Essential Question

How might Beyoncé's song “I Was Here” inspire people to serve their community and make a positive impact on the world?


Perform “I Was Here” with your class using Modern Band Charts provided by Little Kids Rock. 

In August 2012, Beyoncé released the song “I Was Here” and an accompanying video in support of the United Nations’ “World Humanitarian Day.” The event aims to celebrate the thousands of people who perform “heroic” acts around the world each year. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres describes the annual observance as an opportunity to “shine a spotlight on the millions of civilians around the world whose lives have been caught up in conflict… [As well as] the brave health and aid workers who are targeted or obstructed as they set out to help people in need.”

Guterres casts a wide net–the “heroes” honored by World Humanitarian Day are many. Indeed, the goal of World Humanitarian Day is to encourage people to think beyond official titles of service and empower everyone to be a hero. The theme of the event, which is displayed in a slide during the opening seconds of the “I Was Here” video, encourages all to embrace the nearly limitless possibilities of selflessness and service:

One day, one message, one goal.

To inspire people all over the world to do something good,

no matter how big or how small, for someone else

Beyoncé’s official World Humanitarian Day Performance Video is set in front of an audience at the United Nations General Assembly hall, and the singer performs in the midst of a stunning multimedia array of images of people in conflict. The viewer sees the elongated shadow of the pop star cast across vignettes of desperate people queuing for water at a relief truck, starving children receiving a mouthful of non-descript vittles, and aid workers in war-torn areas holding children that cannot be their own whilst fighting back tears. Meanwhile, Beyoncé sings composer Diane Warren’s lyrics:

I just want them to know

That I gave my all, did my best

Brought someone some happiness

Left this world a little better just because, I was here

Though indirect, “I Was Here” is intended to inspire action, to encourage millions of Beyoncé fans to become everyday “heroes” who ask, “what good can I do for someone else, no matter how big or small? How can I make the world a better place?”

In this lesson, students will learn a basic history of the United Nations, consider what might make a “hero,” and explore how Beyoncé’s, “I Was Here” and the United Nations World Humanitarian Day might inspire individuals to heroic acts.

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Upon completion of this lesson, students will:

  1. Know (knowledge):
    • What the United Nations is
    • About United Nations World Humanitarian Day
    • The definition of “hero” as well as various concepts of what makes a person “heroic”
    • How Beyoncé’s song “I Was Here” was used in collaboration with World Humanitarian Day
    • How music can be used to convey a positive message
  2. Mastery Objective:
    • Students will be able to discuss the definition of “hero” and consider how Beyoncé’s “I Was Here” might act as a call to action through analysis of its lyrics and video


Motivational Activity:

  1. Use a whiparound technique to have each student say the first thing that comes to mind when they hear the word “hero.”
  2. Ask students:
    • Thinking of the various answers we just heard, how might you define the word “hero”? What do you think might make a person a hero? (Share with students this definition of “hero,”: a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.)


  1. Tell students that you will return to the subject of “heroes” shortly, then show the “Headquarters of the United Nations” image and ask:
    • Do you know what this building is? Do you know where it is? (Encourage students to recognize that this is the United Nations Headquarters in New York, NY.)
    • Why do you think there are so many flags in front of the UN? Who does the United Nations represent? (Encourage students to consider that the UN represents 193 member states.)
    • What do you think the mission of the United Nations might be? Why might these 193 countries choose to participate?(Encourage students to consider that the UN was formed in 1945 after two World Wars in an effort to prevent further catastrophic wars. It also works to protect human rights and deliver humanitarian aid where needed.)
  2. Inform students that each August the UN hosts “World Humanitarian Day.” Show students the image, “António Guterres on the UN World Humanity Day.” Read it out loud as a class, and ask:
    • Who in Guterres’ statement do you think might be a “hero”? Why? What are they doing that might be considered “heroic”?
  3. Show the image “UN World Humanity Day Theme, 2012,” and ask students:
    • Considering this theme, who do you think has the capacity to be a “hero”?
  4. Play Clip 1, “Beyoncé performs ‘I Was Here’ for United Nations World Humanitarian Day.” (Note: this link will open to Beyoncé’s official UN video). Encourage students to pay close attention to both the song lyrics and the images they see in the video. Then, ask students:
    • In what ways do you think “I Was Here” is or isn’t aligned with the 2012 World Humanitarian Day theme?
    • How were you impacted by the setting of this performance? How was it different from where you might expect Beyoncé to perform?
    • How were you impacted by the images shown throughout this performance? Would you have interpreted the song differently if it was presented with different imagery?
    • Do you think the imagery suits the lyrics of the song? Why or why not?
    • How might “I Was Here” send a message about service to viewers? What kind of “big” or “small” acts of “something good” might one do? (Encourage students to think not only of large scale humanitarian acts, but little ways they can be “good” on a daily basis be it kindnesses, charity, helping friends and family, etc.)
    • Divide your students into small groups for the Gallery Walk – People as Heroes activity. Distribute one copy of Handout 1 – Gallery Walk Images  and one copy of Handout 2 – Gallery Walk Discussions Questions to each group. Have each group name a “scribe” who will record their answers as they complete the activity. Once the groups have completed the activity, discuss their answers as a class.

