Carl Sandburg: Collector of Life in Word and Song
Table of Contents
Museum Collections, Similar Items and other Materials Used
National Educational Standards
Student Learning Objectives
Background and Historical Context
Teacher Tips
Lesson Implementation Procedures
Evaluation/Assessment for Measurable Results
Extension and Enrichment Activities
Site Visit
Charts, Figures and other Teacher Materials
Print Version

A. Title: Carl Sandburg: Collector of Life in Word and Song
  • Developers:
  • Rena Nisbet, Library Media Specialist, Hendersonville Middle School, Hendersonville, NC Loretta Wilson, 8th grade US/NC History Teacher, Owen Middle School, Swannanoa, NC
  • Grade Level: Middle School (can be adapted for high school)
  • Number of Sessions in the Lesson Unit Plan: 5 class periods (45 – 60 minutes)
    Lesson One: “How to Analyze an Object” Activity (1 class period)
    Lesson Two: “I Am the People – the Mob” (1 class period)
    Lesson Three: Life in a Song (1 class period)
    Lesson Four: Read All About It! (1 class period)
    Lesson Five: Sandburg Slam (1 class period)

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B. Overview of this Collection-Based Lesson Unit Plan
  • Park Name: Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site Flat Rock, North Carolina
  • Description:
    Sandburg’s poems, stories, newspaper articles, and collection of folksongs told the story of America. Students will investigate selections of his poetry, folksongs, and newspaper articles and analyze musical instruments from his home, Connemara, in Flat Rock, North Carolina to gain a better understanding of the people and America during Sandburg’s life. Students will perform Sandburg’s work or create their own to demonstrate an understanding of the role of words and song in American culture.
  • Essential Question:
    What do the words and songs of Carl Sandburg tell us about life of common people during the late 19th and early 20th century?
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C. Museum Collections, Similar Items and other Materials Used in this Lesson Unit Plan
MUSEUM OBJECT [photos of objects in the Carl Sandburg Home NHS museum collections] SIMILAR OBJECTS [local items similar to museum objects] & OTHER MATERIALS Length of time
Lesson One
Carl Sandburg Montage Harmonica

Similar objects/items [similar to the museum objects in the Sandburg museum collection] 

  • Harmonica or other folk instrument
  • AM/FM Radio

Other materials:

50 – 60 minutes
Lesson Two
Carl Sandburg visiting Workers Radio

Similar objects/items. 

Other materials:

  • Photo Analysis Chart:
    Rubric Lesson Two:  “I Am the People – the Mob”
  • CARL 1000/1/17; Audio; Washington State College Lecture
  • Magic Paper: a piece of white construction paper or cardstock with a focal hole to allow students to focus on smaller details or particular items of a projected photograph (Teachers or students can hold the paper in front of a projected object and pull it forward to focus on items they want to highlight).
50 – 60 minutes
Lesson Three
American Songbag Carl Sandburg
Carl Sandburg on a Variety Show
Guitar Guitar
Guitar Lute

Similar objects/items. 

  • Guitars and other musical instruments.

Other materials:

Handout- Responding to Folksongs

  • CD – The Great Carl Sandburg – Songs of America, available from Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site.
  • CD – Dan Zane: Parades and Panoramas
  • Sandburg, Carl. The American Songbag. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. (various editions), available from Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site.
  • John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States recording trip
50 – 60 minutes
Lesson Four
Pocket Knife Pocket Knife

Similar objects/items. 

  • Scissors, pocket knives, etc. for cutting out newspaper articles.
  • Various newspapers

Other materials:

  • “How to Read a Newspaper” from-
  • Sandburg, Carl. Homefront Memo. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1940. (Out of print.
  • Available from or
  • “How to Read a Newspaper”
50 – 60 minutes
Lesson Five
Carl Sandburg at Chicago Day Book Visor
  • Rubric Sandburg Slam
50 – 60 minutes
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D. National Educational Standards
United States History
Standards in Historical Thinking:
Standard 1: Chronological Thinking
Standard 3: Historical Analysis and Interpretation

NSS-USH. 5-12.6 Era 6: The Development of the Industrial United States (1870 – 1900)
Understands how the rise of corporations, heavy industry, and mechanized farming transformed the American people.
Understands the rise of the American labor movement and how political issues reflected social and economic changes.

