Duke Ellington Lesson Plan

Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

Are your students familiar with the music of Duke Ellington? This lesson plan uses both text and video lessons to connect students with the man and his work. A group activity brings Duke Ellington's music to life and allows students to interpret its impact.


  • 1 to 1.5 hours

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • summarize the life and work of Duke Ellington
  • list the key achievements of Duke Ellington
  • outline the style and influence of Duke Ellington's music

Curriculum Standards


Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.


Analyze in detail a series of events described in a text; determine whether earlier events caused later ones or simply preceded them.


Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.


Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.



  • Begin by playing the audio clip for the class.
    • Has anyone heard this music before today?
    • What type of music is it?
    • Can anyone name the composer?
  • Pass out the paper copies of the text lesson Duke Ellington: Biography, Songs & Facts, one per student.
  • Tell the class to read the introduction, 'You Ain't Been Blue' and 'Duke Ellington - Biography' sections of the text lesson.
    • How might Duke Ellington's early life have influenced his career?
    • How unusual was it for an African American man of Duke Ellington's time to achieve such success?
  • Have the students read the rest of the text lesson now.
    • What is ragtime?
    • What is big band?
    • What is the significance of all the awards bestowed upon Duke Ellington?
    • Let's take a closer look at Duke Ellington's music now.
  • Play the video lesson Duke Ellington: Music, Piano & Big Band, pausing it at 1:47.
    • What did the term the 'Harlem Renaissance' represent?
  • Play the rest of the video lesson for the class now.
    • What is Duke Ellington's lasting legacy?
  • Pass out the worksheet and have students work independently to complete it.

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