Arts Integration Lesson: Hamilton Riffs

By | 2017-11-16T15:15:47+00:00 February 16th, 2016|

Grades: 7-12

Content Standards: Social Studies and Music

Have you heard or seen the musical Hamilton yet?  If not, it’s definitely worth a look.  This musical is one of the hottest tickets on Broadway and just performed live on the 2016 Grammys.  But beyond the recognition lies something truly inspiring: showcasing a commonly misunderstood founding father and typical footnote in American History to new prominence.  The musical shares how Alexander Hamilton rose from an immigrant to the brains behind the US Treasury System, and does so through the genre of Hip-Hop.

Maybe even more interesting is the casting choices made for the musical itself.  Many of the cast are people of color who are representing key historical figures like Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr.  The irony and juxtaposition of this choice is striking and throws history into the 21st century.  Of course, this just BEGS for an arts integration lesson so that you can use this musical in your own classroom.

In today’s lesson, we’re showing you how to use this musical as the key to unlock not just Alexander Hamilton’s role, but also many other prominent figures in American History.  This lesson is more like a unit.  The pre-assessment piece actually uses a wonderful lesson found on Discovery Education as the foundation for the next steps.  Students use the musical to understand the key debates between Jefferson and Hamilton, and then learn about how the musical’s writer, Lin-Manuel Miranda, used hip-hop to highlight these moments.  Students then take what they’re learned and research their own choice of historical figure to write a piece of music about and perform.

hamilton riffs


Why do we call this plan Hamilton Riffs?  Because a musical “riff” means to take a theme and create something new with it.  And that’s what we’re hoping you’ll do with this lesson.  Give your students the opportunity to take the concept that was originally showcased with this musical and transform it into their own voice about a historical figure that means something to them.

Need an Arts Integration and STEAM Curriculum?

Fully-developed lessons, assessments, student handouts, powerpoints and warm-ups are all waiting for you.


About the Author:

Susan Riley is the founder and President of She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, Common Core State Standards, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and Arts and the Common Core.

Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter.

Email Susan