Language Arts

NL-ENG.K-12.1 Reading for Perspective
Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the US and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillmen
NL-ENG.K-12.2 Understanding the Human Experience
Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions of human experience.
NL-ENG.K-12.3 Evaluation Strategies
Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features.
NL-ENG.K-12.7 Evaluating Data
Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
NL-ENG. K-12.9 Multicultural Understanding
Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions and social roles.
NL-ENG.K-12.12 Applying Language Skills
Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes.


NA.5-8.2 Performing on instruments alone and with others a varied repertoire of music.
Students perform music representing diverse genres and cultures, with expression appropriate for the work being performed. NA-M.5-8.9 Understanding Music in Relation to History and Culture
Students will demonstrate an understanding of music in relation to history and culture.
NA.5-8.6 Listening to, Analyzing, and Describing Music
Students analyze the uses of elements of music in aural examples representing diverse genres and cultures.
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E. Student Learning Objectives
This unit is introduces writer Carl Sandburg. It provides a glimpse into Sandburg the poet, newspaperman, song collector, and storyteller. Through the words of the man whose life was a synthesis of “hyacinths and biscuits” students will learn about the man and his times. At the end of the unit, students will be able to:

Lesson One: How to Analyze an Object
  • Distinguish between past, present and future time.
  • Explain change and continuity over time.
  • Formulate questions to focus inquiry and analysis.
  • Hypothesize the influence of the past.
Lesson Two: “I Am the People – the Mob”
  • Critically analyze a photograph and poems from the Sandburg collection to determine his influence on the ideas of the early 20th century.
  • Use the analysis to develop an understanding of the individual in history.
  • Compare Sandburg’s ideas to those of the manufacturing community to contrast differing sets of ideas.
Lesson Three: Life in a Song
  • Identify the elements of a folksong.
  • Discuss the role of folksongs in American life.
  • Analyze a folksong and discuss what it tells us about the life of the people.
Lesson Four: Read All About it!
  • Examine newspaper columns by Carl Sandburg.
  • Critically evaluate a newspaper article.
Lesson Five: Sandburg Slam
  • Perform original or Sandburg works in a slam poetry style
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F. Background and Historical Context

Poet, biographer, reporter, storyteller, and song collector: Carl Sandburg was all of these and more. The essence of his work reflects his love of life and words. Although he dropped out of school at the end of eighth grade to help support the family, he never lost his love of learning. Whether selling stereographs, driving a milk wagon, or riding the rails as a hobo, Sandburg loved the people he met and the stories they shared. “I was meeting fellow travelers and fellow Americans. What they were doing to my heart, my personality, I couldn’t say then nor later and be certain.” (Carl Sandburg Home, Official National Park Handbook, p.30) 

Unfortunately, it would not be until after World War I that Sandburg would be able to go back to school. “A fellow private had asked him if he would enter Lombard College, in Galesburg, if the school would give him free tuition. One of the two Lombard students in Company C had died of malarial fever at mustering-out time. The college decided to let Charles A. Sandburg enroll immediately as a “special student.” While he still was not sure what he wanted to do with his life, he knew he enjoyed the learning and sharing of ideas. “I had wonderings and hopes but they were vague and foggy. I couldn’t see myself filling some definite niche in what is now called a career . . . I knew I liked writing . . .” (Carl Sandburg Home. Official National Park Handbook, p.36).   Write he did: Poetry, speeches, newspaper reporting, storytelling, biography. His life became the celebration of words and the lives of the American people.

As he developed as a writer in the early 1900's, we can see by his writings that social justice, human dignity, and labor rights were to become an important theme, if not the overriding theme, throughout his work.  Unsafe and poor working conditions, no child labor laws and no benefits lead him to align himself with the pro-union Socialist Democratic Party at the turn of the 20th century. The Socialist party was at the forefront of the American Labor reform movement.  Socialist helped organize workers to form unions in order to better protect themselves from the abuses of the large factory, mine and mill owners. At the beginning of 20th century, workers had none of the rights that we take for granted today.  There were no child labor laws. Young children worked alongside adults in the mills, 10 hours a day, 6 days a week (see poem of Sandburg's Mill Doors about the children of the mills). There was no such thing as an 8 hour work day or a forty hour work week, no workman's compensation for those hurt while on the job, no sick, overtime or retirement pay.  Carl Sandburg never forgot the striking railroad engineers of his boyhood days in Galesburg.  He also never forgot that his father labored his entire life for the railroad for a pittance.

