March 7, 2011, Issue
Teen Hoboes of the 1930s
Use multiple text types to explore what life was
like for some young people during the Great Depression.
How can expectations differ from reality?
Using an article about the boxcar kids of the Great Depression, a Woody Guthrie song, and a video clip, students will explore what happens when expectations differ from reality.
• to build listening- and reading-comprehension skills
• to participate in class discussion
• to make connections among text types
• to write a reflective essay
• Woody Guthrie’s song “Ramblin’ Round” and projectable lyrics
• “Teen Hoboes of the 1930s” in the March 7, 2011, issue of Scope
• Before reading video clip
• Robert Louis Stevenson quotation
1. Essential question: How can expectations differ from reality? Write this question on the board and keep it posted for the duration of the lesson.
Duration: 10 minutes
Write the following quotation on the board: “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.” —Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)
As a class, discuss what this quotation means. (Have hope for where you are going in life, though reality sometimes falls short of our expectations. Anticipation is often better than reality.) Next, direct students to the essential question. Ask, what does it mean? Has reality ever failed to meet (or exceeded) your expectations? How does the essential question relate to the Stevenson quotation?
3. Before Reading Activity
Duration: 7 minutes
Watch the clip from PBS’s documentary Riding the Rails. (Minutes 1:00 to 3:35.) Ask: What does it mean to “ride the rails”? What was going on in the United States at the time of the boxcar kids? Why did so many young people leave home? How do the narrators describe the experience of riding the rails? What is their tone of voice? (adventurous, nostalgic, and romantic—“the magic carpet”)
4. Class Reading
Duration: 30 minutes
Read the article “Teen Hoboes of the 1930s” as a class. (Project the article on your whiteboard as students follow along in their individual copies.) As you read, have students find examples of what Robert Symmonds and other boxcar kids expected from life on the rails and what actually happened. (They expected to find adventure, as well as jobs to help support themselves and their families. What actually happened was a lot different. They got sick, hungry, and injured, and often had a difficult time finding work. Robert Symmonds’s expectations were met. He was able to find work.)
After reading, invite students to share the examples they found in the story. Write the examples on the board and discuss together. Ask how Symmonds’s life compared with other boxcar kids. (He was able to find work to support himself and his family, unlike many other boxcar kids.) How does the Stevenson quotation relate to the experience of the boxcar kids? (The boxcar kids left home with hope for a better future—they “traveled hopefully”—but few found it.)
5. Group Reading
Duration: 20 minutes
As a class, listen to the song “Ramblin’ Round” by Woody Guthrie and project the lyrics on your whiteboard. Briefly discuss what the song is about. Then break students into small groups. They should come up with three examples in the song of how expectations differ from reality. (1. Expected to earn enough to eat, but only made a dollar a day and so had to eat moldy fruit that had fallen from the tree; 2. Expected to get married, but doesn’t have enough money; 3. Expected to make something of himself, but is still stuck wandering from place to place.)
6. Reflective Essay
Duration: 20 minutes (also makes great homework!)
Students write a reflective essay in response to the essential question: How can expectations differ from reality? They should draw on the article, the Woody Guthrie song, the video, and the Stevenson quotation.
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