Woody Guthrie: the man and his music

Background | Discussion Questions | Activities | Teaching Resources


Biographical Information

Folk music


Before the video:

  1. What do you know of the political climate in the U.S. after WWII?
  2. What do you know about 'Blacklisting"
After viewing the video:

  1. What would you have done if you were asked to destroy the film about the dams? Keep in mind the temper of the times - who could you turn to and what would have been the consequence


  1. Read a Woody biography ( Woody Guthrie Foundation and Archives or American Studies Group at the University of Virginia) and prepare a three paragraph defense that could have been presented, on Woody's behalf, to the House Un-American Activities Committee.
  2. After reviewing the actions of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, write the lyrics to a folk song as Woody would have.
  3. Woody was not alone in his identification with the Communist Party. During the 30's and 40's the Communist Party experienced tremendous growth. Read a definition of communism (Encyclopędia Britannica or Encarta). What influenced the growth of the Party at this particular point in time?
  4. Written in the 1940's, This Land Is Your Land was considered a very patriotic song however, the last three verses of were routinely omitted. Look over these verses and explain why, given the tenor of the times, they were left off.
  5. Several lesson plans are available on the Web that explore the comparison of Arthur Miller's The Crucible to the McCarthy Era.
    Individual sites:
  6. Listings and ratings of several Crucible teaching sites: ExxonMobil Masterpiece Theatre's American Collection: American Literature Resources

Other teaching resources:

A Tribute to Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly Teacher's Guide
print guide Music Educators National Conference
Description: A collection of audio, video, and printed materials exploring the music and influences of Woody Guthrie and Huddie Ledbetter ("Leadbelly"), two of the most influential musicians in American folk and popular music. Designed for classroom use with students from the upper elementary through high school levels.

  • The Teacher's Guide provides notes on objectives and strategies, ideas for student activities, and all the pages contained in the student textbook, not including the music. Also includes worksheets and quizzes that teachers may copy and distribute to students. By Will Schmid. 1990. 64 pages. ISBN 0-940796-85-6. #3065.
  • The Student Textbook provides a brief history of American music's roots in African and European music; follows the lives of Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly, the stages of their musical development, and their influences on folk and popular music; and includes transcriptions of songs selected from Folkways: The Original Vision and Folkways: A Vision Shared. By Will Schmid. 1990. 48 pages. ISBN 0-940796-84-8. #3064. Folksong in the Classroom, 1992-93. Scott, John W., Ed. ; Seidman, Laurence, Ed. In: Folksong in the Classroom v8 n1-3 Fall-Spr 1993 (also available as ERIC document ED391731) Abstract (from the ERIC database): The eighth volume of
  • "Folksong in the Classroom" covers three periods in U.S. history where folk music was a cornerstone in the lives of people. [...] The second issue refers to the Depression and New Deal where many immigrants worked long hours in factories. Songs created during this time reflect the abuse of big business and the forced labor of young children. This issue concludes with a bibliography/discography, song notes, and suggestions for teachers... (JAG)


Books and other materials

Guthrie, Woody. Bound for Glory.New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1943. [Reprinted 1995]

Pastures of Plenty. Edited by Dave Marsh and Harold Leventhal. New York: Harper Collins, 1990. Seeds of Man: An Experience Lived and Dreamed. New York: Dutton, 1976. [Reprinted 1995]

Guthrie, Woody and Kathy Jakobsen, illustrator. This Land is Your Land. New York: Little, Brown & Co., 1998. [Children's Book]

Guthrie, Woody and Margorie Mazia Guthrie. Woody's 20 Grow Big Songs. New York: Harper Collins, 1992. [Children's Book and Cassette Tape]

Klein, Joe. Woody Guthrie: A Life. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1980. [Reprinted 1999]

Longhi, Jim. Woody, Cisco, and Me: Seamen Three in the Merchant Marine. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997.

Santelli, Robert and Emily Davidson, eds. Hard Travelin': The Life and Legacy of Woody Guthrie. Wesleyan University Press; Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 1999.

Yates, Janell. Woody Guthrie: American Balladeer. New York: Ward Hill Press, 1995. [Juvenile literature]

Web sites:


  • Woody Guthrie: Hard Travelin'. Brown, Jim, dir. Perf. Guthrie, Arlo. MGM/UA Home Video, 1984.
  • Bound For Glory. Ashby, Hal, dir.Perf. David Carradine. MGM/UA Home Video, 1986.


  • Columbia River collection Guthrie, Woody. Cambridge, Mass. : Rounder, 1987.
  • Dust Bowl Ballads. 1940. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Folkways Records, 1997.
  • Guthrie, Woody. Woody Guthrie: Library of Congress Recordings. 1964. Reissue. Cambridge, Mass.: Rounder Records Corp., 1988.
  • Guthrie, Woody. Woody Guthrie This Land Is Your Land. The Asch Recordings Vol. 1. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Folkways Records, 1997.