The liberal politics that the Social Democratic party exposed was a natural fit for the young reformer and social/ labor activist, Carl Sandburg. For a time, he worked for the socialist mayor of Milwaukee and was a friend and advisor to the perennial Socialist candidate for the U.S. Presidency, Eugene Debs.  As the country sank into the depths of the Great Depression, Carl campaigned vigorously for the governor of New York and the democratic candidate, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  The new deal sounded like a good deal to Carl who remained good friends throughout the years with the Roosevelts’, particularly Eleanor Roosevelt.  Later, Carl campaigned for another democratic candidate for the presidency, John Kennedy and was a supporter of Lyndon Johnson and his Great Society civil rights legislative reforms.

Carl Sandburg worked as a newspaper reporter in Milwaukee and in Chicago for the Chicago Daily News.  While reporting for the Chicago Daily News, Carl Sandburg covered the race riots that occurred in that city during the summer of 1919.  Thirty-eight people died in these race riots.  Sandburg, who had been appalled by the brutality and savagery of it all, published a book about the race riots the following year. [The Chicago Race Riots of 1919]  His book looked to the causes of the riot and the conditions that the poor blacks of the city were forced to live and labor under.  The Chicago race riots that he documented as a young newspaper reporter furthered his belief that a common dignity was a right for all, not some, regardless of skin color. For this book, and for Carl Sandburg's constant support throughout his career for human rights and civil rights, Carl Sandburg was awarded [this] life time membership award from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1965.

Having found his theme and subject in the common man, during the Depression Carl Sandburg wrote his Lincoln biography. Sandburg said that Abraham Lincoln "came nearer the average man and the common people than any man of the century…” and that Lincoln, "had that warm compelling thing found in all real leaders of men, a kind of commonness through which each man whom he met saw that Lincoln was a man like himself, only bigger and deeper." 
Carl Sandburg wrote thousands of poems, and published over a dozen volumes of poetry in his lifetime.  He also wrote more than half a dozen books of children's poetry and stories.  His Rootabaga Stories for children were a series of whimsical, nonsensical stories and fables set in the American Midwest that helped him escape the brutal reality of the world.  Rootabaga Country was where "the railroad tracks change from straight to zigzag and the pigs have bibs on", and where the Huckabuck family grows popcorn (already popped popcorn and lots of it).  Carl Sandburg created a children's world of uniquely American fairy tales where the wind talks to skyscrapers, rag dolls marry broom handles and cabbages talk.  And of course, the Rootabaga stories are filled with poetry.    

In 1910, Carl Sandburg acquired his first guitar at 32; six years before his first book of poetry, Chicago Poems, was published.  He documented his acquisition in a letter to his wife, Lilian Steichen Sandburg, whom he called Paula.  He wrote, “I forgot to tell you that the S-S (Sandburg – Steichen) now have a guitar and there will be songs warbled and melodies whistled to the low Mexican thrumming of Paula-and-Cully’s new stringed instrument.” 

Throughout his prolific and long life Carl Sandburg warbled songs and whistled melodies to the thrumming of various guitars at home, on stages across the country, at gatherings with friends, and on phonograph recordings.   Even though Sandburg knew only a few simple guitar chords and his baritone voice was untrained, he mesmerized audiences with his rendition of a folk song.  According to Chicago Daily News colleague and author Lloyd Lewis, “Sandburg may not be a great singer, but his singing is great.  He is the last of the troubadours; the last of the nomad artists who hunted out the songs people made up, and then sang them back to the people like a revelation.  Both his singing and his search for songs are part of his belief in the essential merit of the common man.” 

