Woody Guthrie Elementary School Curriculum

Curriculum by Theresa Kubasak

"Who's Woody Guthrie?" a student asked.
"You know, he's the guy who wrote 'This Land is Your Land'," I informed him.
"Huh...I don't think I ever heard about him."

This curriculum is for Nick and all the other students so they will come to know the songs, stories and legacy of Woody Guthrie.

Singer, storyteller, artist, activist, author, and traveler: Woody Guthrie wove all of these qualities together, not limiting himself to just one form of expression. So too, this is the natural way to study Woody, weaving curriculum thematically, perhaps charting, singing and writing new verses for "So Long It's Been Good To Know Yuh" in language arts while studying a map of Oklahoma as part of social studies and researching the human causes of the dust bowl in science. Although it is possible to separate the different thematic spokes in this curricular wheel, realize that all of it spins together just as Woody's own qualities spin together.

Research shows that if students make connections among what they are asked to study they will actually learn more. Knowing this, imagine a thematic lesson on Dorothea Lange based on a thematic approach. Use the Mike Venezia biography of Dorothea Lange to introduce students to her work as a photographer who distinguished herself by documenting the lives of poor people. Examine her images of the dust bowl refugees taken in the 1930's in California. Simultaneously, trace Route 66 on a map of the United States, following the road most families traveled. How far is that journey from the dust bowl out to Bakersfield?

Samples of the children's work in Theresa Kubasak's second grade class.

There are two ways to study Lange, one as an artist who created beautiful images and two, as a social justice documentarian. Share Lange's famous photo of the poor mother and her two children in Nipomo, CA. Why are the children in the photo starving in the midst of California's lush "lettuce bowl"? Why does the mother look so haggard and hopeless? Why are the shelters made of cardboard and junk? What's wrong with this picture? "Is this land made for you and me?" as Woody Guthrie asks.

Do you know the following verse of Woody's "This Land is Your Land"?

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

It is this side of Woody Guthrie that is important for students today. He lived the social justice issues that Lange documented. His music is not afraid to confront the injustice of the times. Don't be afraid to share that with your class. Listen to "Do Re Mi" and delve into the meaning of the verses. Children will love the positive, happy melody but be challenged by the harsh reality of the chorus. Let students write their thoughts in their journals or have them write letters to the editor pretending it's 1939 and they are migrants from Oklahoma. Then, examine issues confronting farm workers today in California. What has changed? What remains the same? Write letters to the editor right now regarding rights of Mexican farm workers who pick grapes in California wine country.

An excellent piece of documentation validating Woody's activism is a plaque hanging up in the Woody Guthrie Archives from the John F. Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C. The silver letters proclaim that this "recognizes the exceptional contributions made by Woody Guthrie which reflect a deep personal commitment to the struggle for economic and social justice in America." (June 30, 1980) Besides the music, this is Woody's legacy.

John F. Kennedy Center Award

If these connections take you farther than you want to go, stay at the level with which you are comfortable. But remember, the connections among social studies, math, language arts and music are authentically braided together in this curriculum.

The curriculum is designed for children in grades two through four but may be adapted for other grades. See Classroom Bibliography regarding resources for shared, guided or independent reading.

For an excellent view of a thematic approach to the study of Woody Guthrie, read Chapter 8, "Research Study: Woody Guthrie" from Paula Rogovin's "The Research Workshop". (Heinemann 2001) A teacher at the Manhattan New School, Paula captures the energy of inquiry learning with young children. She also provides a complete list of skills related to the study of Woody Guthrie on pages 164-166.

Parents view the childrens' work in Theresa's second grade class



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