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Texas Ranch House -- For Teachers
Meet the Adventurers
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Adventurers Take Stock
1867: Places, People & Events
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Lesson Plan 1
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Lesson Plan 3
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Overview
Procedures for Teachers
Introductory Activity:

1) Ask your students what they most like to do during their free time. What are their favorite activities? What gives them the most enjoyment? (Accept all student answers.) Tell your students that you would like to make a list of the favorite leisure activities of people their age. Ask your students to pair up with a neighbor and come up with a "top ten" list of the activities they most enjoy doing. Give your students a few minutes to complete this task.

2) After your students have had an opportunity to brainstorm, ask your students for their ideas. What do they feel are the most popular activities for people their age? Accept all answers, and list student responses on the board. Once your students have provided their responses, ask your students to help you narrow the list down to the "top ten"most popular activities. Once you have an agreed-upon top ten list, ask your students to write it down.

3) In all likelihood, many of the activities your students list will be somehow tied to technology. Point this out to your students, and ask them what technology is necessary to complete the activities they have listed. For example, if students have listed "listening to music" as a favorite activity, ask them how, primarily, they listen to music. Do they listen to CDs? The radio? To iPods? Do they get their music over the Web?

4) Ask students which of the top ten activities they listed would have been available to people living in the American West 150 years ago. (Accept all student answers.) Divide your students into two groups. Ask the first group to log on to "The History of Invention" Web site at http://www.cbc.ca/kids/general/the-lab/history-of-invention/default.html. Ask the second group to log on to the "Great Idea Finder" Web site at http://www.ideafinder.com/history/timeline/the1900s.htm. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, and ask them to use the timelines provided on the Web sites to determine if their "top ten" activities would have been available to people living in the American West 150 years ago. If they find the appropriate information, students should jot down the year that the technology needed for that activity became available. Give your students 10-15 minutes to investigate the timelines.

5) Refer your students back to the list on the board. Go through each item on the list individually, and check to see if your students have pinpointed a date when the technology needed for the activity (if any) became available. If an activity was NOT available in the West 150 years ago, erase it from the board. What items are left on the list? When did the technology needed for their favorite activities become available?

6) Ask your students to brainstorm what people did to amuse themselves on the American frontier. How did the settlers, ranchers, and cowboys entertain themselves? (Accept all student answers.)

7) Distribute the "How the West Was Fun" organizer to your students. Ask your students to log on to the "How the West Was Fun" essay at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/frontierhouse/frontierlife/essay9.html, or distribute the copies of the essay you made prior to class. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, and ask your students to review the essay, and answer the accompanying questions on the organizer.

8) Review your students' answers as a class. Ask your students why they think recreation and leisure time is so different today. Ask your students if they would rather be alive today or 150 years ago. (Student answers will vary.) Tell your students that in this lesson, they will be completing an in-depth exploration of two ways that settlers, cowboys, and ranchers spent their leisure time in the American West: through telling stories and making music.

Learning Activity:

1) Explain to your students that some of the most popular stories among settlers, cowboys, and ranchers during the nineteenth century were "tall tales. "Ask your students if they can define "tall tale" for you. (Accept all student answers.) Explain to your students that tall tales are stories characterized by:
  • Main characters with super-human strengths or abilities;
  • Impossible or silly plotlines;
  • Wildly exaggerated events;
  • A realistic, matter-of-fact tone;
  • Some bits of fact or real-life circumstances.
Write these characteristics on the board. Explain to your students that tall tales were often originally based on real people, but over time, as they were told and re-told and retold again, the details became more and more exaggerated and fantastic.

2) Tell your students that they will be examining some tall tales about Pecos Bill, a mythical Texas cowboy who was, in all likelihood, invented by ranchers and cowhands during the time of the Texas frontier. Distribute the "How Tall is Your Tale?" organizer to your students. Divide your students into three groups. Assign the first group to the story "Pecos Bill Finds a Hard Outfit." Assign the second group to the story "Pecos Bill Rides a Tornado." Assign the third group to the story "Pecos Bill and Slue-Foot Sue." Ask your students to log on to the Pecos Bill page of the American Folklore Web site at http://www.americanfolklore.net/pecosbill.html. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, and ask your students to read their assigned story and complete the information on their "How Tall is Your Tale?" organizer. Give your students 10-15 minutes to complete this task.

