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Teaching Notes - Hamilton: An American Musical

December 17, 2019

Welcome to Teaching Notes - a blog series written by a teacher to help other teachers #TeachtheSongbook.

 A Note from the Author: I can’t imagine life without music. When tunes float by, memories flood in. My foot starts tapping, fingers start snapping, and I get caught up in the emotion of the song.  For 28 years, music was always a key component in my classroom. It never failed to grab the attention of my students and made past cultures come alive with connections to daily life.


I’m excited to open up a discussion about the new Songbook exhibit, Of Thee I sing Politics on Stage. It’s a storytelling device where cultural values are seen in the context of music. Including musical theater in your classroom has never been easier. Join me in this forum where you can share your lesson plans and get ideas from others. It’s your point of access for creative ways to engage your students through music. Tell me what works and what’s missing. Let’s start a conversation and get those toes tapping.



Sue Ackley

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This Month's Teaching Notes:

Riding a tsunami of success, Hamilton: An American Musical, is a 2016 Tony Award winner and recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.


The scrappy, young, political mastermind was recently overheard saying, “America, you great unfinished symphony, you sent for me. You let me make a difference. A place where even orphan immigrants can leave their fingerprints and rise up.”   (“The World Was Wide Enough”)


 Images of the Songbook Foundation's current exhibit installation titled, Of Thee I Sing: Politics on Stage.  Learn more here. 


What's it all about?

Hamilton: An American Musical is a sung-and-rapped through musical about the life of American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton with music, lyrics and book by Lin-Manuel Miranda, inspired by the 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton by historian Ron Chernow. Incorporating hip hop, R&B, pop, soul, traditional-style show tunes and color-conscious casting of non-white actors as the Founding Fathers and other historical figures. Read full summary here.


Hamilton in 7 minutes


What was going on in U.S. politics in 2015?

Barack Obama was completing his final year as President and the contentious 2016 Presidential campaigns were in full swing.


What topics are covered in the musical?

  • Personal legacy

  • War and conflict

  • Honor

  • Reputation

  • Forgiveness and reconciliation


Start a discussion:

  • Why has Hamilton become a cultural phenomenon?
  • How has Hamilton increased racial diversity on Broadway?
  • Why has Hamilton’s music become a social commentary?


What's been said about the musical?

Everyone has an opinion.  Here are a few of the responses I found that represent a few perspectives on this contemporary musical theater work.


  • In an article posted on The Guardian in 2016, Sarah Churchwell explores, "Why Hamilton is making musical history".  She wrote, “Hamilton is the kind of transformative theatrical experience that has only happened a few times in the history of American musicals. It joins the likes of Show BoatOklahoma! and West Side Story as game changers, innovative productions that forever redefined what came after them.”  Read the full article here.
  • In a review on DC Theatre Scene in 2018, Tim Treanor writes, "Why Hamilton is the greatest musical yet written".  He wrote, "“The singular genius of Hamilton, the greatest musical ever written, is that it recognizes that the American Revolution did not end with Yorktown, but is ongoing, even today, and that there are Founders of America being born even as we speak.”  Read the full article here.


Useful Lesson Plans and Ideas

  1. "Do Not Throw Away Your Shot" Studying History with the Musical Hamilton
  2. Using music to promote inquiry in social studies
  3. Using Hamilton as a Gateway to Middle School U.S. History
  4. Teaching with "Hamilton"
  5. Understanding the conflicts of Jefferson and Hamilton through Hamilton: An American Musical
  6. Teaching History with Hamilton Lesson: The Science Behind Natural Disasters and How Hamilton "Wrote His Way Out"
  7. How to Write Like Hamilton
  8. Alexander Hamilton: Lawyer, writer, and Founding Father
  9. Hamilton the Musical Worksheets & Teaching Resources (Teachers Pay Teachers)


Where can I find out more?




Up next month: 1776

Join our Founding Fathers at the Continental Congress where the fate of our nation is decided.


Happy Teaching! Please share your success in the classroom with us by posting about your lesson plan using the hashtag #TeachtheSongbook and tagging us @songbookfoundation.


Keep an eye out for our other installments coming soon...