October 28th, 2003
Woody Guthrie: Ain't Got No Home
Procedures for Teachers


Media Components

Computer Resources:

  • Modem: 56.6 Kbps or faster.
  • Browser: Netscape Navigator 4.0 or above or Internet Explorer 4.0 or above.
  • Personal computer (Pentium II 350 MHz or Celeron 600 MHz) running Windows95 or higher and at least 32 MB of RAM and/or Macintosh computer running System 8.1 or higher and at least 32 MB of RAM.

Bookmarked sites:

Prior to teaching this lesson, bookmark all of the Web sites to be used on each computer in your classroom, or upload all links to an online bookmarking utility such as www.portaportal.com. Preview all of the Web sites, listed below, and video clips used in the lesson to make certain that they are appropriate for your students.

Bookmark the following sites:


Teachers will need the following supplies:

  • TV/VCR/DVD player
  • Chalkboard or Whiteboard
  • copy of AMERICAN MASTERS’ “Woody Guthrie: Ain’t Got No Home”
  • Pen and Pencil
  • Computer with Internet access

Introductory Activity: Which Side Are You On?

GOAL: Woody Guthrie’s father was a life-long Democrat who felt threatened by the rise of socialism in America in the 1920s. Woody, however, embraced the tenets of socialism and communism as he traveled the country and saw the devastation of Hoover’s laissez-faire attitude toward the Great Depression. This activity is designed to give students an introduction to political terminology to assist them in understanding the political spectrum as it existed in Guthrie’s time and how people aligned themselves in order to make sense of the Depression and events in Europe.

Part I

Introduction: Before starting this activity have students find a topical news article online or from a newspaper, preferably one that deals with government affairs and can be used to illustrate right, moderate or left wing reasoning in political and economic affairs. (The PBS Online NewsHour at http://www.pbs.org/newshour is a good place to find such an article.)

Before bringing it to class, they will read, highlight and summarize the article in five to eight sentences. Ask students what they think of when they hear the terms “left-wing” or “right-wing” and ask them to give specific examples of how these terms are used. Explain to students that the terms Left and Right, used to refer to political affiliation, originated early in the French Revolutionary era, and referred originally to the seating arrangements in the legislative bodies of France. The aristocracy sat on the right of the Speaker (traditionally the seat of honor) and the commoners sat on the Left, hence the terms Right-wing politics and Left-wing politics. You may want to mention that many of these distinctions have become blurred in our time, but that they were very much a part of political definitions during Woody Guthrie’s time.

1. Hand out copies of Which Side Are You On?

2. Students will be using the website “A Glossary of Political Terminology” by Dr. Paul M. Johnson and will be looking for definitions of “left-wing” and “right-wing” and then for the terms anarchism, capitalism, communism, conservatism, moderate, fascism, liberalism, fundamentalism, socialism.

3. After students have found their definitions, make a left-wing – right-wing continuum on the white board or chalk board and have students place the seven terms on the appropriate place on the continuum. The following is an example of how you should set up the board:

Extreme Left-Wing Extreme Right-Wing
Anarchism socialism moderate fascism
Communism liberalism conservatism fundamentalism

(Students will place the terms along the line above based on how extreme or moderate the term is based on their research.)

4. Have students duplicate this continuum on a piece of paper. They will then use the topical news articles they did for homework and find facts and quotations from the article that represent the orientation of the terms they have researched. Have them copy these facts and quotations onto their continuum and explain what relationship they have to the political terminology they have learned.

5. Have students share their findings in a class discussion. You can use the following questions as a guide:

  • What key words and phrases did you use to decide where to put selected facts and quotations? How do members of the right feel about this issue? How do members of the left feel about it?
  • Did you find any of the terms or phrases being used as criticism in your article? Give examples.
  • Many of these terms are almost 200 years old. Are they still useful today? If so, how are the terms useful?

Part II

Introduction: Definitions of political terms may take on deeper meaning for students if they have an opportunity to examine their own attitudes. In order to help students clarify their own political orientation, have them take the following survey. You may also want to have them administer this survey to parents, teachers and friends to provide a basis for future discussion

1. Hand out copies of the Political Orientation Survey.

2. Give students approximately 15 minutes to answer the questions and then go over their responses using the key below: (The terms in parentheses indicate the political inclination of each term.)

