Music & Social Impact


Songs can provide entertainment but can also help to bring people’s attention to world problems and to inspire people to seek solutions to those problems. Songwriters often use the lyrics of songs to educate, inspire, influence and change society, and provide social commentary.

Learning Objectives

At the end of the lesson, students will be able to:

  • Describe and write about their emotional response to a song and the meaning, message, or viewpoint of the songwriter.
  • Conduct research about a song and write a brief summary of its intended message.
  • Critically review and report on whether a song’s message is still relevant today.

Essential Questions:

  • What might people learn from music, or how might they be influenced or inspired by music?
  • How were these songs used to educate or inspire the movement for Soviet Jewry?
  • How were you inspired by these songs?

Duration: Two or three periods, one to introduce song analysis, one to analyze songs from Soviet Jewry Movement, and one, if relevant, for students to present their playlist.



1. Trigger: Distribute copies of the lyrics or provide Web links to the song, “Waiting on the World to Change,” (2006) by John Mayer. Ask students what the song might be about based on the title.  Hand out the question sheet and ask the students to analyze the song in pairs.

2. Guided Class Discussion:

  • What do you think the message of the song is? What metaphors does the writer use in the song?
  • Some people think that Mayer is saying it’s OK to wait while others think that he is trying to encourage his generation to act. Which statement do you agree with, and why?
  • What do you think Mayer means when he says, “When they own the information, oh they can bend it all they want”?  Who are “they”?
  • In what way(s) does he express hope for the future?
  • Which lines in the song do you most relate to?
  • Do you feel that your generation is misunderstood? Do you think your generation will wait for change or act to make change happen?
  • If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be and why?

3. Choose one of the following Songs about Soviet Jewry: Watch the videos/ Listen to the songs and Use the “Lyrics Worksheet” to further understand each song.

4. Guided Discussion:

  • How were these songs used to educate or inspire the movement for Soviet Jewry?
  • Are these songs’ messages still relevant today?
  • What movement are you passionate about?
  • Can you think of a movement happening now or in the past where a song was used to help motivate or make meaning (Found Tonight  composed for protest against gun violence in schools, We Shall Overcome)
  • What song(s) would you choose for your playlist?

5. Further Discussion: Distribute copies of the editorial, “The Other Education,” by David Brooks. Ask: “What questions does it bring to mind for you? Who agrees/disagrees with Brooks’ opinion?” (Tally responses on an easel pad or whiteboard.)

  • What does Brooks mean by his ‘second education’? Or his ‘emotional curriculum’
  • Who was the “professor” to which he refers? In what way(s) did Bruce Springsteen teach him? What do you know about Springsteen’s music?
  • Do you think that music can provide an education as important as formal schooling? Do you agree that society pays ‘too much attention to the first education and not enough to the second’?

6. Extension: Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, a Rabbi-activist who was very active in the struggle for Soviet Jewry, was asked to compose some songs to inspire and motivate the activists. Two of his tunes became very popular both with the activists and with the refuseniks themselves, am yisrael chai and l’ma’an achai v’rayii.

Download Lesson

Click here to download the full lesson pack in .zip format.

WordPress Image Lightbox