3) After your students have read the stories and completed the organizer, ask each group to share the information about the short story they read. What makes the story a tall tale? Review each group's answers to the questions on the organizer. Ask your students what real events may have inspired the stories of Pecos Bill. (Student answers will vary.)

4) Explain to your students that recently, a group of people had the chance to experience the life of 19th-century cowboys first-hand. They were participants in a "hands-on history" TV series called TEXAS RANCH HOUSE, and they agreed to live for more than four months under the conditions of ranchers and cowboys in 1867 Texas. One night, during a camp-out, the cowboys began telling tall tales.

5) Insert TEXAS RANCH HOUSE, Episode 5, "Showdown at the Cooke Corral"into your VCR or DVD player. CUE the video to where you see a group of three cowboys riding past a gate, and you hear the narrator say, "Heading out for their overnight cow hunt. . ." Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, and ask your students to listen to the excerpts from the tall tale and explain why "Rob Wrong's" name changed to "Rob Wright." PLAY the video. STOP the video when you see a cowboy's face, and you hear him ask, "Can I get an amen?" Ask your students why, according to the story, "Rob Wrong" changed his name to "Rob Wright." (According to the tall tale, "Rob Wrong" was a rough character from New Mexico who frequented "outfits of low character." He made his living by rustling, or stealing, cattle. Ultimately, "Rob Wrong" decided to feed every mouth he could, and he became known as Rob Wright.) Ask your students if they think this tall tale is true. (Student answers will vary.)

6) Explain to your students that the TEXAS RANCH HOUSE Web site provides some additional information on the participants featured in the program. Ask your students to log on to http://www.pbs.org/ranchhouse/meet_rob_wright.html. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, and ask them to determine if any of the information presented in the tall tale from the video is accurate, based on the Web site. Give your students five minutes or so to complete this task. Check for comprehension, and ask your students if any of the information presented in the tall tale is accurate. (One of the participants in TEXAS RANCH HOUSE is named Rob Wright, and he spent some time living in New Mexico. Other than that, none of the information presented on the Web site supports the tall tale.) Ask your students to remind you what the characteristics of a tall tale are. (Main characters with super-human strength or abilities; impossible or silly plotlines; wildly exaggerated events; a realistic, matter of fact tone; some bits of fact or real-life circumstances.) Reinforce to your students that a few basic facts about Rob Wright (his name and the fact that he lived in New Mexico) were spun into a tall tale.

7) Tell your students that it is now their challenge to create a brief tall tale based on the experiences of the participants in TEXAS RANCH HOUSE. Explain to your students that each of the participants in the project kept a video diary throughout the experience, and excerpts of the diaries can be viewed online. Ask your students to log on to the TEXAS RANCH HOUSE "Meet the Adventurers" Web site at http://www.pbs.org/ranchhouse/meet.html, asking them to watch a selection of the video diary excerpts, and select one to use as the basis for a tall tale. Once students have selected their video diary excerpt, they should think about how to exaggerate the information presented in the diary, how to give characters super-human strength, and how to make the plot impossible or silly. Like the Pecos Bill stories, the tall tales they create can be brief. . .between two and five paragraphs. Give your students sufficient time to create their tall tales, or ask them to create their tales for homework. Students should keep track of which TEXAS RANCH HOUSE participant and which video diary entry they are using as the basis for their tall tale.

Culminating Activity/Assessment:

1) Explain to your students that cowboys on the Texas frontier also used music to entertain themselves, to soothe restless cattle, and to occupy themselves during their long hours on the trail. Many of the songs cowboys sang are "ballads," or songs that tell a story. Ask your students if they can think of any songs that tell stories. (Student answers will vary; there are many songs that tell stories. "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is a very well-known example of a ballad.)

2) Ask your students to turn down the volume on their computers if they have speakers (the next Web site you will be visiting plays music nonstop). Ask your students to log on to the "Popular Songs in American History" Web site at http://www.contemplator.com/america/. Ask your students to scroll about three-quarters of the way down the page to the heading that reads, "Cowboys," and ask them to click on the title "Cowboy Jack." Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, and ask them to read the lyrics to this cowboy ballad, and to summarize the story of the song. Give your students a few minutes to complete this task. Check for comprehension, and ask your students to summarize the story in the song "Cowboy Jack." ("Cowboy Jack" is about a cowboy who quarreled with his girlfriend. He went away with a bunch of cowboys, but then missed his girlfriend too much. He came back to see her, but she had died by the time he reached her.)

