The Life Album Project: Who I Am through Music and Visual Art

By Tiffany DeJaynes, January 31, 2009

Grade Level

  • High School


  • City of Neighborhoods

Subject Area

  • Language Arts

Lesson Time

8-10 days


You walk into your local record store; the music is blaring and you’re on the hunt for an album that speaks to your life.  You scan thousands and thousands of titles but most of the covers seem to blend together.  You can’t find one that really suits you and your sense of the world.  You are frustrated.  The record store was a last resort, you’d already spent hours online looking for the right album.  The solution:  you decide to make your own music, designed for

Music’s genre, style, and sound represent the artist or band’s identity.  The album should have a creative message.  Your objective is to create a product that demonstrates your tastes, interests, and personality.  How would your design and distribute “the perfect” album to an audience?

This is the introduction I use to sell the project to students.  My thinking behind this project was that it would be a creative way to both teach design principles in literacy, particularly the relationship between words, images, and sounds, and an opportunity for students to really reflect on that age old “Who Am I?” question.  For upper level high school students, this is a nice addition to the college process.


National Standards


  1. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process

  2. Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing


  5. Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process

  7. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts


  9. Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media


  10. Understands the characteristics and components of the media

Common Core Standards

Anchors for Reading:

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Anchor Standards for Writing:

Text Types and Purposes:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

Production and Distribution of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Range of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening:

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.2 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.


SWBAT articulate how words and images relate to one another, particularly in the marketing process.

SWBAT demonstrate how words, images, and sound fit together in a marketing piece.

SWBAT write about their life experiences as it relates to music.


  • Computers—as many as you can get, as often as possible!
  • Digital Projector
  • Speakers to play CDs
  • Color printer, if possible


  • Assortment of CDs of many genres. Teachers may want to get color copies and laminate them
Assorted art supplies:  markers, colored pencils, paper, etc CDs, CD cases, and sticky CD covers (students can bring these in, if necessary)


Lesson Procedures:

Day 1  How are music albums designed?

1)  Do Now:  Who is your favorite artist and why?

2)  Opening discussion:  Take it one step further.  What does your favorite artist’s album cover look like?  What images, details do you remember?

3)  Teacher will distribute copies of multiple album covers or albums from her collection (and the collections of others, if needed).

4)  Students will answer the following questions in groups about the samples.

How is a good album designed? What kind of images do you find on a CD cover?  How do they vary?  What kind of messages do they send?  Why do you think this product sells?

5)  Conduct a brief group discussion about what album covers have to accomplish as a genre—visual and written information.

6)  Homework/Extension:  Have students look at their favorite album at home or online and compare it to their memories of the album.  Are there details they missed?  What really makes that album cover work?

Day 2  How would you design an album for your life?

1)  Do Now:  Write for 5 minutes about one memory in your life that you can connect to music.

2)  Hand out the Life Album Assignment and discuss goals of the project

3)  Have students make a list of the most important songs in their life.

4)  Put students in groups to discuss why those songs are important and how they represent various themes in their lives.

5)  After brief group discussion, have students write a few sentences on the same page as the list that explains why that list of songs is important to them.

Day 3  How do you market a collection of songs?  What turns a bunch of songs into an album?

1)  Hand back students  lists of songs as they enter the room.  (Teacher should have scanned/assessed them to make sure students are on track.)

2)  Do Now:  Write for 5 minutes about how the songs on your list fit together and why.  If you have trouble connecting the songs, that’s okay.  Explain why the variety of music works.

3)  Share the Ms. DJ’s model pitch with students

4)  Have students work on the “Life Album Pitch Worksheet” together in class

5)  Pair/Share:  Have students share their work with a peer at the end of class

6)  Homework:  Students should collect images at home for their album

Day 3:  How do images and words work together?

1)  Do Now:  Take out the images you brought in from home.  How do the images in your hands work with the “pitch” you began working on yesterday?  Explain.

2)  Put a professional album “pitch” on a projector and do a mini-lesson on visual literacy. Use a recording artist the students like; it can be anyone really.  What images are on the album cover?  On the inside flap?  How do the images and words work together?  (This should be a quick review by now.)

3) Give students time in class to begin writing their pitch.

4)  Homework:  Finish your “pitch” for your album at home.

Day 4:  Artist/Compiler Biography

1)  Do Now:  Write for 5 minutes about how one of the songs from your album connects to your life.

2)  Share Out:  Have 3-5 students read their first drafts of their pitch out loud.  Celebrate!

3)  Hand out the teacher model of the artist biography.  Additionally, you can hand out professional artist biographies  (now or later in the unit). I really like Ani DiFranco’s biography, which you can find here:  But again, choosing artists the kids like is a good idea.


Assessment & Days 5-8:

The way you structure the rest is up to you!  You’ve already done a nice visual literacy introduction and are now set to let students work on their projects.  Now is the time to bring in more models of how to make an album, write a pitch or artist/compiler biography and also let students get to work putting their own lives into music, image, and words.  I have provided peer and self-evaluation tools for the project as well as a final grading rubric that I used.

Teacher Reflection


I actually already tried a version of this assignment this year in my class and found it to be super effective.  Students loved making these albums, put tons of extra work into them, and really invested themselves. The biggest hiccup was getting the songs downloaded and burned onto a CD.  If resources in your school pose a challenge to this, I suggest modifying the assignment and not actually having students burn the CDs.  That part was pretty awful even though we had time and technology to make it happen.  The “lesson” could still be learned without burning the CD, but students really found having a mix CD of their favorite stuff to be a nice payoff.  They couldn’t wait for me to hand back these projects, because they felt it really represented something about them (and they wanted to listen to the album again and again).

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