Teaching Through Musical Theatre

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June 26, 2009
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Have any of you classroom teachers used musicals to teach other subjects? I don't just mean analyzing a musical in English class like you would any other literary work (although I'm curious about that, too!)--I mean using Pacific Overtures to teach students about the opening of Japan, or using Caroline or Change to look at the Civil Rights movement. For those of you that have, what are your experiences? What are some of the challenges you've faced--like a classroom of kids who hate musicals--and how have you overcome them? How do you use the cast album? Do you just focus on the text? If you haven't used musicals in your lessons, why not? Is that something you'd be open to?
7 answers

June 2, 2010
Hey everyone, This is a great topic and interesting to think about. I think kids (at least the majority) respond to art; specifically performing arts! Yet, the arts are the first to be put on the budget "chopping" block... ironic, isn't it? There have been a number of different studies linking higher grades to listening to Mozart, new schools of therapy are being formed out of music, and some believe there is a direct correlation between hospital rehabilitation and creative art/yoga. Regardless of what can be proven and what can be explained, I personally believe it is much more basic. Think back to your old history classes - remember that first lecture on cavemen and prehistoric rituals? Well, me neither. But there has always been one essential concept that has remained locked, so to speak, in my brain. It's that raw necessity of storytelling and dance. It's as if we are all wired to act....to perform...to relate. That's why kids are attracted to the arts - it's an exciting platform of expression; it offers a safe way to connect & relate to other kids! Educators recognize this and utilize the platform. Musical Theatre is much more than just a silly little hobby. It is, in all practical terms, a way of life. It's time for more administrators to recognize the power of this art. The world of theatre could really use support in the public school system. ~ Tyler (MTI)

January 19, 2010
I had a teacher do this once in the first grade! I was too young to remember most of it, but it was the most fun we had all year, and very educational.

January 18, 2010
I wish some of my teachers had this kind of creativity!

June 30, 2009
I have not used a musical in the classroom as an educational tool, mainly becasue I have never formally taught in a classroom, but I do have friends who have. A close friend of mine used "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" while she was teaching a unit on the Holocaust. She used the song "Close Every Door to Me" as a way to show the oppression of the Jewish people in biblical times. She then linked it to the Holocaust by having the students break down the lyrics. They also listened to the song to get the feel of the music.

June 30, 2009
Ooh, that's really cool! Thanks!

June 29, 2009
Thanks! That's very helpful. Did you encounter any kids that were reluctant to participate? How did you handle that?

June 26, 2009
Yes! I worked with a 4th Grade Language Arts class in Mexico to write "Jaime Mincus: The Musical." I had the kids once a week for music class, but with their homeroom teacher, we developed an overlapping schedule. The students wrote the show and made up their own songs. ("What a Nerd is Jaime Mincus" and "Why Do We Have Boys/Girls" were some of my favorites.) The classroom teacher used the time in LA for the kids to write book and lyrics and morning meeting to discuss progress. I used music class to rehearse and compose music. At the end of the semester, we peformed the show for the entire school. Five years later, every single one of those kids still remembers the songs and most are involved in theater at their high school. In addition to being a fantastic experience, the kids learned to share responsibilties, recognize each other's talents, found ways to make sure everyone was included and felt important... truly worthwhile. This experience was possible because of the relationship I had with the classroom teacher as well as the combination of the students in his class that year, but now that I've done it, I'm sure it can be replicated.