February 15th, 2002
Willie Nelson: All Together Now!
Procedures for Teachers


The teacher will need to:

  • Photocopy enough copies of the bookmarked song lyrics for each small group
  • Obtain a copy of FORREST GUMP, starring Tom Hanks, and cue it to Scene 16 on the DVD or the scene when Forrest decides to run across the country four times
  • Arrange for three other teachers to help with the small group discussions about the song lyrics. If this is not possible, then the teacher will have to float between groups.

Introductory Activity

Free Association Introductory Activity

  • Gather the students for a group meeting and ask them if anyone knows what “Free Association” is.
  • Explain to the students that you will say a word and they have to say the first thing that pops into their minds. The teacher should call on only one person at a time so the class does not get out of control.
  • Suggested words: dark, heavy, baseball, ice cream, summer, winter, spring, roads, cars, airplanes, trip, funny. It doesn’t matter what words you choose. The purpose is to get the students thinking.

Learning Activities

Students will be expected to work on their own through the following sequence of activities. However, before they do, the teacher will model “Steps 2 to 7″ before tackling them on their own. (As you go through the process, you should write down the order so that students can refer to it when it comes time to do it on their own.)

1. Now, write down the words “On the Road Again” on chart paper.

  • Tell the students that this is the name of a song and that they are going to “free associate” now.
  • What do you think the song is about? List all of their brainstorming ideas on the chart.
  • Why did they come up with those answers? What is the significance of the word “again”? What does it mean to be “on the road”? What does the “road” signify?

2. Show the students the lyrics and have them read the song to themselves.

3. The teacher should then read the song out loud to the students and then everyone reads the song in unison

4. Comprehension mini-lessons

  • Circle the words that they don’t know and discuss what they mean.
  • Circle the following words: makin’, goin’, seein’, turnin’ — what’s the pattern with those words and why are they like that? What should they be?
  • What is the mood of the song?
  • What is he saying?

5. At this point, it would be interesting for the kids to find out more about the singer/songwriter.

Many artists write songs about their lives, as Willie Nelson does, so giving the students a glimpse of his life could be helpful to their understanding of the reasoning behind his writing. Have the kids go to the section of the American Masters Web site devoted to Willie Nelson to explore the timeline of his life: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/database/nelson_w.html. Then, ask the kids to brainstorm why he wrote the words to “On the Road Again”. Discuss their ideas.

6. Now introduce the choral reading

  • Explain that the class will read the song in unison, but they have to show changes in moods, emotions, tones, etc. How will they do that? Clapping, loud vs. soft, high vs. low voices, girls’ vs. boys’ voices, single voice vs. multiple voices, emphasizing key words and phrases
  • Take suggestions.
  • Then perform it for the first time. The teacher should tape it and then play it back to the students.
  • Then take suggestions about how to improve it or make it more interesting. Make sure the students explain why they have made those suggestions.
  • Are there any ways to dramatize the song as the group is doing the choral reading? How can you incorporate it into the performance?
  • Practice, and practice some more.
  • Then tape the last time. Discuss the differences. Does it change the tone of the lyrics?
  • Go back and play the first try and the last try.

7. Distribute large chart paper with the following titles on them. Students will then begin their brainstorming session.

  • “Always On My Mind”
  • “Stardust”
  • “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”
  • “Crazy”
  • Any other Willie Nelson song that you’ve chosen

After the brainstorming session is done, distribute the song lyrics to the corresponding groups so they can begin to work on their choral reading together. They will use markers and highlighters to mark up their papers to help them with their reading. Hand out the “Choral Reading Checklist” so the group can make sure they’ve included all of the basic elements for their performance.

8. Once the practice is over, each group will perform for the whole class.

The class should make constructive comments or ask questions about the performance. Discuss the mood of the song. What is the main message of the song?

9. Next, it is time to revisit “On the Road Again.” Play the segment of FORREST GUMP where “On the Road Again” is in the background.

  • Why did Robert Zemeckis, the director of the movie, use the song here?
  • Does the song fit with what’s going on in the movie? Does this relate to your original thoughts about being “on the road”?
  • If you were going to make a music video for the song, what would you do?

10. Finally, have the students go back and look at the timeline.

Then, watch the first 15 minutes of the Willie Nelson episode of American Masters. The task for the students is to make a list of the most popular Willie Nelson songs that were mentioned in the lesson. They will then work in groups to write their own songs based on the titles. Teachers should also use this opportunity to point out that other country music artists were drawn to him because of his “songwriting” rather than his “entertaining.” This furthers the point that his writing and his lyrics were most important. Students can then be given the opportunity to perform their songs.


  • Give each group a copy of their song and ask them to act out a music video for the song.
  • Break the students up into different groups and tell them to pick a favorite poem and do a choral reading of it.
  • After reading the biography of Willie Nelson, the students can put together a research project or presentation related to any aspect of his life. These include: Farm Aid, golf, any of his recording partners, his old bands, etc.
  • Dan Rather once suggested, “We should add his face to the cliffs of Mt. Rushmore and be done with it.” Do you agree? Research Willie Nelson’s life starting with his biography and comments on the American Masters site and hold a debate about whether he deserves to be there.

Cross-Curricular Extensions

  • Using Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising” album, conduct similar activities and use the lyrics to discuss issues surrounding the events of September 11. Make sure you have enough adults to help lead these potentially sensitive or difficult discussions.
  • Learn to sing the Willie Nelson songs in music class.


  • Ask friends and colleagues to share their CD collections with you so you don’t have to buy the songs.

Inside This Lesson


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