George Gershwin Lesson Plan

Instructor: John Hamilton

John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

Educate your students about George Gershwin and his brother Ira Gershwin with this lesson plan. Students will study a text lesson, take a related follow-up quiz, and participate in activities to reinforce main concepts.

Learning Objectives

After studying this lesson, your students will be able to:

  • Describe the relationship between George and Ira Gershwin
  • Identify the styles of music he played
  • Name some of his greatest works
  • List some of the famous people with whom he collaborated
  • Summarize details of his personal life


1-1.5 Hours


  • Access to the Internet
  • Audio copy of Rhapsody in Blue to play to the students (16:27 in length)
  • Copies of the text lesson George Gershwin: Biography, Songs & Facts along with the accompanying lesson quiz.
  • Images of George and Ira Gershwin
  • Paper
  • Preprinted worksheets with ten significant events in George's life, and the matching years, not in order.
  • Writing utensils

Key Vocabulary

  • Blues
  • George Gershwin
  • Ira Gershwin
  • Irving Berlin
  • Jazz
  • Paul Whiteman
  • Piano
  • Song Plugger
  • Stephen Foster
  • Tin Pan Alley

Curriculum Standards


Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.


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.


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.


  • Inform your students they will be studying the life of legendary musician George Gershwin, along with his brother Ira Gershwin.
  • Display images of the two brothers.
  • Review the vocabulary terms.
  • Hand out copies of the text lesson George Gershwin: Biography, Songs & Facts.
  • Read the introduction and first section 'Early Life.'
    • How old was George when he died?
    • How old was Ira when he died?
    • Where was George's first music job and how much did it pay?
    • Who did George idolize?
    • What was his first job after he dropped out of high school?
    • Where was it and how much did it pay?
    • What types of music did he compose?
  • Now, read the section 'More Success.'
    • What is a rhapsody and what famous one did George write?
    • How many of the five preludes that he wrote in 1926 are missing?
  • Next, read the section 'Collaboration with Ira.'
    • Of the two brothers, who wrote the music and who wrote the lyrics?
    • How many scores did they co-produce?
    • What were some other famous Gershwin works?
  • Next, read the section 'Untimely Death.'
    • Where did George move to after leaving New York City?
    • He worked on a film for which two famous dancers?
    • What caused his untimely death?
  • Finally, have the students read the 'Lesson Summary' and then review the entire lesson, answering any relevant student questions.
  • Pass out the lesson quiz and have students complete it on their own.

Activity One

  • Have the students work in small groups.
  • Let them know they will have to match up ten significant events in the life of George Gershwin with the correct year of the event.
  • Pass out the preprinted worksheets.
  • The events are as follows:
    • George was born
    • George died
    • The parents buy a piano
    • George dropped out of high school
    • George lands his first summer job
    • George publishes his first song
    • George records his first hit song
    • George's first show was produced
    • George presented five preludes to the public
    • George began collaborating with Ira
  • The years are as follows:
    • 1898,1937, 1910, 1913, 1914, 1916, 1919, 1920, 1924, 1926
  • Review the exercise and answer any pertinent questions.

Activity Two

  • Gershwin was very versatile, and one of his achievements includes the movie Shall We Dance (1937.) Have the students remain in their small groups.
  • Have them use the Internet or other sources to research the movie. Ask them:
    • Who were the main characters?
    • Who played the lead roles?
    • What was the famous production company?
    • How long was the movie?
    • What is the plot of the movie?
    • What is the theme of the movie?

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