September 26, 2017

Learning from the Source: The Star Spangled Banner 3-5

The Star Spangled Banner

The flag is one of the United States’ most important symbols and the central character of the country’s national anthem. This project introduces students to the key historical events that led to the creation of this patriotic song, helping them to learn the lyrics to The Star Spangled Banner and expand their overall understanding of U.S. history and their personal connections to this country.

To complete this project, students will . . .

  • learn about key historical events that led to the creation of our national anthem.
  • learn the lyrics to The Star Spangled Banner.
  • analyze historical song sheets and sheet music editions of The Star Spangled Banner.
  • contemplate the use of design elements to convey meaning.
  • design their own song sheets based on their understanding of the U.S. national anthem as well as the meaning the song and the flag have for them personally.

Upon completing this project, students will be able to . . .

  • describe key historical events that led to the creation of our national anthem.
  • sing the words to TheStar Spangled Banner.
  • demonstrate their understanding of the U.S. national anthem and the meaning the song and the flag have for them personally.

This project meets the following Common Core English Language Arts Standards for grades 3-5.

  • Reading Standards for Literature: 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 9
  • Speaking and Listening Standards: 1, 2
  • Prepare materials for implementation: You will need a computer with an internet connection and a projector capable of showing an .mp4 video file and playing an .mp3 audio file; Microsoft PowerPoint® software or the free PowerPoint Viewer; Adobe Reader® software; all associated student materials.
  • Allow for sufficient time to implement: Students will need approximately four 40-minute class sessions to complete the main project components; plan appropriately for any extension activities you wish to complete.
  • Be flexible with implementation: Keep in mind that some students may need extra time to complete the activities scheduled for each of the sessions. Consider implementing various extension activities to reinforce student learning.
Introduction to Our National Anthem
  1. Explain to students that this project will help them to learn about some important historical events that led to the creation of The Star Spangled Banner andto learn to sing the national anthem. Additionally, inform students that will they will demonstrate their understanding of the song’s lyrics as well as what the song and the flag mean to them personally through a fun arts-based activity that includes primary source analysis.
  2. Ask students to share stories of times they have heard The Star Spangled Banner being played or sung (e.g., at the start of sporting events). Tell students that The Star Spangled Banner has been recorded by many bands and been sung by many people over the years. Then tell them that the Library of Congress has several recordings of our national anthem on its website, some of which are more than 100 years old! Play either the Chalmers baritone and chorus recording (1914) or the Case soprano and chorus recording (1917).
  3. Lead a class discussion about The Star Spangled Banner to encourage students to share what they know about our national anthem. Questions to spark the discussion might include the following:
    • Who wrote the poem that became the lyrics (words) for the Star Spangled Banner? (Francis Scott Key)
    • What event happened that inspired the writing of the poem? (the battle between the Americans and the British at Fort McHenry)
    • Where did this battle take place? (Fort McHenry, Baltimore, Maryland)
    • When did this battle take place? (September, 1814)
    • Why did this battle happen? (The British wanted to take the city of Baltimore, an important international port.)
    • How did this battle inspire Key to write his poem? (After watching the 25-hour battle, he saw the flag still flying over Fort McHenry at dawn and knew that America had persevered.)
  4. Hand each student a Star Spangled Banner Information Sheet to check prior knowledge. Be sure to make students aware that this is an information sheet and not a test that will be graded.
  5. Hand out copies of the national anthem lyrics and ask students to follow along as you play the recording again. Encourage students to take the lyric sheet home and practice singing the song with their families.
The Story of Our National Anthem
  1. Show students The Star Spangled Banner: The Story & the Song video (.mp4 file).
  2. Hand out the partially completed Star Spangled Banner Information Sheets. Direct students to try to answer the questions again using the second column to record their answers.
  3. Project the The Star Spangled Banner: The Story & the Song slide presentation (.ppt file) and have students check the answers they recorded in the second column on the information sheets. NOTE: This presentation does not contain narration or timings, so you will need to hit Enter/Return to advance through the slides.
  4. If time allows, show The Star Spangled Banner: The Lyrics video several times, encouraging students to sing along as they view it.
Song Sheets & Sheet Music Covers
  1. Facilitate a class discussion in which students relate what they have learned about the story of The Star Spangled Banner.
  2. Show The Star Spangled Banner: The Lyrics video again, encouraging students to sing along as they view it.
  3. Provide students with background on song sheets and sheet music cover illustrations (sample text is provided below).

Today, you learn the lyrics to popular songs by listening to music on the radio, TV, the Internet, and MP3 players. But there were no electronic devices in the 19th century. In fact, it wasn’t until the 20th century that Americans first began to have electricity in their homes at all. So, back then, if you wanted to learn the words to the latest songs, you learned them from printed song sheets.

