The Poetry of Woody Guthrie
Guided Reading Mini-Lesson
Excerpted from Creating Readers with Poetry by Nile Stanley (2004, Maupin House, ISBN: 0-929895-70-3).
Reprinted with permission from the author and publisher.
FOCUS: Reading a biography and learning about the American folksong.
Grade Levels: 3, 4, 5, 6
This mini-lesson uses Woody Guthrie: Poet of the People (2001, illustrated by Bonnie Christensen, New York: Knopf Books for Young Readers) as its source.

Woody Guthrie wrote more than a thousand songs. “This Land is Your Land” has become an unofficial national anthem. Here is the best known of the song’s seven verses:


This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island,
From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf Stream waters,
This land was made for you and me.

Content: Students will learn about:
  • Literature: biography of folk musician Woody Guthrie
  • History: America’s Great Depression and social justice
  • Music: folksong genre
  • Art: telling America’s story through song and pictures
Skills: Students will develop
  • Oral fluency through reading and singing
  • Vocabulary by making picture collages of concepts
  • Comprehension by retelling and journal writing
  • Self-expression by writing an original poem or song
  • Poetry: Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
  • Literature: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • Music: samples of today’s folksongs
Before Reading
Play an excerpt of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” Let children sing along if they know the lyrics.
Preview: Show them the book’s cover and read the author's and illustrator’s names.
Build Background: Show children the rich illustrations throughout the book. Guide them to notice the time and place of the pictures.
Predict: Ask children to make various predictions about the book. “When do you think Woody Guthrie wrote the song? Why do you think he wrote the song?”
Pre-Teach Vocabulary: Discuss briefly key concepts and vocabulary: folksinger, anthem, patriotism, Great Depression, and Dust Bowl.
Connect: If the children have read, heard, or experienced related stories, ask them to make connections to the current poem. “How is this song like some of the other stories and poems we have read? Why is Woody Guthrie similar to others that we have studied in American history? Does he remind you or any singer/rapper you have heard on the radio or TV?”
During Reading
First Reading: Have students read silently or whisper-read the text by themselves.
Repeat-Read Orally as a Whole Group: Monitor their fluency. Pronounce key words and phrases.
Read Aloud Individually: Project the poem on a screen. Have a child point to each word as the poem is read. Monitor the match of voice to printed words.
After Reading

Content Focus:

  • Have children paraphrase the poem.
  • Summarize what was learned form the poem.
  • Connect the poem to previous learning.
  • Write a journal.
About the Author: Dr. Nile Stanley, affectionately known as "Nile Crocodile, the Reading Reptile," is a reading specialist, researcher, and professor of education at the University of North Florida. He is a performance poet and is the author-in-residence for Sallye B. Mathis Elementary in Jacksonville, Florida. You may visit Dr. Stanley's Web site here:
The teachers here at the Oasis have used and highly recommend Dr. Stanley's book Creating Readers with Poety. You may purchase the book from your local bookstore or online from the publisher Maupin House.
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