Sandburg began collecting songs as a young man when he explored the people and places of America’s heartland.  He filled pocket notebooks with lyrics and devised his own simple notation system to record the melodies.  During the 1920s as he lectured his way around the country reading his poetry and closing his programs with folk songs, his musical “songbag” overflowed.  He collected songs from literary colleagues, folklorists, union organizers, college students and professors, soldiers, anonymous Americans, friends, and obscure 19th-century songbooks.  In 1927, Sandburg published The American Songbag that included the lyrics, piano accompaniment, and his historic commentary of “280 real American songs.”  In 1950, he published the New American Songbag.

Through his award-winning poetry, six-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln, children’s stories, and folk song collecting and performing, Carl Sandburg celebrated and championed the struggles, hopes, and voices of the American people.
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G. Vocabulary
Lesson One:  How to Analyze an Object
  • n/a
Lesson Two:  “I Am the People – the Mob”
  • Blacklist: when workers wanted to improve working conditions, they often lost their jobs and were “blacklisted” to prevent them from getting another factory job.
  • Industrialization: America’s move from farm life to work in factories.
  • Labor: workers in factories.
Lesson Three:  Life in a Song
  • Folksong: a song originating in or traditional among the common people of a country or region and forming part of their characteristic culture.
  • Other words specific to chosen folksongs
Lesson Four:  Read All About it!
  • Bias: anything tending to influence one in a particular direction.
  • Correspondent: one who communicates information or comment to a newspaper or news media.
  • Editorial: a newspaper or periodical article that is given a special or significant place and that intentionally expresses the views of those in control of the publication.
  • Slant: a personal point of view, attitude, or opinion.
Lesson Five:  Sandburg Slam
  • n/a
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H. Teacher Tips
Lesson One:  How to Analyze an Object
  • Download a copy of the photograph of the harmonica (Object: CARL 42969 and the photo montage of Carl Sandburg (Object: CARL 2486) from the museum objects to use it digitally with an LCD projector, or make a transparency of the photo.
  • Bring in 5 to 6 harmonicas – can be purchased from party favors or discount store.
  • Make enough copies of the picture to use in small groups. Laminate them for future use.
  • Have a blank sheet of white paper to use as magic paper. (Students use magic paper to highlight items/people projected onto screens to support their opinions or ideas.)
Lesson Two:  “I Am the People – the Mob”
  • Download a copy of the photograph of Sandburg with workers (Object: CARL 17934) from the museum objects to use it digitally with an LCD projector, or make a transparency of the photo.
  • Have a blank sheet of white paper to use as magic paper. (Students use magic paper to highlight items/people projected onto screens to support their opinions or ideas.)
  • Have a copy of the poem, “I Am the People, the Mob,” by Sandburg
  • Print enough copies of the 5 poems to use in groups to further student inquiry and to address student learning objectives.
  • Have copies of newspapers and magazines from which students could cut pictures (for those who don’t do their homework).
  • Copy of radio photograph (Object: CARL 535) from Sandburg collection.
  • Modern radios.
Lesson Three:  Life in a Song
  • Make copies of lyrics of folksongs to be used.
  • Make a copy of “Responding to Folksongs” for each group.
  • If desired, download folksongs from the Library of Congress collections (see resources).
  • Inform students ahead of time to bring guitars or harmonicas for the day of the activity.
Lesson Four:  Read All About it!
  • Make class copies of “How to Read a Newspaper.”
  • Have students bring in a newspaper for the day of the activity.
  • Home Front Memo is out of print. However, used copies can be obtained from or It is a gem that is worth purchasing.
Lesson Five:  Sandburg Slam
  • Reserve the Media Center at least a month ahead of time to have a place for the performances to take place.
  • Get teachers and other school personnel to donate throw pillows and bean bag chairs to use during the slam. Bring in lava lamps if available.
  • Serve hot chocolate and pastries to have a coffee shop atmosphere.
  • Have students dress to enhance their performance. Tell them to also use props.
  • Refer to the lesson plan “Holding a Poetry Slam” by Nancy Blalock housed on the Learn NC website for more details on a poetry slam.
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I. Lesson Implementation Procedures

Lesson One:  How to Analyze an Object (1 class period)

Preview: (Preview activities help students draw upon background knowledge and make connections to the day’s lesson.)
Have students respond to these questions? Can you play a musical instrument? If so, which instrument? What kind of music do you like to play? If you don’t play an instrument, which one do you wish you knew how to play? What type of music do you think you would play? Why? (Choose 3 – 4 students to share their responses with the class.) (5 minutes)

