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Lesson Plan #1 for "West Ho! & Songs of the West" - The Poem: "There Once Was A West"
Teachers how would you like to teach a unit on the West using a Quilt? How about a quilt that sings? That's right - sings! Well, here it is - the History Folk-Art Singing Quilt with songs that span a period of History from the Lewis and Clark Expedition to the Transcontinental Railroad and two songs that go just beyond the Railroad period - 1869 to 1875.
So how do we get started on a unit of the West using a quilt? Let me outline the idea. First of all, the teacher discusses with the class the word "theme" which is written on the board or butcher paper. (Theme - A topic of discourse or discussion. In Music. The principal melodic phrase in a composition, especially a melody forming the basis of a set of variations.) The teacher say in a few minutes I am going to play you a Poem with a musical background and narration called 'There Once Was a West'. In this poem there is a theme in both the words and the music." Students offer ideas and suggestions relating to both the musical theme and the topic theme of the narration. The teacher writes them down. You can also use the "Mind Map" or "Word Cluster" approach on the butcher paper.
After about 5 minutes of this, you introduce to your class from a CD, The Poem: "There Once Was a West". This is a poem which is narrated by Dale Pryor, a direct descendant of Sergeant Nathaniel Pryor a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804 to 1806. This touch adds a most exciting element of history and zest to kick off the unit. The poem is on a CD or Cassette called "West Ho! & Songs of the West" by Bernie Griff and a group of 20 musicians and vocalists. There is a musical background Western Theme to the poem which helps the students to conceptualize, envision, imagine and picture the entire unit - The West.
My classes had been singing these songs for about two years to learn about certain themes and concepts of history such as The Lewis and Clark Expedition, Mountain Men, Going West, the Gold Rush Period, The Pony Express and the Transcontinental Railroad. We decided to create a quilt of the songs and the students would do a report on the square that he or she created. That was the beginning of "West Ho! & Songs of the West".
The poem tells a panorama of all the songs from a student quilt project and acts like a very brief descriptive outline of all the songs on the CD or Cassette. At the back of the "West Ho!" Songbook that accompanies the CD or Cassette, are the squares of the quilt that represent the songs and the Poem. This quilt was created by Bernie Griff's 4th grade class and dedicated to their school Library where it now hangs in San Anselmo, California at the Brookside Upper Campus School - a Distinguished School of California. Each square has the name of the student and the song the square represents. Your students will enjoy seeing what my fourth graders accomplished in this unusual project.
Your students will have the following materials passed out to them. 1) A copy of the Poem - "There Once Was a West", 2) A sheet of paper to write Main Events from the poem and explanations and 3) Their text books. They listen to the poem twice. They may be writing during the poem of course. They pick out as many of the main events that they perceive from the narration of the poem and write them down in a list. Order doesn't matter at this point - just getting down their ideas. The explanations need only be a sentence or two that supports their choice of their Main Idea or event. It could be a famous name or place or event. This is a fine activity in critical thinking, condensing information and supporting your thinking with facts. The poem is 2:36, so it doesn't take up much time. After hearing the poem twice, they continue to write for 15 minutes.
After the time is up, students share with the class their lists and explanations for another 15 minutes. This is an excellent way to have an overview of the unit of the West you are kicking off.
For additional assignments, Students could use any of several approaches including: making a list of instruments used in the background music of the poem (Musical Brain), Write a report on Sergeant Nathaniel Prior of the Lewis & Clark Expedition (Linguistic Brain), with a group of 4, create a poster depicting 4 of the events from the poem (Visual/Spacial Brain). To add an effect, students more of the linguistic bent could create a clever caption for the poster with a witty slogan or saying for example: If the poster were depicting the Shoshone Indian guide - Sacagawea - the saying might be "Bird Women Guide Past The Great Divide".
HERE ARE SOME OF THE SQUARES FROM THE QUILT:
These squares represent some of the songs: "Princess of the West" by
Lauren Nance (about Sacagawea and The Lewis & Clark Expedition), "The Ballad of James Beckwourth" by Quinn Harrison (about a famous Black Mountain Man), "The Oregon Trail Hornpipe" by Sarah Janko (an instrumental dance tune that tells of the trip on the Overland Trail), "By The Great Horn Spoon" by Andrew Bartshire (a song about some characters going west as stowaways on a ship and is from author Sid Fleischman's story of the same name. This is a very popular whimsical story of going to the gold fields.), "Fremont's Flag" by Drew Garrett (about California's Bear Flag Revolt) and the last square is the theme of the CD/Cassette: The Poem - "There Once Was A West" by William Van Wijnen and Bernie Griff.
So there you have it. Going West by quilt! I hope you get a chance to try this magic musical carpet ride on the Oregon Trail. You might even try constructing your very own western quilt trail West!
If you are interested in getting more information on the CD/Cassette and Songbook: "West Ho! & Songs of the West", contact Bernie Griff at email@example.com, visit his website for further information at - www.nbn.com/~bgriff/ or simple write to - Bernie Griff - P.O. Box 81 - San Geronimo, California 94963. If you would like to call: 415-488-9553.
The rest of the songs on the CD/Cassette include: Princess of the West, Jedediah, Where Ya Goin'?, The Ballad of James Beckwourth, Fremont's Flag, Ballad of the Bowie Knife, James Marshall's Gold, Wagons Rollin' West, The Oregon Trail Hornpipe, By The Great Horn Spoon, The Empire Mine, Lotta Crabtree, Nellie Cashman, Sam Hamilton's Ridin', Black Bart the Po8, The Big Four, and The Railroad Builders.
There will be FREE LESSON PLANS available for other songs on the CD/Cassette at my Website for teachers to download. This CD/Cassette and Songbook will be useful for College instructors teaching classes on the West or Gold Rush and helpful for Instructors of Teacher Education Classes as well for helping teachers to develop units.
The songbook has Wordsearch Activities and an answer key for Teachers. There is also a "Tall Tale" writing activity that works well with the whimsical song "Jedediah, Where Ya Goin'?" about Jedediah Strong Smith - famous Mountain Man. Also the songbook has pictures by students from Mr. Griff's 4th grade class.
(Bernie Griff is a former 4th grade teacher of the Ross Valley School District's Brookside School, Upper Campus in San Anselmo California. He is now at work on recording songs of the Train era of Marin County, California where he lives.)
Other Lesson Plans will soon be added for songs from "West Ho!". Bernie Griff