Song sheets were single sheets of paper printed with the words, or lyrics, to songs but no musical notations. They became very popular in the early 1800s thanks to a new technology, the mechanical printing press, that enabled publishers to make thousands of copies of a single document for a very low cost.

Song sheets were usually printed in black and white but were sometimes colored in with pre-cut blocks or even by hand. Many song sheets were illustrated with pictures of political symbols, military figures, battle scenes, landscapes, or social settings. Others simply featured decorative borders around the text. Because song sheets were in such great demand, different publishers frequently created newly illustrated versions of the most popular songs.

The Library of Congress has a large collection of song sheets and sheet music editions of The Star Spangled Banner. Let’s take a look at some of them.

4.  Show students various song sheets and sheet music editions for The Star Spangled Banner (you may print out the sources, project them, or have students view them individually or in groups online).
5.  Tell students to choose one or two sources that capture their attention. Ask them to consider why they found the ones they chose interesting. Then direct them to fill out a primary source analysis sheet to capture their observations and reflections of each source using the questions listed below.


  • Are there other words listed close to the title (i.e., in addition to Star Spangled Banner or The Star Spangled Banner)?
  • What other words, other than the title or the lyrics do you see?
  • If there is color, what colors were used?
  • What do you notice about the font (style of letters) used?
  • Describe any pictures that you see.
  • Describe any decorative elements that you see.


  • If there are words listed close to the title, what do those words mean? Why might the publisher have chosen to include them?
  • Do any words in addition to the song title provide you with more information? If so, what?
  • Why do you think the designer chose the particular colors (if used) and fonts?
  • Why do you think the designer chose the pictures (if present What symbolic meaning might the picture(s) have (e.g., what does an eagle represent)?
  • What do the decorative elements add? Do they influence how you feel when you view the design? If so, how?
  • What do you think the designer wanted you to think or feel when viewing the song sheet or sheet music cover?


  • What questions do you have?
My National Anthem Song Sheet
  1. Allow some time for students to share their primary source analyses.
  2. Hand out the Designing a Song Sheet template. Tell students they will be designing their own song sheets for The Star Spangled Banner. (You may choose to have students finish this assignment at home or in another class session.) Direct students to carefully consider different design elements to help convey the meaning of the song for Francis Scott Key as well as the meaning the song and the flag have for them personally.
  3. When they’ve finished, hang the song sheets in the classroom or in a school hallway and allow time for students to review and comment on the work of their peers.

Review the suggested project rubric.

Extension Activities
Word Scramble Competition
  1. Divide the class into several groups.
  2. Give each group a baggie with the first verse of The Star Spangled Banner cut into strips by lines (see Word Scramble Competition Extension Activity Pack).
  3. Direct the groups to compete against the other groups to be the first team to arrange the strips in the correct order.
Measure Out the Fort McHenry Flag
  1. Go outside, or to a very large space such as the school gymnasium, and measure out the dimensions of the Fort McHenry flag (30 feet wide and 42 feet long), marking each corner.
  2. Have students stand around the perimeter so that they get a sense of how big the flag really is.
  3. If possible, have someone take a picture of the students from a vantage above, then post the picture on a classroom or school wall.
Make the Fort McHenry Flag

Make a quarter-size 1812 Fort McHenry flag out of construction paper. (Beware, this activity requires A LOT of paper.)

  1. Measure and cut out eight red and seven white stripes that are .5 foot wide and 10.5 feet long, taping or stapling them together.
  2. Measure and cut out a blue square, 4 feet by 4 feet. Place the square on top of the stripes, securing it in the top left corner. Measure and cut out 15 white stars, each .5 foot from point to point, and tape or staple them to the blue square in the top left hand corner.
  3. If possible, take a picture of the students with the flag and place on the classroom wall.
Make a Flag Collage
  1. As a class or individually, make a list of places where the American flag is flown.
  2. Have students take photographs or draw pictures of various places that the flag flies in your community.
  3. Use the photos or drawings to make a flag collage.
  4. Hang the flag collage in a school hallway or present it to the school board, the town mayor, or the local American Legion. The presentation ceremony could feature students singing the national anthem.
Star Spangled Banner Dramatization

Stage a dramatic reading or an actual production of The Star Spangled Banner: A Dramatic Retelling of the Story of Our National Anthem by Wendy Weigers, who also contributed to the 3-5 and K-2 lesson plans. You may wish to perform the reading or production before other classes, the school, or the community.

Related Resources

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