  1. Place students in mixed ability groups of 3 – 4 depending on class size. Give ½ of the groups a copy of the harmonica photograph (CARL 42969; photographic print, harmonica.)  and a copy of the How to Analyze an Object chart. Give 1/2 of the groups an actual harmonica and a copy of the How to Analyze an Object chart. Give the groups time to make and record their observations (10 - 15 minutes).
  2. Make a transparency of or use a digital image projected by LCD of the harmonica. Project the image as the groups share their responses about their object. When necessary, ask students to support their answers by using the magic paper to highlight details from the photograph. (5 – 10 minutes)
  3. Ask students the following questions after they have shared their responses: (5 – 10 minutes)
    • What does the object represent?
    • Who would use the object? For what?
    • How does the object relate to the spoken word?
  4. Display the photo montage of Carl Sandburg. (CARL 2486; photographic print of Carl Sandburg taken by Edward Steichen.) Ask the students the following questions: (5 minutes)
    • Who is this person?
    • What is unusual about this picture?
    • Why do you think it was made this way?
  5. Debrief the activity by introducing Mr. Sandburg as a man who wrote short stories, newspaper articles, poems, an extensive Lincoln biography, enjoyed music and collected many folksongs as he traveled around the United States. The harmonica represents one “face” of Sandburg: the collector of folksongs. Explain to students that Sandburg traveled around the US as a hobo on trains, exploring and learning about America. He met many other people traveling this way and shared songs and stories with them as a way to entertain each other and share parts of themselves with fellow travelers.

Write a journal entry answering the following statement: If I were a hobo traveling around the US, I would go to _________________. (Explain where and why you would travel here.) I would share ________________________ with people I met, because I ________________________. (Describe a story or song you would share that would tell fellow travelers something about you: where you are from, something important that has happened in your life, what you want out of life, etc.) Your answers should include:

  • A colorful description of where you want to go
  • An explanation of why you want to go there
  • A story or song that is important to you and why
  • Use colorful and expressive language to entertain people
  • Be free of spelling and grammar errors

Lesson Two:  “I Am the People – the Mob” (1 class period)

Preview: (Students should have prior knowledge of US industrialization and the life of factory workers.) (15 – 20 minutes)

Make a transparency of or use a digital image projected by LCD of Carl Sandburg with workers (CARL 17934; photographic print; Carl Sandburg with workers). Ask students to answer the questions using the “How to Read a Photo Worksheet.”

After students have had time to think about and record their answers, have them share their responses with the class. When necessary, ask students to support their answers by using the magic paper to highlight details from the photograph. Explain to the class that Mr. Sandburg believed that all great work of society is accomplished through the worker. Read the poem “I Am the People, The Mob” by Carl Sandburg. Discuss how this poem fits with Mr. Sandburg’s admiration of the worker.

Project the picture of the radio (CARL 535; Zenith AM/FM radio)
and display one in class. Ask the students these questions:

  • What do you see here?
  • What is it used for?
  • Who would own a radio at this time in history?
  • How does the radio relate to the spoken word?
  • What connection can be made between the poem and the radio?

Explain to the students that Mr. Sandburg read his poems and sang songs on the radio for everyone to enjoy.

Activity: (30 min.)

  1. Place students in mixed ability groups of 3 – 4 depending on class size. Give each group a copy of one of the poems being used for this lesson: Mill Doors, Subway, They Will Say, Prayers of Steel, Halsted Street Car, And They Obey, or Blacklisted.
  2. As each group reads their assigned poem, have them answer the following questions:
    • What style of poetry did Sandburg use?
    • What is happening in this poem?
    • How is the worker described?
    • Is management specifically mentioned in the poem? How? If not,
    • Is management referred to in the poem? How?
    • What do you think is the message of this poem?
    • Using the information you gathered as a group, each of you write a paragraph in which you infer how Sandburg felt about management.
  3. Gather the class to discuss the poems. Ask a volunteer from each group to read the poem to the rest of the class. Have the other group members share their responses to the questions. After each group is finished, have a volunteer from each group share the paragraph he or she wrote.
  4. Form a human spectrum. Have one side of your room labeled “Respect” and the other side of your room labeled “No Respect.” Discuss the two labels to ensure students understand the ends of the spectrum. Then, have each student choose where they stand within this spectrum. Do they think workers were respected in their poem, or did the poem show no respect for the workers? Have students physically stand along the spectrum and be prepared to support their opinion with information gained during the class discussion.

