they will tell.  You may wish to use questions such as the following to help guide your conversation:
    • How was John’s Secret Dreams focused and organized?
    • How did Rappaport use the song lyrics within the story as a structural element (to make transitions, etc.)?
    • What aspects of Lennon’s life did the author choose to focus on?  Why?
  4. Have students begin to write down ideas for the story/song lyrics that they’d like to integrate, much as Rappaport did in John’s Secret Dreams.  These song lyrics will become a part of the personal essay/story itself.
  5. Allow students access to the library or computer lab to do research on song lyrics that they are interested in, if necessary. They will use the website Song to help them with their research. Discuss with students that all lyrics included in their personal essay must be appropriate for school use (no cursing, vulgar language, sexual connotations, etc.).
  6. Students should use the Song Lyrics Notes worksheet to help them keep track of the lyrics they want to use, the name(s) of the performer(s), the writer, and the year that the song came out so that they can give the proper credit when they write their story.
  7. Before the end of the session, collect students' Song Lyrics Notes worksheet and review for completion and appropriateness.  These will be returned at the beginning of the next session.

Session Three

  1. Share with students the Essay Rubric that will be used to assess their writing.  Discuss the different elements that make up a quality story/essay and how to score high in each area.  Allow student input on things they can do to get good scores on their writing.
  2. Students should spend this session taking their ideas that they brainstormed and the song lyrics that they found (using the Song Lyrics Notes worksheet) to work on their stories, modeling their written work after the John Lennon story they read as a class.  Remind them to refer to the Essay Rubric often to make sure they are on track with what their writing should look like.
  3. When students finish a rough draft of their personal essay, they may begin self-editing and peer-editing with a partner (either assigned by the teacher or chosen by the student).  They may use the Editing Checklist for Self- and Peer Editing to assist them and a partner when they are ready to edit.
  4. Additionally, after peers have used the Editing Checklist for Self- and Peer Editing to focus on their grammar and mechanics, students should have their partner read their entire story for the “bigger idea.”  While reading the essay of their partner, students should focus on the progression of the story, logical movement, holes in time, consistent point of view, etc.
  5. Collect student rough drafts at the end of the session to check that editing was completed and that all included information is appropriate for publication in the class book.

Session Four

  1. Return students’ rough drafts.  After students have edited their own story and have had it edited by a peer using the Editing Checklist for Self- and Peer Editing (and checked by the teacher after the previous session), they may begin to write their final draft, for inclusion in the class book.  Depending on the age of the students and computer availability, you may choose to have your students type their final draft.
  2. You may wish to provide students with cardstock/heavy-weight paper for this project to make the book a nice addition to the classroom library (to be used only after final revisions have been made).  Students’ final stories/essays will be assessed by the teacher using the Essay Rubric that was previously discussed with the students.
  3. A student or student(s) may also work on designing the front and back cover for the classroom book.  They may choose to use the same style as illustrator Bryan Collier in John’s Secret Dreams using collage and other mediums, or they may use the Book Cover Creator to make a book cover on the computer.
  4. After all of the students’ stories are collected and the front and back cover are created, refer to the printout Three Ways to Bind a Handmade Book to decide on the best way to finish your students’ book.
  5. Invite parents and other students and adults in the school to come into your classroom for a read aloud on a future date.  What a wonderful way to share the stories that define your diverse classroom of learners!


  • Students can create a soundtrack of their lives using the songs they quoted in their stories.
  • Have students write a short explanation/rationale for why they used each song lyric that they did within their story.
  • Students may use CD/DVD Cover Creator to create a CD cover that depicts the story that they wrote and the songs that were quoted within.
  • Have students write a letter to John Lennon about their own secret dreams and wishes using the Letter Generator interactive.
  • Invite other classrooms to have your book read to them as a read aloud.  You may choose to send a few students to other classrooms around the building to share some or all of the stories from your students’ masterpiece with other classrooms and grade levels.
  • Students can create a Bio-Cube about John Lennon’s life and career.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Using the Self-Reflection questions, ask students to think about the steps they took as they worked on this assignment—what they had problems with, how they worked out their problems, and how they feel about their final project and presentation.
  • After discussing expectations with students, the teacher can use the Essay Rubric to grade students’ final drafts before they are complied into the class book.

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