Part Two of Writin’, Writing….Jazz Band Talk Show (or Classical Composer or Contemporary Musician….)


Under the Common Core standards for fifth grade includes writing narratives, conducting short research projects, and using the Internet for research. You could go the route of the regular research paper, but this is music. Music should involve a little creativity and performance!

One of the most entertaining units I’ve ever done with sixth grade is a jazz band talk show. With the writing requirements in Common Core, this can also be done for fifth grade.  Here is how I handled this:

  • I compiled a Power Point of basic information on Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Scott Joplin, and Ella Fitzgerald. This Power Point was merely to give them an idea of the backgrounds of these musicians so they could choose on which one they wanted to focus. (The Power Point is linked here.) I was very selective on the information, which you will see in the next steps. There are some hard knock issues on these musicians I wanted my students to know, such as drug abuse, but others, such as Billie Holiday’s means of making a living, I deemed inappropriate for this age. You, of course, need to use your best judgement.
  • I used my Group Selector in Smartnotebook to select groups. I then went over the jobs each student in each group would have. The group members needed to decide on a musician, who was going to play the musician, the talk show host, and other jobs, such as sound, props, a director, cue card person, etc. It was their decision how to divide the jobs and how everyone needed to stay on task, and to report to me if there was someone who was not cooperating (backed by my observations).
  • The first step was to research their musician. I have various books for students that are about jazz musicians, plus age-appropriate websites (listed at the end of this blog). They were to compile 10 questions AFTER their research and couldn’t limit themselves to “When did you die? “When were you born?”, etc. I explained to the students that talk show hosts (or at least, good ones) and reporters do a little background work and formulate their questions based on what they already know about their subjects, so the interview would be more interesting. 
  • As the students compiled their questions, they wrote a script and began to formulate their performance. I didn’t mind if they used cue cards, but they would be graded on if it appeared that they were actually reading the cue cards instead of glancing at them.
  • If the students were on task and had time, they were allowed to create a short commercial for fun, but the commercial would not be allowed if focus was taken away from the talk show.
  • Performance day was always so much fun! Sometimes, unfortunately, the students were reading from the cue cards and had not made good use of their time. Some of the performances were wonderful! The students learned a new respect for jazz, as well as teamwork.

Here are books that I have used, directed to their Amazon page:


Ella Fitzgerald:

Louis Armstrong:

Billie Holiday:

Benny Goodman

Miles Davis

Charlie Parker

Duke Ellington

Scott Joplin

The Chuck Vanderchuck website now houses the information PBS Kids used to have on jazz music. Please be careful and limit your students to only websites you have added to the school favorites. Make sure you cover yourself by sending a letter home about the project with links, letting parents know that, if students decide to do their own research, you have provided the links. Or, if you have Moodle (or something like Blackboard), include the links there.

You can, of course, also do a similar project with classical composers, other American composers, contemporary composers…..or those in various musical careers. You are staying musically relevant, you will provide performance opportunities, and you will be including Common Core-focused writing standards. 

Next up in incorporating writing: writing poetry and composing….

Shameless promotion: New product on the Musical Cure for the Common Core store!

Trumpet image from Free Digital Photos

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Hi there!

I am an elementary music teacher and adjunct professor from Missouri and have completed my Ph.D. in music education through the University of Kansas.

I am an elementary music teacher and adjunct professor from Missouri and have just completed my Ph.D. in music education through the University of Kansas.


Weekly teaching support, right to your inbox!​