One of the hardest tasks a teacher can face is engaging students in each and every class. When students enter a class, they bring their day with them – good, bad, distracting – and we ask them to put all that aside and immerse themselves in what we’re teaching. As a history teacher, I have often found myself wondering how to keep students engaged in learning about people and things that may not, on the surface, have anything to do with their lives. 

Enter some jazz. Or some Tudor choral music. Or even a little Jimi Hendrix. 

That’s right. 

Play some music!

Music is a great way to engage students. Harvey G. Cohen, writing for the American Historical Association in 2005, makes the point that music can serve as an “evocative, instructive primary document” that we “too seldom use…in history courses.” Music is not only a great source, but it also creates a space that is immersive and allows students to imagine life in the history they are learning more clearly. It can also create a safe, comfortable space for students to relax and focus just on learning and being, no matter the subject. 

So how can you use music in your classroom? I start my classes by having music playing when students come in at a low volume, and I keep it there the entire class time. We may turn it up or off if we want to talk about a particular song or watch or listen to something else. Sometimes I have students build me playlists of songs around a particular theme that they like as a creative exercise – here’s a link to a great Spotify playlist a student made about space while talking about the history of science and the space race! 

Want to learn more about a specific period of history? Play some songs from that era and analyze the tempo, lyrics, or instruments. Have the students find songs that relate to what they are studying, like civil or human rights, women’s rights, or current events. You can even ask students to create playlists of their own as part of being class leaders. 

There are literally thousands of playlists you could make, songs you could play, and ways you can engage students through music. Enjoy!