Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Blackbirds In Little Rock: Exploring the History behind the Music

The Civil Rights Movement

Lisa Loughlin, Mariana DeLoera, Erin Finley | Published: June 7th, 2024 by K20 Center

  • Grade Level Grade Level 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th
  • Subject Subject English/Language Arts, Music History, Social Studies
  • Course Course A.P. Language and Composition, AP US History, Composition, U.S. History


In this lesson, students learn about the Little Rock Nine, other monumental moments from the Civil Rights Movement, and their impact on music culture. By examining the historical inspiration behind Beyoncé’s rendition of the song "Blackbird," students analyze a speaker’s impact on the meaning of a text, how history influences art, and how the Civil Rights Movement is still relevant today.

Essential Question(s)

How does the speaker impact the meaning of a text? How can history influence art? How is the Civil Rights Movement still relevant today?



Students listen to “Blackbird” by The Beatles and reflect on the meaning of the song, drawing on prior knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement.


Students review a Civil Rights Music Timeline and reflect on newspaper headlines of the past.


Students watch a video explaining the Little Rock Nine and the impact of the event on society.


Students analyze an article about the impact of the songs “Blackbird” and “Blackbiird” on members of the Little Rock Nine.


Students choose an essay prompt from a choice board to reflect on their learning. 


  • Lesson Slides (attached)

  • Blackbird Lyrics handout (attached; one per student, printed double-sided)

  • Tip of the Iceberg handout (attached; one per student)

  • I Notice, I Wonder handout (attached; one per student, printed double-sided)

  • Choice Board handout (attached; one per student)

  • Blackout Poetry Lyrics (attached; one per student) (optional)

  • Internet access

  • Printer access

  • Smartboard/projection access

  • Pens/pencils

  • Notebook paper

  • Sticky notes 

  • Highlighters

  • Black markers (optional)


20 Minute(s)

Display the lesson title on slide 2, then review the essential questions and learning objectives on slides 3–4. Transition to slide 5 and distribute the Blackbird Lyrics handout (attached). Direct students to read the lyrics as they listen to the song. Play the video on the slide, Blackbird (Remastered 2009)

After the song ends, instruct students to answer questions 1–3 on the back of the handout. Allow 3–5 minutes to do this, then invite students to share some of their answers.

Next, move to slide 6 and read the Paul McCartney quote aloud. Facilitate a brief discussion about the Little Rock Nine and the Civil Rights Movement during this time to gauge students’ prior knowledge. Use the following guiding questions, which can also be found on hidden slide 7:

  • What big events were happening during this time?

  • Why does he talk about Little Rock in particular?

  • Looking back at the reflection questions you answered, was anyone accurate with their initial thoughts about what the song was about or what blackbirds represented?

  • What do you know about the Civil Rights Movement? When did it begin?

  • What do you know about the Little Rock Nine?

  • Why was this a significant event in America?

  • What role did music have during the Civil Rights Movement?

  • What role does music play in historical events?


20 Minute(s)

Move to slide 8. Distribute the Tip of the Iceberg handout (attached). Invite students to write down everything they know about the Civil Rights Movement in the upper part of the iceberg.

Next, instruct students to take out their internet-connected device. Ask them to use the link or QR code on slide 8 to review the Civil Rights Music Timeline infogram. Allow students 5–10 minutes to view the timeline infogram. Take a moment to highlight some of the key points.

After reviewing the Civil Rights Music Timeline, instruct students to complete the bottom half of the iceberg and write what they’ve learned about the Civil Rights Movement thus far. Facilitate a brief class discussion by allowing some students to share what they learned.

Move to slide 9 and distribute the I Notice, I Wonder handout (attached). Review the instructions for the instructional strategy I Notice, I Wonder. Instruct students to take notes on their handout for each newspaper headline they view.

Next, move through slides 10–14 and review each newspaper headline. As they read, allow students a few minutes to complete each row of the graphic organizer. Provide students the opportunity to share their thoughts before transitioning to the next newspaper headline.


25 Minute(s)

Move to slide 15  and play the video How the Little Rock 9 Impacted the Civil Rights Movement | The American Presidency with Bill Clinton. Have students turn to the back of the I Notice, I Wonder handout and complete the guided notes as they watch.

When the video ends, take a moment to review the guided notes and answer any remaining questions. Then, distribute one sticky note to each student.

Transition to slide 16 and review the instructions for the instructional strategy  How Am I Feeling? What Am I Thinking? Instruct students to draw a line dividing their sticky note in half. On one side, ask students to draw a picture depicting how they are feeling after learning about the events of the Little Rock Nine. On the other side, instruct students to write a sentence about what they are thinking.

Invite students to share, but avoid pushing students to share if they do not wish to.


30 Minute(s)

Transition to slide 17. Explain to students that the version of “Blackbird” they are about to listen to was released in 2024 by Beyoncé on her album Cowboy Carter, featuring four other female Black country artists, Tanner Adell, Tiera Kennedy, Reyna Roberts, and Brittney Spencer. Use the link on slide 17 to play “Blackbiird.” Instruct students to listen to the new version. 

Distribute the NPR article, What The Beatles and Beyoncé's 'Blackbird' means to this Little Rock Nine member and a highlighter to each student. Transition to slide 18 and review the instructional strategy Why-Lighting. Instruct students to read the article and highlight anything they think is important.

After students have finished highlighting the article, direct them to write notes in the margin of the article explaining why this word/sentence/phrase stood out to them.

After students have finished reading and annotating the article, facilitate a brief discussion using the following guided questions, which can also be found on hidden slide 19:

  • Why did Beyoncé’s version of “Blackbird” resonate with the Little Rock Nine member, Melba Pattillo Beals?

  • What things did you highlight and why?

  • Why does learning the inspiration behind the songs that we listen to matter?

  • Are there other remakes of songs that you like better than the original?

Next, move to slide 20 and invite students to revisit the reflection questions on the back of the Blackbird Lyrics handout. Allow 2–3 minutes for students to answer the remaining reflection questions. Adjust time as needed. Time permitting, invite a few students to share their responses.


90 Minute(s)

Move to slide 21. Introduce students to the instructional strategy, Choice Boards. Distribute the Choice Board handout (attached) to each student and review the directions. Then move to slide 22 and go over the essay requirements with the class. Direct students to use the QR code on the slide to access the Civil Rights Music Timeline infogram if they wish to use it as a resource. Next, allow students at least one full period to complete the essay or instruct students to complete the assignment as homework and submit at the established due date.