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John Williams | Famous Composer Music Lesson Plan Guide

Featuring a contemporary composer can engage students in an exciting way. However, it can be more difficult to find teaching resources for contemporary composers than the tried and true Baroque and Classical stalwarts. Nonetheless, it is worth the effort to educate students about great 20th and 21st Century composers such as John Williams. To help get you started, we have a collection of resources for teaching John Williams in the classroom or homeschool setting.

For anyone familiar with great movie soundtracks, John Williams needs no introduction. Among his best-known works are pieces featured in Star Wars, ET, the Indiana Jones films, and the Harry Potter series, just to name a few. Students love the opportunity to study the music from movies they love, and there is much for them to learn from doing so. What musical choices does Williams make to create the magical sense of time, place, and emotion that he is so skilled at evoking? What in his life prepared him to become the greatest film score composer of all time? What role does music play in film? These and many more questions are waiting to be explored by your students.

First of all, if you have a bulletin board or other display area, consider using the John Williams | Composer of the Month Bulletin Board Pack to add a visual element and a few memorable facts to get started.

A kid-friendly free biography of John Williams is an excellent place to begin a study. Students’ comprehension of the biography can be deepened with John Williams | Word Search Worksheet (also free), where students draw conclusions about keywords from the biography as they generate their own possible word list for the search. Review the qualifications and experiences of the composer one more time with the Meet the Composer Job Application Worksheet, where students complete a job application on the composer’s behalf. For older students, a Prezi presentation with guided notes sheet offers further detail on Williams’ life and contributions.

One of the highlights of any composer study is a focused listening experience. Listening glyphs can be extremely helpful, especially for younger students, as they learn what to listen for in music and acquire the vocabulary to reflect what they are hearing. Check out the following listening glyphs for some of Williams’ most recognized works:

Star Wars (John Williams) | Music Listening Glyph
Jurassic Park (John Williams) | Music Listening Glyph
Indiana Jones (John Williams) | Music Listening Glyph

The above works are available as a John Williams | Film Score Music Listening Glyph Pack with some additional general and blank glyphs to use for additional Williams pieces of your choice.  Another bundle of John Williams Listening Glyphs by The Bulletin Board Lady on Teachers Pay Teachers offers some additional pieces. For older students, a John Williams Film Score Graphing Worksheet facilitates comparison and analysis of the composer’s works. Any of these listening worksheets could be a starting point for a comparison/ contrast writing assignment of a length appropriate for the grade level.

For further study, a bundle including plans for mini-lessons and links to applicable YouTube videos is available from Pitch Publications on Teachers Pay Teachers.Work with John Williams could also be incorporated into a larger unit on music in film. Here’s one example of a Music in Film Unit at the middle school level, and another extensive Let’s Go to the Movies music camp or workshop plan that could provide some great inspiration.

Classic movies, great music, and engaged students – what’s not to love about studying John Williams?


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