American Masters
Home About the Series Current Season Six Degrees Game For Teachers Masters List A-Z
For Teachers   
Under Joni Mitchell's Influence
Overview Procedures for Teachers Oranizers for Students


If possible, purchase or borrow "Hits" by Joni Mitchell - this CD includes all of the songs that will be used in this lesson. If you can't obtain a copy, visit this area of the official Joni Mitchell Web site,, which features free sound clips that students can access easily.

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 Windows 95 or higher and at least 32 MB of RAM and/or Macintosh computer: System 8.1 or above and at least 32 MB of RAM.
  • Software: A word processing program. Any presentation software such as Power Point or HyperStudio (optional).
Bookmarked sites:


Teachers will need the following supplies:
  • TV and VCR
  • Video of AMERICAN MASTERS: Joni Mitchell - Woman of Heart and Mind

Introductory Activity:

1. Write the following questions on the board:
  • What does the word influence mean?
  • What does it mean to be influenced by someone?
  • Who influences you the most in your life?
  • What does it mean to be an influential person?
2. Break the students up into groups of 3 or 4. Ask the student groups to discuss the questions above.

3. After 15 or 20 minutes, have the class come together and share their ideas. The most important discussion centers around the final question, "What makes someone an influential person?"

4. Watch the AMERICAN MASTERS episode "Joni Mitchell - Woman of Heart and Mind." As the students watch the program, they should look for the influences in Joni Mitchell's life.
  • How did Bob Dylan influence Mitchell?
  • How did her personal relationships influence her work?
    • Frank Mitchell, ex-husband - What was the effect of his presence on her performance and her writing?
    • Graham Nash, ex-boyfriend - How did they influence each other in their writing, within their social circles, and within their professional lives? How did their eventual break-up influence her songwriting?
    • David Geffen, former agent - How did he help steer her career?
Learning Activities:
1. Have students return to their groups from the Introductory Activity and log onto the AMERICAN MASTERS Web site about Joni Mitchell at Ask students to read the essay.

2. After viewing the program and reading the essay, they will discuss the influences in Joni Mitchell's life, specifically the artistic influence of Bob Dylan. If it is needed, the teacher should replay the section about Dylan, which is approximately fifteen minutes into the episode.
    a. Why was Bob Dylan so influential?
    b. What was his style?
    c. Why was it compatible with Joni Mitchell's philosophy about art and poetry?
3. Now that students have discussed how other people have influenced Joni Mitchell, they will look at how she has affected other artists. Present the following questions and tasks to the class as they begin the next part of the lesson:
  • Look at the list of artists who have written songs about Joni Mitchell. What types of music do they perform? What genres of music do they fit into?
  • Explain why Joni Mitchell is such an influential artist.
  • What made her so different and so appealing in the artistic community?
Tell students to take notes on these questions as they look at the "Songs about Joni" section of the Joni Mitchell Homepage, where they will find a listing of songs by artists who have been influenced by Joni Mitchell over the years. After about ten minutes, discuss the questions with the entire class.

4. Go to the Joni Undercover Homepage at, which includes a listing of Joni Mitchell's most covered songs from the Joni Mitchell Discussion List. Ask students:
  • What does it mean to "cover" a song?
  • Why do you think artists do that?
5. Download the lyrics for the top six Joni Mitchell songs that have been covered by other recording artists. Note that some of the more frequently "covered" songs were featured in the program. They include:
  • "Circle Game" 1966
  • "Both Sides Now" 1967
  • "Chelsea Morning" 1967
  • "Woodstock" 1969
  • "A Case of You" 1970
6. Tell the class that each group will select one of the songs to perform using the "Choral Reading" strategy. Try to ensure that there are no repeats within the class. Distribute the Choral Reading Checklist and go over each of the listed components with students.

Note: Choral Reading is an interpretive reading of text by a group in which students read individual lines or stanzas alone, in pairs, or in unison. Learn more about the Choral Reading strategy at

7. Give students the rest of the class period to rehearse their Choral Reading.

8. During the next class period, have the student groups perform their Choral Reading to the rest of the class. Then, follow up by playing Joni Mitchell's version of each of the songs.

Culminating Activity/Assessment:

1. For the culminating activity, students will think about the influences in their own lives. These influences may be people, places, or even events. The assignment will be for students to write their own poems about the topic they have selected. You may suggest that students model their pieces after the lyrics of one of Joni's songs.

2. Have students engage in peer-editing sessions in small groups so that they can provide feedback to one another.

3. Once they have finalized their poems, each group of students will select one to perform as a choral reading.


  • Joni Mitchell has been called the "queen of songwriting." Have students research the approach she takes to writing lyrics and music. Students should refer to the sources of inspiration she cited in Joni Mitchell: Woman of Heart and Mind. Students can also compare her craft to those of other influential musicians who have been featured in American Masters, such as Willie Nelson or Lou Reed. Go to for a complete list of the music-related AMERICAN MASTERS episodes.

  • Joni Mitchell's "Chelsea Morning" was one of her most popular songs. Use your own neighborhood or city as the inspiration for a poem of your own.

    Cross-Curricular Extensions:
  • Learn to sing Joni Mitchell's songs in Chorus or Music class.
  • Have students design a survey of people in different age groups to find out what they know about Joni Mitchell and what they think about her music. The survey can be connected to mathematics as students collect, organize, and analyze their data.

    Community Connections:
  • Organize a performance including selections of Joni Mitchell's songs and students' poetry.

    Visit PBS TeacherSource