by Trent Reznor

Writing Workshop

Workshop Title: Hurt

Step 1

Say, “Has there ever been a time when you’ve felt completely disconnected from everybody and everything? A time when you’ve felt particularly low, remorseful, isolated, etc. Why did you feel that way?” If your students feel comfortable enough to share, give them 5-10 minutes to discuss.

*If your students feel discomfort with this topic of discussion, then excuse them from this activity.

Step 2

Watch a live recording of Trent Reznor’s “Hurt,” performed by his band Nine Inch Nails. Have your students pay particular attention to not only the lyrics of the song, but also the instruments used, the tempo, the tone of his voice, etc. When you’re done, briefly discuss the ways Reznor illustrates both the speaker’s “hurt” and hope.

Step 3

Say, “Choose an instance in which you’ve felt an immense sense of hurt, a feeling that left you alone, isolated, upset, remorseful, etc. Then try to come up with as many descriptors as possible to illustrate those feelings. When you’ve come up with those examples, come up with another list: the feelings, however fleeting they may have been, that gave you a sense of hope in those dark times. Take 5-10 minutes to brainstorm.”

*Again, if your students don’t feel comfortable writing about and/or sharing these feelings, they may write about something else or simply write from the perspective of somebody else.

Step 4

Ask your students to write a poem similar in sentiment to Trent Reznor’s “Hurt” in which they convey their feelings of “hurt” and their feelings of hope within those dark times.

Step 5

When the students are done, have them share their responses with one another, if they feel comfortable doing so.

The full presentation may be found HERE.

Analytical Lesson

Area of Focus: Various

Step 1

This lesson allows students to analyze various concepts and skills, so it is recommended that you have covered several of the “standalone” lessons before assigning this one. The prominent literary devices & techniques that this particular song includes are diction, figurative language, structure, and tone.

Step 2

Start by asking your students a question, “If you were tasked to write a song about happiness, what kind of things would you take into consideration and/or include?” Have them briefly discuss. Then ask them to discuss how they’d compose a song about sadness. What elements would differ? Why?

Step 3

After several responses, simply reiterate that the creation of an impactful, meaningful song is reliant not only on the song’s lyrics, but also on the choice of instruments used, the tempo of the piece, the pitch of the vocals, etc. Simply put, there are many, many different elements that need to be taken into consideration.

Step 4

Ask your students to open the following presentation and go over the introduction and directions with them. In this assignment, your students will analyze the song “Hurt” by Trent Reznor/Nine Inch Nails and create vocal annotations on both the auditory and lyrical elements that contribute to the meaning of the work as a whole. Then give your students time to work on the activity.

Step 5

When about 20 minutes remain in the class, ask your students to wrap up and have them briefly share their responses with one another. After a few students have shared, show the following clip from Song Exploder in which Reznor discusses his thought/creative process behind the composition of the song.

Extension Activity (Optional)

Step 1

When the students have completed the initial assignment for Trent Reznor’s recording of “Hurt,” students have the option of completing an extension assignment: an analysis of Johnny Cash’s rendition of the song. First, ask your students to re-open the Google Slides presentation that they were working in and scroll to slide 5.

Step 2

Watch the historical context behind Cash’s rendition of “Hurt” on the following slide.

Step 3

When you’re done watching the brief clip, go over the instructions for the extension assignment. In this assignment, your students are going to have to compare/contrast the two iterations of “Hurt” and determine what is gained/lost with Cash’s interpretation and rendition of it. When you’ve gone over the directions, show the music video to Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” on the following slide. Then give your students time to work on the assignment.

Step 4

When your students are done, have them share their responses with one another.

Lesson Details

Lesson Info


  • Various


  • Aging
  • Death / Grief
  • Friendship
  • Health / Health Care / Illness
  • History
  • Mental Health
  • Violence

Literary Tags

  • Diction
  • Figurative Language
  • Structure
  • Tone

Content Warning

  • Suicide and Self-Harm
  • Violence