Lesson 2: Exploring “John Henry”
|Aim: How can we understand how music tells a story through the old-time song “John Henry?”
Summary: Students learn and sing expressively to “John Henry” while understanding how music can be used to tell a story.
Materials: Musical Explorers CD or online audio, pencils
Time Required: 30 minutes (three 10-minute activities)
Standards: GA: MK-2GM.1, MK-2GM.6, MK-2GM.7, MK-2GM.9, MK-2GM.10
SC: MGK-2.1, MGK-2.4, MGK-2.5, MGK-2.6
Vocabulary: ballad, folk tale, lyrics
Listen to “John Henry”
- Listen to Kaia sing the old-time song “John Henry,” Track 18
“John Henry” is a type of song called a ballad. A ballad is a story that is set to music.
- “John Henry” is based on a folk tale. A folk tale is a story that is passed down through oral tradition. Just like folk music, it is passed from generation to generation.
- Explain that John Henry was an African-American folk hero who was famous for hammering steel to construct a railroad tunnel. He was placed in a contest against a steam-powered hammer and he won!
- Ask students to pretend to hammer their railroad steel spikes. Ask them to find the steady beat by playing their “hammers” while they listen.
|When John Henry was a little baby, he was sitting on his papa’s knee.
He picked up a hammer and a little piece of steel;
Saying, “Hammer’s gonna be the death of me, Lord, Lord.
Hammer’s gonna be the death of me.
Hammer’s gonna be the death of me.”
The captain said to John Henry
John Henry told his captain,
Now the man that invented the steam drill
|John Henry hammered in the mountain
And his hammer was striking fire.
He worked so hard, he broke his poor heart.
And he laid down his hammer and he died.
He laid down his hammer and he died.
John Henry had a little woman.
Well, every Monday morning
Explore the Lyrics in “John Henry”
- Lyrics are the words to a song.
- How do the lyrics help to tell John Henry’s story?
- Using the graphic organizer on SG13, use words and pictures to summarize the folk tale of John Henry.
Literacy Extension: Read about John Henry
John Henry: An American Legend by Ezra Jack Keats tells the story of John Henry and the steam drill, as well as other tales of the folk hero.
Sing More Old-Time Songs!
Many traditional children’s songs come from the old-time tradition, including “Froggy Went A-Courtin’,” “She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain,” “The Bear Went Over the Mountain,” “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” and “Oh Susanna.” Like Kaia’s songs in this unit, many of the songs come from West Virginia and have similar themes, including mountains, railroads, and working. “Oh Susanna” even features a banjo in its chorus!
Musical Word Wall
Add ballad, folk tale, and lyrics to the Musical Word Wall.
SG13 ↓ Download File
Musical Explorers Audio Tracks