Teach the Beat!

Bringing the distinctive D.C. sound of go-go into the classroom.

Teaching for Change is honored to work with D.C.  area schools and the authors of The Beat! Go-Go Music from Washington, D.C. to develop lessons and share teaching ideas for infusing the history and music of go-go in middle and high school social studies, language arts, math, music, and/or D.C. history classes, and to bring renowned go-go performers into D.C. classrooms.

"Go-go has stayed true to time-honored cultural scripts such as live call-and-response, live instrumentation, as well as its locally rooted fashions, slang, dance, distribution and economic systems. Simply put: Go-Go never sold out. There is a grit and texture to the music that gives voice to the communities where it was created." –Natalie Hopkinson


Meet the Beat


This is an introductory lesson to acquaint students with key people and issues in a unit of study on go-go in the DC metro area. It serves as a pre-reading activity for books and articles on go-go. 

Following the lessons, it is our hope that students will want to learn more and generate their own list of questions for further study. The lesson format is a “mixer” or “meet and greet” where students take on the role of a key person, place, institution, or object. In their role, they try to find answers to a designated list of questions by interviewing their peers, who are also in role. They begin with informational questions and then regroup for questions that require critical thinking and analysis, such as:

  •  What role does go-go play in understanding gentrification? 
  • Why did go-go emerge in DC and why is DC one of the few cities in the U.S. to have its own music form?

Public historian Marya McQuirter wrote the bios. She provided this description of the multiples goals she had for them: 

"First, I wanted to use the bios as a way to tell smaller stories about go-go that would add up to a big story (or bigger stories) or history about go-go. Second, I wanted to show that the history of go-go is not simple, it is complex and that it involves musicians, singers, educators, politicians, history, money, property owners, a desire to dance, etc. Third, I wanted to place go-go within a history of music. I wanted to give weight to the idea that go-go is a true musical form. And to emphasize its musicality, its use of a wide range of instruments (particularly in the first decades) and that go-go musicians also played, enjoyed, influenced and were influenced by other music genres. Finally, I hoped to provide a context for teachers and students to appreciate how go-go is such a beloved music and culture in the city and to create a space to think critically about its past, present and future."

For classes where some or all the students are not familiar with the go-go beat, we recommend beginning by introducing students to some audio clips. For all classes, we recommend playing go-go music during the mixer activity. Go-go cannot be understood on paper alone.

Materials and Preparation

  1. Music clips: Have clips of these two songs cued up and ready to play: “Bustin' Loose, “Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers & “Welcome to DC,” Mambo Sauce
  2. Name tags
  3. Handout #1: Brief Bios.” There are 38 biographies in this handout. Print the handout and cut the paper into individual strips, with each strip displaying one biography. Each student or workshop participant and the instructor should receive one bio each. If there are more bios than participants, you can either give two bios to a few participants or reduce the number of bios distributed. If you reduce the number of bios, reduce them in multiples of six and delete the respective names from Handout No. 2.
  4. Handout #2: Questionnaires: What’s My Name? What’s My Story? There are six (2A-2F) versions of this questionnaire to ensure students receive different questions. Print all six versions and make enough copies to cover the total number of students who will participate in the activity. Each student will receive one of the six versions of the handout. 



  1. Do a quick check-in with questions such as: 
    • Who's heard of go-go? (If quite a few have, ask what bands/songs they can name or that they like.)
    • Who's seen a live go-go performance? 
    • Whose parents/grandparents listen(ed) to go-go?
  2. Explain that go-go has a multi-generational history in DC, so there are more people and places than the ones they named and luckily today you will get a chance to “meet” them. 
  3. If one or more students have not heard go-go, play two music clips: “Bustin' Loose” by Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers and “Welcome to DC” by Mambo Sauce. Ask students: What do you hear? What are the similarities? What are the differences?

Meet and Greet

  1. Distribute one bio, questionnaire, and name tag to each student. Explain that for the rest of the class, they will take on the identity of the person, place, or thing on the bio they received. Point out that these biographies are simply brief introductions; the full stories could fill entire books.
  2. Ask them to take a few minutes to read their bio. Then have them respond to the first two questions on the top section of the questionnaire, and to let you know if they have any questions. The two questions are:
    • What is your name?
    • What is one thing of significance about your own identity?
  3. Have them put their role play name on their name tag and put it on.
  4. Explain to students that they have the rare opportunity to attend a conference on go-go. In order to make the most of their time at this conference, they have a brief questionnaire to complete. This questionnaire will help them meet and learn about others at the conference. As they participate in the conference, they should stay in role, responding to questions from other participants, and in turn ask them questions. Each student should try to “meet” the people or places on their questionnaire that can help them answer their questions. Their conversations with each other should reveal the necessary clues for the student to figure out the names and fill in the blanks.
  5. Launch the activity. At the beginning, you may need to remind students to stay in role. (If you have not done a mixer like this with your students before, you could model some interactions so they get the idea that they should meet and talk with people to try to find the answers to their questions.)
  6. Once you have determined that most students have had enough time to complete their questionnaire, have everyone return to their seats.
  7. Ask for a couple of volunteers to share what they found to be most surprising and/or interesting during the activity. 

Deepening Our Understanding of Go-Go

  1. Explain that now the conference participants have been asked by the media to respond to some challenging questions. You can group participants so that they have the background needed to grapple with both questions. Group them according to what works best in your class. There is not a definitive answer to either question, so the challenge is to develop an informed response based on the knowledge and experience of the roles represented in each group.
    • What role does go-go play in understanding gentrification? (Bios 2, 7, 13, 35, 37)
    • Why did go-go emerge in DC and why is DC one of the few cities in the U.S. to have its own music form? (Bios 2, 5, 6, 8, 15, 19. 21, 33, 37, 38)
  2. This is the conclusion of the activity. There are many possible next steps. For example, students can
    • Conduct research on the person, place, or thing they represented in the activity. They can share what they learned in the form of an essay, bulletin board display, a children's book, Wikipedia entry, radio theater, or iMovie.
    • Draft a description of go-go for the DC history textbook. If they were given one page in the book, what should it say?
    • Teach others in their school or community about the history and culture of go-go.

Bios and questions developed by Marya McQuirter. Lesson developed by Deborah Menkart based on a “meet and greet” format used in many pre-reading lessons.

Click here to download handouts.

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Image credits: Thomas Sayers Ellis