Lesson plan

Deciphering The Star Spangled Banner

Most students know the first verse of The Star Spangled Banner, but not the rest of the song or the history behind it. In this civics lesson, students will dive deeper into the national anthem by deciphering and summarizing each verse.
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Students will be able to make meaning of The Star Spangled Banner by synthesizing each verse into one sentence.

(5 minutes)
  • Ask students to turn to a partner and name the title of the national anthem of the United States of America. Confirm student responses and write The Star Spangled Banner on the board.
  • Tell students that today they will learn the history of the national anthem and decipher the words in the song so that it makes sense to them.
  • Ask students to reflect on what the title means (i.e. it refers to our flag). Record student responses below the title of the national anthem.
  • Write national anthem on the board, and explain that a national anthem is a patriotic song which celebrates a nation's history and struggles to gain independence.
  • Explain that every country has its own national anthem and that it is a citizen's civic duty to know and understand their national anthem.
(15 minutes)
  • Ask students when they typically hear The Star Spangled Banner sung. Record students responses on the board (i.e. during the medal ceremonies of the Olympics, before baseball/football games, at a military funeral, or during a flag ceremony at school).
  • Tell students that The Star Spangled Banner was written by Francis Scott Key, a lawyer and poet, in 1812. When he was detained on a British ship after a battle during the War of 1812, he was inpsired by the sight of a United States flag waving in the air, and he wrote a poem to describe his experience. Later, the poem was put to music and became popular as an informal national anthem for the United States. President Woodrow Wilson made it the official national anthem in 1931, more than a century after the words were written.
  • Pass out the National Treasures: The Star Spangled Banner worksheet to students, read the text aloud to them, and discuss the questions as a whole group.
  • Explain to students that a national anthem should move people to feel proud of their country and be grateful for the people who fought for independence.
  • Play the Star Spangled Banner video (see addtional resources) and ask students to name one word to describe how they feel when they hear it.
  • Do a whip around the room and jot down students' words on the board.
(10 minutes)
  • Pass out the Reading The Star Spangled Banner worksheet and invite students to volunteer to read each verse of the song aloud.
  • Ask students to read the anthem once again on their own silently.
  • Encourage students to identify vocabulary words they do not know and look up the meanings in the dictionary.
  • Model how to analyze the first verse, deciphering each line, and coming up with a sentence to synthesize the whole verse. For example, "After the terrible fighting occuring in a battle, our star spangled and striped flag still stood strong in the wind".
(15 minutes)
  • Divide students into three groups and assign each group a verse to analyze and summarize. (Note: The second and third verse of the anthem can be combined as they are each quite short.)
  • Instruct students to work together to synthesize the meaning of each verse.
  • Assist groups that may need help.
  • Once the groups are finished, write the sentences they designed in order to show the overall meaning of The Star Spangled Banner.

Support: what to change

  • For students who need additional support, provide the interpretation or meaning of some of the challenging lines in the verse assigned to them.
  • Preteach some of the tricky vocabulary words prior to teaching this lesson.

Enrichment: what to change

  • Give students the lyrics to another country's national anthem, and have them interpret the words or illustrate the meaning.
  • Encourage students to write an anthem for their school or another group they belong to.
(5 minutes)
  • Hand out an index card to each student.
  • Ask students to write one sentence which synthesizes the entire national anthem, and turn it in as an exit ticket.
  • Use this assessment to measure students' abilities to interpret and summarize poetic text/lyrics.
(5 minutes)
  • Facilitate a discussion with the following questions as a guide: What other country's national anthem do you know or would you like to know? Why are national anthems important?

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