  • Which is more important to you:
    a. security (right)
    b. freedom (left)

  • The government should:
    a. be very involved with moral issues. (right)
    b. have almost no involvement with moral issues. (left)

  • The government should:
    a. be very involved in regulating the economy in order to make sure all people are well taken care of financially. (left)
    b. allow business to run without interference to provide jobs and opportunities for people. (right)

  • People are:
    a. basically good and will do the right thing. (right)

    b. basically bad and need strict laws to make them do the right thing. (left)

  • Human nature, and society by extension, are:
    a. basically fixed and change very little over time. (right)
    b. meant to change as conditions in the world change. (left)

  • Military service should be voluntary. There should be no draft.
    Agree (left) Disagree (right)

  • There should be no laws regarding sex for consenting adults.
    Agree (left) Disagree (right)

  • Because of the current political climate, all persons should carry a national identification card.
    Agree (right) Disagree (left)

  • All government welfare programs should be taken over by private charities.
    Agree (right) Disagree (left)

  • Taxes and government spending should be cut by 50% or more.
    Agree (right) Disagree (left)

3. Use the following questions to debrief the results of the survey:

  • Are you surprised by the results of this survey?
  • If you consider yourself liberal, did any of your responses correspond with a right-wing orientation?
  • If you consider yourself conservative, did any of your responses correspond with a left-wing orientation?
  • Which of these issues do you feel mostly strongly about?
  • How do your responses correspond with the political terminology we have learned?
  • How are political opinions formed?
  • Because of their stance on various issues, politicians can become labeled, for example, conservative Republicans or moderate Democrats. How are these terms useful in discussing issues in a democracy?
  • Give examples of how these terms are used in political and economic discussions today.
  • Although most people would resist being labeled, what purpose does allegiance with a political ideology serve today?
  • How do political beliefs get translated into political activism?

Learning Activity: The Labor Movement in America

GOAL: Woody Guthrie could walk away from his wife Mary and their three children for months at a time, but he was always available to sing at labor rallies or lend a hand bringing supplies to migrant workers. This activity is a simple guided reading designed to help students build their understanding of the importance of the labor movement in America during the late 19th and early 20th century in America.

1. Show the following clips from “Woody Guthrie: Ain’t Got No Home” to give students a visual foundation of the Dust Bowl, the Depression and the role of the labor movement in Woody Guthrie’s life.

  • 8:35 – 28:00 – the dust storm of 1935 through Woody’s performances for the Communist Party and labor functions.
  • 37:45 – 47:30 – “Ballad of Tom Joad” to Harry Bridges and the Longshoreman’s Union.

2. Students will use the U. S. History.com web site entitled American Labor: 1830 to Present and a set of reading guide questions to develop an understanding of the development of the labor movement in the United States from the 19th century. The reading could also be copied into a word processing document that can be printed for all the students in the classroom if necessary.

3. Using the information gathered in their reading guides, students will write a position paper on one of the following topics:

Prompt A: The American labor movement was a disaster for American industry and business. The American economy can be strong only if business leaders are allowed to use their expertise freely to guide the production and distribution of goods and services. If American business is allowed to function with minimal government restraint or interference from unions, it will grow and provide jobs and security for more workers. American industry cannot grow if it is being hampered by demands for benefits. Workers should provide for their own retirement and medical and dental care out of their wages.

Prompt B: The work of the American labor movement is not finished. The American worker is the true producer of American wealth. American business owners continue to make obscene profits while trying to undermine the gains of the American labor movement in terms of wages, hours, benefits and working conditions. Only a healthy, well-educated and secure workforce can keep America strong in the face of international competition.

4. Before students hand in their position papers, conduct a classroom discussion using the following questions:

  • What made the union movement necessary in the United States?
  • What were the unions’ most effective strategies in improving working conditions?
  • What are the criticisms that could be leveled against unions?

Culminating Activity: The Music of Woody Guthrie

GOAL: Woody Guthrie was not a virtuoso guitar player nor did he possess the smooth singing voice of the singing cowboys of his day. Most of the tunes he used were caged from the old folk and hillbilly tunes he learned from his mother and while riding the rails as a young man. This activity will focus on his lyrics specifically those songs that he wrote as a response to popular songs whose premise he found offensive in light of the suffering he saw around him during the Great Depression.

1. Show the following clips from “Woody Guthrie: Ain’t Got No Home”

  • 00:34 – 3:45 – the story of “This Land is Your Land” to opening credits
  • 25:00 – 35:00 – Forrest Theater performance through Dust Bowl Ballads
  • 58:24 – 1:01:20 – the Asch Recordings through Springsteen on ownership of music

2. Reinforce the point made in the video that Woody Guthrie was angered by what he saw as the sappy sentimentality of Kate Smith’s version of “God Bless America” and that as much as he admired the Carter Family, their song “Can’t Feel at Home” sent the wrong message to people experiencing the despair of the Great Depression.

3. Hand out copies of The Lyrics of Woody Guthrie. If possible, have students listen beginning to end to “God Bless America,” “This Land is Your Land,” “Can’t Feel at Home” and “Ain’t Got No Home.”

4. In a class discussion, have students share their responses to the questions on the handout.

Inside This Lesson


Produced by THIRTEEN    ©2015 Educational Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.