The Hamilton Phenomenon: 5 Ways to Make the Most of It in Your Classroom

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How does a composer, actor, writer, and rapper so perfectly embody a founding father? Lin-Manuel Miranda and the talented cast of Hamilton have created a transcendent onstage world. The music is extraordinarily modern, blending musical theater with rap and R&B. It’s like nothing we’ve ever heard before. In fact, the music and words get into our heads and dance around forever.

About the Play

The story takes place during the birth of our country. It explores the ins and outs of Alexander Hamilton’s rough childhood, adventurous youth, and political adulthood. The poetic language of the songs is thrilling, and the comedic undertone of the character portrayal is unexpectedly wonderful—not to mention the captivating set, lights, and costumes! We’re not the only ones who think this new Broadway musical is stellar and unique. The soundtrack won this year’s Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album, and Miranda recently won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The play and its cast and crew in total have also received a record-breaking 16 Tony Award nominations!

Hamilton is a masterpiece. It captures the magic of theater and the edgy freshness of rap. We are thrilled to have seen it and delighted for the people across the country who will get to experience the show when it travels to Chicago and Los Angeles late this year and next.

Bringing the Phenomenon to the Classroom

You might be wondering how a Broadway smash can help you become a better educator. Students across New York are experiencing the show firsthand, but your students can have a Hamilton experience as well and also capitalize on all the magic it brings. Here are five ways Hamilton can inspire you and your students.

  • So often in history, people are seen through one dimension. Founding fathers such as Alexander Hamilton are described through the impacts they made on the country. In truth, these American icons had many dimensions. Students today deserve opportunities to study all the characteristics of people throughout history. When presenting various time periods to your students, be sure to look at the key individuals from history through different perspectives. Who impacted their choices in life? What parts of their character made them memorable and impactful? How did various subgroups of people at their times in history feel about them and what they did?
  • Throughout Hamilton, Miranda chooses the unexpected. From the way the characters are cast to how they interact on the stage, nothing is as you expect it to be. Everything is twisted around and exciting. This is something you can also do in your classroom. By the time students are in third grade, they know who will be asked to read aloud, who will be asked to solve the hard math problems, and who will get the perfect-behavior feedback. Don’t always do the expected in your classroom. Instead of choosing the best reader to share aloud, choose a struggling reader and help that child prepare for success. Instead of praising perfect behavior, unexpectedly praise a kid who isn’t perfect but is doing something better than he or she usually does. Turn your classroom on its head and shake things up a bit. They’ll never know what to expect from you, and you’ll find yourself working with more engaged students.
  • Before Miranda’s work, few people would have thought that Broadway music and rap would be an unstoppable combination. Bringing today’s music into a powerful biography was a stroke of genius. Whenever possible, bring authentic aspects of your students’ lives into their learning. Music is one great way to make this type of connection for students. You can also use young adult literature, popular movies and television shows, or even social media. Students today spend a lot of their time seeking ideas and news on various social media outlets. Why not bring those resources—with safety measures and common sense fully in place—into your classroom to engage students in truly meaningful ways?
  • In this production, everyone plays multiple roles, and characters dance on and off the stage, gracefully placing props through rhythmic movements. Further, some actors play more than one main role within the play. Teachers can definitely learn from this model. Students should play more than one role within your classroom. They shouldn’t be confined to the role of learners, for example. Allow students opportunities to teach others, share with their peers, guide their own learning, create masterpieces, manipulate information, and lead others.
  • Before seeing this play, few people truly understood what motivated Alexander Hamilton. He spent his life as an incredibly driven man who persevered when others might have failed. Help students search for and study the impact that historical figures have on students today. Teachers should encourage students to search how historical people embodied various character traits. Were they persistent, flexible, inspiring, trend-setting, or ground-breaking? Were they resourceful, accepting, compassionate, bold, or brave. Dig into the qualities of the individuals and not just the deeds. Then, make connections with others through history who share these traits—and even with the students themselves.

Your students are probably talking about Hamilton now—or, if not, they soon will be. The music has quickly entered the popular culture, and teachers everywhere are latching on to the power and potency of Miranda’s vision, so beautifully executed by the stellar cast and crew of the show. Use it to your advantage. And at the same time, be inspired by Miranda’s creative vision and think a new thought for your own stage—your classroom. Just like Hamilton himself, you can “be in the room where it happens,” take your “shot,” and “tell (a new) story”!

 

Check out this related resource! 

teacher created materials

Reading, Writing, And Rhythm: Engaging Content-Area Literacy Strategies

Use students’ familiarity with rap and other engaging art forms to connect to important content concepts and literacy skills. Click here to learn more.

 

 

EmilyMeet the Authors:

Emily R. Smith, M.A.Ed., is an award-winning editorial director and former elementary school teacher. She has worked in the field of education as a teacher and editor for 20 years. Emily is currently an editorial director with Teacher Created Materials. As a former classroom teacher, she knows how hard it can be to reach and engage students in today’s schools. Her experience and insight are valuable tools as she strives to help teachers by creating thoughtful, original products and delivering them in flexible and innovative ways.

Kiley is a seventh-grade student in Virginia and a frequent contributor to The Red Bench. Kiley also maintains her own blog at www.icannotlivewithoutbooks.com, where she writes on books, life, and all things great and small.

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