Using Hamilton the Musical in the Classroom
The winner of the 2016 Tony for Best Musical was “Hamilton,” an untraditional, hip-hop musical written by Lin-Manuel Miranda about the life of Alexander Hamilton.
The popularity of this musical is impossible to deny – and the most amazing thing is that this hip-hop soundtrack to a founding father’s life has captivated teenagers in a way perhaps no other musical ever has before.
There is no denying this musical crosses age and cultural gaps and has brought a new love for musical theater that is refreshing and powerful. Many teachers are using this incredible soundtrack to start discussions about our history and to reinvent how students study such an important time period.
It is possible teachers of any content could use Hamilton’s addictive appeal to energize their classrooms, but I will share some ideas specifically for English and History teachers.
One word of caution about the musical is that there are some songs with heavier language. As with any tools we use in the classroom, please be sure to review the musical in its entirety before moving forward.
Lin-Manuel Miranda based his musical on the book Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. Not only are there plenty of literary discussion topics in the musical itself, but it’s also pretty amazing to walk through reading the biography on Alexander Hamilton while listening to select songs from the soundtrack.
- Have students analyze how Alexander’s family life shaped him and affected his future endeavors in politics.
- Give students the opportunity to debate which song best captures who Alexander Hamilton was.
- Ask students to take a song or portion of the biography and to tell the same story from a different point of view.
The connection here is obvious! What good history teacher doesn’t discuss our founding fathers? This musical gives a great foundation for students to explore our founding fathers in a completely different light than most textbooks paint them – a light that is real and raw and full of emotion.
Here are some ideas for incorporating Hamilton the musical into your history class.
- Have students create a visual representation of Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and other key characters based on descriptions from their text book, or older research. Then have them create a visual representation based on the way the characters come alive from the musical. How are they similar? How are they different?
- Allow students to research two other founding fathers and find a new and different way to represent them, just as Lin-Manuel Miranda shed new light on Hamilton.
No matter how you choose to incorporate Hamilton into your work with students, one thing is for certain, students will be engaged!
If you decide to use Hamilton in your work with students, please come back and share in the comments!!
For more ideas, check out this article from MindShift.