Learning from the Source: The Star Spangled Banner K-2

Our country's flag! A new national song

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 about different types of primary sources.
  • learn the lyrics to The Star Spangled Banner.
  • reinforce their understanding of the U.S. flag and national anthem.

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 The Star Spangled Banner.
  • demonstrate their understanding of the U.S. national anthem and the meaning that the song and the flag have for them personally.

This project meets the following Common Core English Language Arts Standards for grades K-2.

  • Reading Standards for Literature: 1, 3, 4, 7
  • Speaking and Listening Standards: 1, 2, 3, 4

Allow for sufficient time to implement: Students will need approximately three 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.

Session 1: Introduction to Our National Anthem
  1. Explain to students that this project will help them to learn about some important events from long, long ago that led to the creation of the song, The Star Spangled Banner, which is our national anthem.
  2. Ask students to describe what a national anthem is. Corroborate or provide additional clarification to convey that a national anthem is a song that represents our country and some ideas that we, as citizens of the country, believe in.
  3. Ask students if anyone can sing or hum the song. If no student is familiar with the song, you may sing or hum a bit of the song to spark student recognition. 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).
  4. 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).
  5. 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:
    • Why do you think our country has a national anthem?
    • (Display  a U.S. map.) Our national anthem is about events that took place near the city of Baltimore, which is located in the state of Maryland on the east coast of the United States. Let’s find Baltimore, Maryland on the map.
    • Baltimore is a port city. (Show Plan of Baltimore.) A port is a place on the water where ships sail in and out. Can you spot the ships on this map?
    • (Show aerial image of Fort McHenry.) This is Fort McHenry. What shape is Fort McHenry?
    • (Show Plan of Baltimore, again.) Can you spot Fort McHenry on this map?
    • What is a fort? (a building soldiers used to help protect a certain place)
    • A famous battle was fought at Fort McHenry a long time ago. A man named Francis Scott Key watched the battle and wrote a poem about what he saw. What is a poem? (a short piece or writing that tells about something or someone with colorful, or interesting, words)
  6. Tell students that soon after Francis Scott Key wrote his poem, it was set to music. Later, the first verse of this song became the United States national anthem.
  7. Hand each student a Star Spangled Banner Illustrated Lyrics Sheet and direct students to write their names on their sheet. Explain that the illustrations can help them remember the lyrics to our national anthem. (Make sure to save students’ lyric sheets for use in Session 3.)
  8. Display the lyrics sheet and direct students to follow along as you point to the words while you read them aloud.
  9. Play the Star Spangled Banner again, using the Chalmers recording or the Case recording or another of your choosing, and direct students to quietly hum or sing along as they color the lyrics sheet.
Session 2: The Story of Our National Anthem
  1. Tell students that they are going to watch a short movie that was made using various types of primary sources, including paintings, illustrations, photos, sheet music covers, song sheets, maps, and texts. Explain that primary sources provide information about people and events from the past and help us to understand what people were thinking about, feeling, and talking about at the time they were created.
  2. Show students The Star Spangled Banner: The Story & the Song video (.mp4 file).
  3. Now show the The Star Spangled Banner: The Story & the Song slide presentation (.ppt file) and ask students to comment on what they find notice or find interesting about the various primary sources in the presentation.
Session 3: Our Flag and Our National Anthem
  1. Facilitate a class discussion in which students relate what they have learned about the story of The Star Spangled Banner.
  2. Display this image of the Fort McHenry flag and ask students to comment on what they see, think about, and wonder as they look at the image, noting student observations, reflections, and questions. Then ask students to compare the flag in the image to a contemporary American flag, using the American flag in your classroom, in front of your school, or another image. Again, note student observations, reflections, and questions and guiding discussion so that students come away knowing that each star stands for a state and that the stripes represent the original 13 colonies that declared independence from Great Britain in 1776 and formed the United States.
  3. Hand each student a copy of Our Flag (1795-1814) and Our Flag Today illustrations and instruct students to color each with the appropriate colors to reinforce their newfound knowledge.
  4. Instruct students to write (or dictate) a sentence or some words describing what the U.S. flag means to them personally at the top of their Our Flag Today colored illustrations. While students work, play the Chalmers recording or the Case recording or another of your choosing and encourage students to quietly hum along.
  5. Instruct students to to write (or dictate) a sentence or some words describing how they feel when they hear/sing the national anthem underneath their colored illustration.
  6. Hang students’ Our Flag Today illustrations around the classroom.
  7. Pass back students’ illustrated lyrics sheets and encourage them to take the sheets home to share their work with their families.

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 their 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.
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