What’s Happening This Week
There is much more to explore in our calendar. Find other important events in literary history, authors' birthdays, and a variety of holidays, each with related lessons and resources.
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Celebrate blues legend Robert Johnson's birthday.
|Grades||5 – 12|
|Calendar Activity Type||Historical Figure & Event|
Known as the "King of the Delta Blues," Robert Johnson was born May 8, 1911, in Hazelhurst, Mississippi. His legendary recordings of such blues standards as "Cross Road Blues" and "Sweet Home Chicago" have had an astounding influence on blues singers and rock musicians for generations. His amazing talent and mysterious death in 1938 sparked an old blues folk tale that he sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his ability to play the guitar.
Having students write their own blues lyrics is a great way to teach rhythm, rhyme, and word choice. The most common form of the blues is referred to as the "12-bar blues" because of the twelve measures that are typical of the style. Share a blues song with your students before they begin to write, and distribute copies of the lyrics to a song with this structure. You may want to play a clip from Robert Johnson's "Cross Road Blues."
After looking at the lyrics, ask students to identify the structure used. They should be able to see that the lyrics of a 12-bar blues song often follow an AAB pattern. "A" refers to the first and second four-bar verses, and "B" is the third four-bar verse. In a 12-bar blues song, the first and second lines are repeated, and the third line is a response to them-often with a twist.
Next, brainstorm a list of subjects with your students about things that might give them "the blues." Then, have students choose a topic and try to write a blues song that follows the pattern they identified. Invite adventurous students to perform their songs!
- The Robert Johnson Notebooks
This thorough University of Virginia resource features a biography, song lyrics, and critical analyses of Johnson's work.
- The Blues: The Radio Series
Public Radio International produced this 10-hour radio series dedicated to the history and cultural influence of the blues.
- Robert Johnson's Blues
This College of Staten Island Library page offers a set of discussion questions. Students are asked to analyze the meaning, imagery, and tone of Johnson's songs.
- Trail of the Hellhound: Delta Blues in the Lower Mississippi Valley
This National Park Service site includes an overview of two styles of blues and extensive biographies of thirty bluesmen and blueswomen who created a rich legacy of American music that forms the foundation of today's popular music.
Grades 9 – 12 | Lesson Plan | Unit
Students will be singing the blues in this lesson in which they identify themes from "The Gift of the Magi" and write and present blues poetry based on those themes.
Grades 9 – 12 | Lesson Plan | Standard Lesson
Using the structure of a list poem, students combine creative expression with poetic techniques and language exploration in order to write group poems about what really matters in their lives.
Grades 9 – 12 | Lesson Plan | Unit
Students will whistle while they work on this lesson, creating a photomontage movie of their interpretation of a favorite song’s lyrics that will end everyone’s day on a high note.
Grades 3 – 5 | Lesson Plan | Standard Lesson
Students won’t miss a beat in this reading fluency lesson that combines music and poetry.