Woody Guthrie's America

Contributor: Brian Anthony. Lesson ID: 12661

How would you describe your country? What message about it would you want to get across? Each generation a voice for one or another viewpoint rises and changes, if not the country, at least the music!


Musical Arts, United States

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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You are bombarded with music all day, covering every conceivable topic.

  • If you are a U.S. citizen, what song do you think best represents what the United States of America is all about?

Americans enjoy many patriotic songs and sing them for different occasions throughout the year.

There is the "Star-Spangled Banner," which serves as the national anthem. "Yankee Doodle" is another colonial-era hit that is revived on days like the Fourth of July, America’s Independence Day. Many patriotic songs are from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but there were a couple important entries in the catalogue of American patriotic songs in the twentieth century.

Listen to two of them now. As you listen, compare and contrast the two songs and answer the following questions:

  • Which song do you think better represents America? What makes you think so?
  • What is the difference in attitude or “feel” between the songs?
  • Do you think the songs portray America differently? What factors make you think there is a difference?

Now, listen to the songs below, then share your responses with your parent or teacher:

Kate Smith: God Bless America!:

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Woody Guthrie- This Land Is Your Land:

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It turns out that these two songs are linked in history, and in some ways represent two different ways of thinking about America: its greatest qualities and its challenges. Read this article about how these two songs are connected and uncover clues about what they might mean. As you read The Story of Woody Guthrie's 'This Land Is Your Land', by Nick Spitzer, courtesy of NPR, write down answers to the following questions:

  • How does “This Land Is Your Land” relate to Woody Guthrie’s own life experience?
  • What were some of the controversial lyrics to the song in its different versions?
  • How was “This Land is Your Land” related to “God Bless America”?

Record your responses and share them with your parent or teacher. Then, discuss the following questions:

  • How does knowing the background change your perception of the two songs you heard?
  • How are songs able to communicate ideas about a place and its history?
  • Is there a conflict between patriotism and honesty? Why or why not?

"This Land is Your Land" is Woody Guthrie’s most famous song. However, Guthrie wrote and performed countless songs that described the America he witnessed in his own time, and that expressed his views on how America really was and how it should be.

In the Got It? section, listen to some of Guthrie’s legendary tunes and take a closer look at his observations on the America of his day.

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