Teaching Short Story Elements With Music

Teach Short Story Elements


Need to teach or review short story elements, but you’re running out of time? These songs feature the characters, plot, conflict and themes inherit in short stories, and can be studied in one class session. You can often find figurative language in the songs, as well. Check out the videos and lyrics below:

Red Headed Stranger by Willie Nelson

This story line may be a little mature for middle school students, but I think it would work for older teens. I recommend using this song to teach about characterization, figurative language and making inferences.

You can download the lyrics here.

The Boy Named Sue by Johnny Cash

This song may not be appropriate for middle schoolers, but I think high school students will appreciate the story of an outsider with a really bad name. Use this video to teach about conflict and initiate discussions about having a growth mindset.

Coward of the County by Kenny Rogers

I recommend using this song to teach about dynamic versus static characters and conflict. This song could also lead into a discussion on bullying and gender roles.

Get this lyrics here.

Harper Valley PTA by Jeanne C. Riley

Again, this one is more suited to high school students, but would be a great lead-in to discussion on plot structure, man vs. society conflict and bullying.

Get the lyrics here

Cats in the Cradle by Harry Chapin

This is an excellent lead-in to a discussion on foreshadowing, irony and dynamic characters. You may ask students to discuss their expectations of their parents, and how they expect to parent their own children.


Get the lyrics here

The Devil Went Down To Georgia by The Charlie Daniels Band

This song sets itself up with exposition, features rising action in the form of a competition, followed by a climax and resolution. You can help your students identify each part.


Ocean Front Property by George Strait

Short stories often feature irony and this song is no exception. Strait clearly doesn’t mean what he’s saying, and any student who knows their geography will know that there is no ocean front property in that particular state.

Download the lyrics here.

Every Rose Has Has Its Thorns by Poison

While much of the story behind this song is implied, the lyrics contain metaphor and symbolism students will identify with.

Download the lyrics here.

Comment below if you have any other recommendations for songs that tell a story.



Related topics: Short Story Lesson Plans

About the author 

Michelle Boyd Waters, M.Ed.

I am a secondary English Language Arts teacher, a University of Oklahoma student working on my doctorate in Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum with an concentration in English Education and co-Editor of the Oklahoma English Journal. I am constantly seeking ways to amplify students' voices and choices.

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