Adapting a Musical

How can a piece of literature be adapted and turned into a musical?


Key Staff

English teacher with opportunities for collaboration with visual arts, performing arts and music teachers

Key Skills

Making Art: Composing and Planning, Analyzing Assessing and Revising, Producing, Executing and Performing
Developing Arts Literacies: Analyzing and Evaluating - Critique, Understanding Genres
Global Connections: Connecting with Other Arts
Creative Thinking: Creativity and Innovation, Communication and Collaboration


This lesson explores the implications of developing a musical from a literary text or an historical event, and includes suggestions for immersing students into the creative process of building a musical. After choosing a text, students will consider what the most important elements of the story are, how they can be brought to life on stage and through creative movement and song.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Gain insight into ways a musical can be unified into a cohesive production.
  • Recognize the potential of literary sources and/or historical events as inspiration for musicals.
  • Recognize aspects of the identification between themes and forms of musicals and the cultural climate of a time period.
  • Exercise collaborative problem-solving techniques.
  • Broaden research experience in diverse media.
  • Strengthen process skills of reading, writing, explicating.

Teaching Approach

Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Brainstorming
  • Cooperative Learning
  • Discussion
  • Information Organization
  • Role Playing

Assessment Type

Performance Assessment


What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Learner
Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Teachers should be familiar with the plots of the various novels covered in class to date.

Teachers should be familiar with musicals.

Prior Student Knowledge

Familiarity with the plots of the two or three novels covered in English class to date.

Students should also be familiar with the concept of musical theater.

Physical Space



  • Large Group Instruction
  • Small Group Instruction


Make necessary photocopies. Refer to the Teacher’s Guide to select a play and/or novel, or a collection of short stories that have a homogenous thread, to use as a source for this assignment.

Accessibility Notes

Students with physical disabilities may need modified movements.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.

Build Knowledge


1. This lesson works best if students are familiar with Musical Theater.

2. Distribute the Vocabulary Handout . Review with students what they have learned about the genre musical theatre, as well as the musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein.

3. Remind students that several of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s greatest Broadway hits were built from the framework of literary texts (e.g.: South Pacific, Cinderella, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and The King and I.)

4. Explain to students that their challenge in this assignment is to assess the possibilities for turning a designated text into a successful musical.

Build Knowledge

1. Refer to the Teacher’s Guide to select a play and/or novel, or a collection of short stories that have a homogenous thread, to use as a source for this assignment.

2. Have students assess the dramatic qualities of various texts. Divide the class into working pairs. Provide a list of texts that the students are studying in their literature or history classes, or alternatively, brainstorm a list of texts with the class. Ask each pair to assess what various aspects of the text would require in terms of staging, props, etc.   and to negotiate specific responses to the questions in the accompanying Developing a Musical handout.

3. Have students discuss their findings with the class, paying attention to specific opportunities and challenges that they identified in potential adaptations.

4. After the discussion, ask the class to vote on which text they would like to turn into a musical. Once the text has been selected, begin work on developing the musical adaptation.


1. Distribute the  Group Responsibilities handout. Divide the class into the following groups based on students’ skills and interests:
  • Script writers
  • Song writers
  • Set designers
  • Costume designers

2. Allow each group time to work on developing their aspect of the musical. Provide groups with computers so that they can type scripts, lyrics, etc.

3. Each group should produce the following:

  • Script writers – outline, list of characters, script
  • Song writers – lyrics for songs
  • Set designers – sketches of scenery and props
  • Costume designers – sketches of costumes

4. If you choose to perform the musical, you will then need to also assign students to the following roles:

  • Actors
  • Singers
  • Musicians
  • Stage Crew
  • Directors



1. Have students share their creative efforts with their peers. Encourage students to offer positive comments and suggestions for additions or modifications. Give particular attention in the sharing to the way the original text is used, and how the components (setting, script, song, dance, etc.) of the design are integrated.

2. Perform the musical or selected scenes if you wish.

3. Ask each student to reflect on the process in writing. Distribute the Writing Prompt. Students should consider the following:

  • When adapting a text for a musical, what is most difficult?
  • In what ways is a musical adaptation of a text more effective in conveying themes, events or emotions?
  • Are there certain aspects of literature which cannot be conveyed in a musical? If so, explain.

Extending the Learning

Have students consider a major historical event as the central inspiration for a musical. Ask students to prepare a jot list of specific occurrences recorded in history that are related to the chosen event. Divide the class into pairs. Ask each pair to construct a structural design for a musical, utilizing the specifics on the jot list to create performance segments and to write a song lyric dedicated to some aspect of one of the occurrences.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

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Jayne Karsten
Original Writer

Editors & Producers

Daniella Garran
7th grade Social Studies teacher
Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School
Orleans, MA

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