Respect: Aretha’s Anthem & What Respect Means in the Classroom

Students discuss Aretha Franklin, the "Queen of Soul," listen to her recording of the song "Respect," and consider how to ensure that everyone is respected in the classroom. 



According to USA Today on August 16, 2018: 

“The "Queen of Soul," whose impassioned, riveting voice made her a titan of American music, died Thursday morning at her home in Detroit of pancreatic cancer, her niece Sabrina Owens confirmed to The Detroit Free Press. She was 76.”

Ask students to share what they know about the Queen of Soul. Who was she and what did she do? What did she mean to people?

Distribute the handout Aretha Franklin Remembered.  Ask students to read it before adding to what they just shared.  

Download ahead of time if needed, then play the following Root clip Remembering Aretha Franklin, The Queen of Soul to recap who Aretha Franklin was. 



Download ahead of time if needed or find an audio file to play or stream Respect performed by Aretha Franklin in class.

Explain that the song was written and originally released by American recording artist Otis Redding in 1965.  Then in 1967 a cover of the song by R&B singer Aretha Franklin shot to the top of the charts.  It earned her two Grammies in 1968 and was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1987.  With time, Respect became Aretha Franklin’s signature song.  It was hailed also as feminist and civil rights anthem.

Play the song and invite students to listen to it.  Next ask them to share what it was like for them to listen to this world famous song?  What feelings did it bring up?  What thoughts?


Respect Web

Write the word RESPECT on the board and circle it.  Say that like Aretha Franklin, we all want to be respected.  Today in class we’re going to explore what “respect” would look and feel like in our classroom this year. 

To start with, invite students to call out any associations they have with the word Respect.  If needed ask questions to encourage student thinking:

  • What qualities do you associate with respect?
  • What behaviors do you associate with respect?
  • What feelings do you associate with respect?

Chart student associations around the word RESPECT then draw lines from the associations to the word RESPECT, creating a word web.  When you have a good number of words in your web, and/or when energy starts to wane, ask students to take some time to look at the web, then ask them:

  • What do you notice about the words in our web? (Any similarities, differences, surprises?)
  • What do you think respect should look like in our classroom community? 

Chart what students share on a separate piece of chart paper that you can post in your room as a reminder (and a work in progress).  Ask students if they agree that these are good guidelines for creating a respectful classroom community this year.  Can they commit to these as we start the year?  Let students know that you’ll continue to revisit these guidelines and work on them together as a class, especially when things get tough.  Ask students:

  • Do you think it’s always easy to be respectful? 
  • When is it hard to be respectful?
  • How can we deal with that in our class this year?



Pair share

Invite students to turn to a partner to talk about a person they respect in their lives.   What is it about this person that makes this person worthy of respect?  How does this person make them feel?

After the pair share invite students to return to the web and decide if anything is missing.  




Invite students to look at the guidelines for respect they worked on today.  Ask students to pick one that they think is particularly important, and/or one in particular that they’d like to work on this coming week.  Invite them to explain why.

If time allows, play Aretha Franklin’s Respect once more, inviting students to sing along.