Woody Guthrie Foundation and Archives Educational Curriculum

LANGUAGE ARTS: Literature Circles
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Introduction

Currently, wonderful resources exist for primary age children involved in literature circles. Using the format developed by Harvey Daniels, (Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs and Reading Groups, Stenhouse Publishers, 2002) teachers can facilitate literature circles and guide children through historical fiction about the dust bowl era in addition to biographies of Woody Guthrie.

The following books are suggestions for lit circles:

    • Dust for Dinner by Ann Turner
    • Poet of the People by Bonnie Christensen
    • This Land is Your Land by Kathy Jakobsen
    • Journal of C.J. Jackson: Dust Bowl Migrant by William Durbin
    • Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
    • This Land Was Made for You and Me by Elizabeth Partridge
    • Children of the Dust Bowl by Jerry Stanley
    • Dorothea Lange by Mike Venezia

Consult the Classroom Bibliography for an annotated description of these books as well as the recommended age for each.

Often, nonfiction is overlooked as a resource for literature circles. However, Cobblestone publishes a thematic magazine, "Appleseeds," which features an excellent article for young children about Woody Guthrie (January 2000). Students will love the photos from the Archives, including Woody and his singing group in Pampa, Texas, Woody at the beach in Coney Island building a sand castle with his children and Woody singing with kids in New York. This article is good for putting Woody's life in perspective; too often there is such a great emphasis on his life in association with the dust bowl that people forget he lived in New York on and off for about 25 years. The article contains a richness of dialogue from Nora Guthrie, Woody's daughter and Executive Director of the Woody Guthrie Foundation in New York City. The original handwritten "God Blessed America--This Land Was Made for You and Me" is featured along with the book by Kathy Jakobsen.

This issue, devoted to the guitar, has several nonfiction articles that could be used during this unit, especially a multicultural double page spread illustrating the development of guitar-like instruments from all over the world. From the balalaika in Russia to the oud in Iraq, students can learn about a diverse family of instruments.

Getting Started

The best preparation you can do is read these books yourself. Immerse yourself in learning about Guthrie as you become familiar with the reading level of the resources. Reading all the literature will provide excellent background if you sit down with any lit circle and become part of the grand conversation. In addition to using these books for lit circles you may wish to use these as read-alouds. Classrooms with a checkout system will have children bringing books home overnight. Whether you're doing shared, guided or independent reading, keep books from the classroom bibliography out during the entire unit on Woody Guthrie, using a bookshelf that shows the fronts of the books.

Activities

Engage students in lit circles for a period of several weeks or months using the resources suggested. (Refer to the Daniels' book as needed.) Immersion in the literature is the best way for students to learn about Woody's life and the issues he sang about.


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