How to write a lyric Horrible- Histories-styley!

HOW TO GUIDE - Composing & Performing a Horrible Histories Style Song

Please use the short film by Historyworks for 'Creating My Cambridge'  featuring Dave Cohen introducing his CBBC's Horrible Histories Songwriting to school children in Cambridgeshire, and working with Yr 6 and the Choir/Milton Mash Up young composers at Milton CE  Primary School.  In the film and the lesson plan accompanying Dave Cohen goes through how to develop the story, the first line, find the jokes and create the rhymes.  Lesson plan from Dave Cohen - see pasted below or download pdf here (RICK PLEASE EMBED).   The film was made in 2015 and shows a double class workshop, starting with an introduction to song writing using history, and ending up with all the children getting creative and performing their pieces!  Amazing stuff! See:




Dave Cohen

Year: 5/6

Subject: History/Literacy



Date: 10.2.15



Time: double lesson

No. of children in class:


Learning Objective:

To teach songwriting/lyrics to children, to get history across through song, to work on narrative and creative writing skills, with an emphasis on co-creation and collaborative team work.





Rhyme, history, verse, narrative, comedy, music, song, perform, percussion



Key Questions:

How can you make history fun for an audience? How can you tell a story in a song? How do you find the story and the rhyme?  How can you get the most out of performing it?




CBBC website/app

Rhymezone website/app



Learning Activities

Starter: Show the children a song from Horrible Histories – there are more than 60 on YouTube/CBBC website. Whatever you’re studying with them, from Ancient Egypt to World War 2, the chances are that there will be a song on the subject.


It may be a familiar topic, in which case you may want to ask the children what they already know before you show the song.


Ask them what they learned from the song. See what rhymes they remembered. See what jokes they spotted.



First you need to know the story you’re going to tell. Choose the topic, either a local story or something you are currently teaching as part of the curriculum.


Ask the children for more information around the topic. (Or tell them the new information) The bigger the story, the more options they have for creating a song around it. For instance, if you’re studying Henry VIII then they can write a song about Henry’s whole life, or his love of Jane Seymour, or his battles with the church, or his falling out with individual wives.


Inform the children that they’re going to split into groups to come up with their own song.

Then split the children into groups of two or three. Let them choose between them what story they are planning to tell.


What is this about, tell us in the opening line. What do you want to say? Song lines can be any length but most of your children will understand a basic rap rhythm, which will give you anything between 16 and 24 syllables per rhyming couplet.



TA Role: Go round the groups and check how their songs are coming on. Either use a rhyming dictionary or help them find rhymes by looking up

Some groups will come up with a song really quickly, they can be helped at this stage with performing skills.

Rehearse performance with the groups. Offer suggestions for ways they can add percussion by clapping, stamping feet etc.



Guided Group work:





















Success Criteria:

How clear is the story? How well have they told it? How did they perform? Were there lots of jokes?




Assessment Opportunities:






How to write a lyric Horrible- Histories-styley!


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