Summary Activity:

  1. Ask students:
    • Has your definition of a “hero” changed following today’s discussions? How can someone be a “hero”?
    • In what ways do you think you might be able to be “heroic”?

Extension Activity:

  1. Identify someone that you think of as a personal hero. It could be a national or international figure, a musician, a teacher, coach, or family member, etc. Write a short essay that uses the concepts of “heroism” you discussed in class to explain why you think this person is “heroic.”
  2. In 1994, The United States Congress passed legislation augmenting the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday as a “National Day of Service,” or, as proclaimed by Dr. King, “A day on, not a day off.” Write a bullet point action plan for your “Day On.” Thinking of your community and the resources around you, what might you do with your day of service to help others?


Common Core State Standards


National Core Arts Standards


  • Anchor Standard #7: Perceive and analyze artistic work.
  • Anchor Standard #8: Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work.
  • Anchor Standard #9: Apply criteria to evaluate artistic work.


  • Anchor Standard #11: Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural and historical context to deepen understanding.

Social Studies – National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)

  • Theme 1: Culture
  • Theme 2: Time, Continuity, and Change
  • Theme 4: Individual Development and Identity
  • Theme 5: Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
  • Theme 6: Power, Authority, and Governance
  • Theme 9: Global Connections

National Standards for Music Education

Core Music Standard: Responding

  • Select: Choose music appropriate for a specific purpose or context.
  • Analyze: Analyze how the structure and context of varied musical works inform the response.
  • Interpret: Support interpretations of musical works that reflect creators’ and/or performers’ expressive intent.
  • Evaluate: Support evaluations of musical works and performances based on analysis, interpretation, and established criteria.

Core Music Standard: Connecting

  • Connecting 11: Relate musical ideas and works to varied contexts and daily life to deepen understanding.

Career Technical Education Standards (California Model) – Arts, Media and Entertainment Pathway Standards

Design, Visual and Media Arts (A)

  • A1.0 Demonstrate ability to reorganize and integrate visual art elements across digital media and design applications.
    A1.1 View and respond to a variety of industry-related artistic products integrating industry appropriate vocabulary.
    A1.5 Research and analyze the work of an artist or designer and how the artist’s distinctive style contributes to their industry production.
    A1.9 Analyze the material used by a given artist and describe how its use influences the meaning of the work. ia, and Entertainment |
    A3.0 Analyze and assess the impact of history and culture on the development of professional arts and media products.
    A3.2 Describe how the issues of time, place, and cultural influence and are reflected in a variety of artistic products.
    A3.3 Identify contemporary styles and discuss the diverse social, economic, and political developments reflected in art work in an industry setting.
    A3.4 Identify art in international industry and discuss ways in which the work reflects cultural perspective.
    A4.0 Analyze, assess, and identify effectiveness of artistic products based on elements of art, the principles of design, and professional industry standards.
    A4.2 Deconstruct how beliefs, cultural traditions, and current social, economic, and political contexts influence commercial media (traditional and electronic).
    A4.4 Analyze the relationship between the artist, artistic product and audience in both an existing and self-generated project.
    A4.5 Analyze and articulate how society influences the interpretation and effectiveness of an artistic product.
    A5.0 Identify essential industry competencies, explore commercial applications and develop a career specific personal plan.
    A5.3 Deconstruct works of art, identifying psychological content found in the symbols and images and their relationship to industry and society.

Performing Arts (B)

  • B2.0 Read, listen to, deconstruct, and analyze peer and professional music using the elements and terminology of music.
    B2.2 Describe how the elements of music are used.
    B2.5 Analyze and describe significant musical events perceived and remembered in a given industry generated example.
    B2.6 Analyze and describe the use of musical elements in a given professional work that makes it unique, interesting, and expressive.
    B2.7 Demonstrate the different uses of form, both past and present, in a varied repertoire of music in commercial settings from diverse genres, styles, and professional applications.
    B5.0 Apply vocal and/or instrumental skill and knowledge to perform a varied repertoire of music appropriate to music industry application.
    B5.4 Employ a variety of music technology to record, integrate, or modify a live or recorded performance to produce a new artistic product.
    B5.7 Create melodic and rhythmic improvisations in a style or genre within a musical culture (gamelan, jazz, and mariachi).
    B7.0 Analyze the historical and cultural perspective of multiple industry performance products from a discipline-specific perspective.
    B7.3 Analyze the historical and cultural perspective of the musician in the professional setting.
    B8.0 Deconstruct the aesthetic values that drive professional performance and the artistic elements necessary for industry production.
    B8.1 Critique discipline-specific professional works using the language and terminology specific to the discipline.
    B8.2 Use selected criteria to compare, contrast, and assess various professional performance forms.