Teaching “Theme” with Hobo Jim

“Without music, life is a journey through a dessert.” - Pat Conroy

“Without music, life is a journey through a dessert.” – Pat Conroy

Hobo Jim

Hobo Jim

No matter what age, grade, or skill level, analyzing the theme of a story or book is a difficult task. It requires students to make an inference. This higher order thinking skill can be quite challenging. A fellow teacher of mine noticed her Literacy students were having trouble grasping theme. She turned to something almost all kids enjoy, music. She determined that using T.V. show theme songs could help them master this skill. As we talked about this, my mind turned to the Iditarod. Could this be done using an Iditarod themed song? Well, of course, and the song would be I Did the Iditarod Trail by Hobo Jim.

This Common Core aligned lesson can be used with any grade level. To grab her student’s attention she played the theme song to the T.V. show Friends. It was pretty easy for the students to pick up on the theme of this song, friendship. However, when you look at the beginning of the lyrics with no music, it appears quite depressing. Adding the music, the tone of the singer, and the chorus, we can easily determine this song is about friendship.

Before actually listening to Hobo Jim’s song, students complete a close reading using the lyrics of the song. This concept is for the students to analyze the lyrics and identify the words and/or phrases that support the theme of the song. Students will use the Song Lyrics Analysis Worksheet during the close read. While analyzing the lyrics they will discuss the mood of the song and how it makes them feel. This will help determine the theme. What do you think this song is saying about life? Is there something to be learned? Or, is the writer of the song trying to teach you something? After determining what they feel the theme is, the students must defend their choice by highlighting the evidence in the song. Any words or phrases that support their choice should be highlighted. After a class discussion it’s finally time to listen to the song.

The next part of the lesson is individual practice for the students. Have your students choose a book they are currently reading or have recently finished. Students will determine the theme of their book and choose a song they feel could be the “theme song” for this book. To defend their choice, students must highlight the evidence in the lyrics of the song.

If your students are really creative, they can actually write their own theme song (parody). Have your students choose a song  whose music they like and rewrite the lyrics of the song. Your students can then use GarageBand or Audiotool to put the lyrics to the music.

To extend this lesson, make it cross curricular. Have your physical education class do a square dance routine listening to the song. Diane Johnson, Iditarod Education Director and 2000 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, asked her P.E. teacher to devise square dance steps for I Did the Iditarod Trail and the students performed the dance. View the steps here. Involve the music class by having your students learn the song and perform it for an upcoming concert. Social studies students could map out the places Hobo Jim has performed. Math students might analyze the measurement of time in the song. Using the song, science students learn about the effects music has on the growth of plants.

Music is an excellent subject to incorporate into your lessons. Just chatting with my friend about the difficulty of understanding theme of a story, many lesson ideas incorporating music evolved. I love music, so incorporating it into my classroom is no problem. I hope you take the opportunity to bring the idea of song, especially Hobo Jim’s I Did the Iditarod Trail, into your classroom.

Teaching Theme with Music Lesson Plan

Song Lyrics Analysis Worksheet

Iditarod Square Dance Steps

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