3) Ask your students to page back one page to the index of cowboy songs. Ask your students to click on the link "The Streets of Laredo." Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, and ask them to read the lyrics to this cowboy ballad, and to summarize the story of the song. Give your students a few minutes to complete this task. Check for comprehension, and ask your students to summarize the story in the song "The Streets of Laredo." ("The Streets of Laredo" is about a cowboy who meets another cowboy who is dying. The dying cowboy has been shot in the chest, and he dies and is buried during the song.)

4) Finally, ask your students to page back one page to the index of cowboy songs. Ask your students to click on the link "The Yellow Rose of Texas." Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, and ask them to read the lyrics to this cowboy ballad, and to summarize the story of the song. Give your students a few minutes to complete this task. Check for comprehension, and ask your students to summarize the story in the song "The Yellow Rose of Texas." (In the song, a cowboy is riding back to see his girlfriend who from whom he has been separated for a long time.)

5) Explain to your students that you would like them to examine the lyrics of "The Yellow Rose of Texas" in more detail, because they will soon be writing brand-new verses for the tune based on their TEXAS RANCH HOUSE tall tale. Ask your students to write down the first verse of "The Yellow Rose of Texas," which is as follows: There's a yellow rose of Texas That I am going to see, No other fellow knows her, No other, only me. She cried so when I left her, It like to break my heart. And if I ever find her, We never more will part. Write the verse on the board, and tell your students to label each line of it. How many lines are there in the verse? (Eight lines). Ask your students to determine how many syllables are in each line. (There are eight syllables in line one, six syllables in line two, seven in line three, six in line four, seven in line five, six in line six, seven in line seven, and six in line eight. Write the number of syllables next to each line on the board.) Ask your students to examine how the lines in the verse rhyme. (The second and fourth lines rhyme, and the sixth and eighth lines rhyme.)

6) Challenge your students to create a new verse that follows the structure of "The Yellow Rose of Texas," and turns their TEXAS RANCH HOUSE tall tale (or a part of it) into a song. Students can create more than one verse if they wish. It is up to you to decide whether you want your students to follow both the line and rhyme structure in their verses, or just the line structure. You know your students and their abilities best.

7) Ask your students to share their new verses of "The Yellow Rose of Texas." Daring students may want to sing their verses (an audio file of the song is included on the "Popular Songs in American History" web site). Collect the original tall tales from your students, as well as the newly-created song verses, for assessment purposes. Do the stories contain all of the appropriate characteristics of tall tales? Does the song verse follow the line and rhyme structure of "The Yellow Rose of Texas?"

Cross-Curricular Extensions:

Science

Investigate how your older friends and relatives spent their leisure time in years past. What technology existed that supported recreation and leisure time? What new technology developed during their lifetime?

Research the life of the inventor who created one of your favorite pieces of technology (the television, the computer, the World Wide Web, the iPod, etc.)

Language Arts

Investigate other "tall tale" heroes such as Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed, Casey Jones, and Mike Fink. What do you think led to the creation of these folk heroes? On what truth might the stories about these heroes be based?

Research other historic ballads. What stories are they telling? What historical events are they describing? What is the structure of each verse? Can you write your own verses for these historic songs?

Create a contemporary tall tale using characters and settings from your school or neighborhood.

Community Connections:
  • Interview friends and family members about tall tales, urban legends, or other stories about your community.
  • Invite a local folk singer or traditional instrumentalist to perform at your school.
  • Visit a local museum or historical society to learn about what was happening in your community during the ranching era on the Texas frontier.

About the Author:

Christopher W. Czajka is the Educational Consultant for TEXAS RANCH HOUSE, and served in the same capacity for Thirteen/WNET's previous hands-on history series FRONTIER HOUSE and COLONIAL HOUSE. He also worked as a Historical Consultant on FRONTIER HOUSE. He is the Associate Director of the LAB@Thirteen, which creates, supervises, and executes community and educational outreach initiatives associated with Thirteen/WNET's broadcast and online productions. Czajka has developed substantial web-based resources associated with the PBS series AFRICAN-AMERICAN LIVES, BROADWAY: THE AMERICAN MUSICAL, and SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA. Czajka is a proud graduate of Northwestern University, and received an M.F.A. in Theater for Young Audiences from Arizona State University.





TEXAS RANCH HOUSE