Processing: (Homework)
Students should choose one (1) of the following activities to complete as their processing assignment.

  1. Labor Today. Find a picture of modern day workers. Write a poem about modern workers from Sandburg’s perspective. Be sure to include the following:
    • 3 – 4 stanzas with at least 4 lines each.
    • Include information you gathered during today’s activity about how Sandburg felt about labor and management.
    • Use the same style of poetry as Sandburg.
    • Use expressive, colorful language.
    • Be free from spelling and grammar errors.

  2. Sandburg Illustrated. Choose one of Sandburg’s poems that you think best describes how he felt about workers. Write a paragraph to explain why you chose this poem. Draw a picture to illustrate the poem you chose. Be sure to include the following:
    • An explanation of why this poem supports the worker.
    • Evidence from the poem that shows Sandburg’s support of the worker.
    • At least 4 illustrated points from the poem
    • Be free from spelling and grammar errors.

  3. For your Entertainment. Choose one of Sandburg’s poems that you think best describes how he felt about workers or management. Create a radio announcement to introduce this poem and read the poem to the class as if they were your radio audience. Be sure to include:
    • An introduction explaining the importance of the poem you chose. (will be read by the teacher to introduce you)
    • Your willingness to perform the poem in front of the class and possibly for the Sandburg Slam.
    • An explanation about why you chose this poem to perform for your audience (will be read before the poem)
    • An expressive performance of the poem in front of the class.
    • Proof of practice. (how well you keep your audience engaged)

Lesson Three:  Life in a Song (1 class period)

During his travels as a hobo and a salesman of stereographic slides, Carl Sandburg developed a love of local folksongs and tales. He began collecting these songs and the stories behind them and performed them as he spoke at lectures and poetry readings around the country. In 1927, Sandburg published his collection in The American Songbag.  In an interview after Sandburg’s death, his wife stated that Carl sang everyday. (Audio clip from Lilian Sandburg interview. To be made available online at the virtual web exhibit)

Lesson Objective:
Students will use songs from the American Songbag to examine the role of folk songs in American life and history.

Display the photos of Sandburg playing his guitar (see museum objects: Carl 2745, 9715, 3395, 3392, 3393, 3394, 111681, p 3, Section C. Museum Collections, Similar Items and other Materials Used in this Lesson Unit Plan) Discuss the importance of music in Sandburg’s life and his special love of the guitar.  He bought his first guitar in 1910 and discovered that performing songs at the end of his lectures drew more people that just his lectures or poems alone. Early in his life, Sandburg traveled around the country as a hobo, hopping trains, visiting and working in various places in the Midwest, and getting to know the people as he traveled. He developed a love for the stories and songs that people shared along the way and began gathering these for a collection he published as The American Songbag in 1927. This collection of over 250 songs includes “colonial, pioneer, railroad, work-gang, hobo, Irish, Negro, Mexican, gutter, Gossamer songs, chants and ditties.” (American Songbag, Introduction to the 1990 edition, vii.). (5 mins.)


  1. Discuss the elements of a folksong and the role of folksongs in American life. (5 minutes.)
  2. Divide class into groups of students. Provide each group with the lyrics from one of the following songs (or other songs -your choice- from The American Songbag)
  3. Have each group analyze the folksongs using the “Responding to Folksongs” worksheet (see attached) from the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site Curriculum Guide, June 2000. Each group will report to the class their findings as it relates to the culture and history of the times.  (10 mins.)
  4. Have students bring in guitars and other musical instruments and perform songs from The American Songbag. Practice these to be performed in the Sandburg Slam at the end of the unit. (20 min.)

For a wrap up, have students identify folksongs from other eras of American history – i.e. the Vietnam War. Explore folksongs of today. Are there any? What themes of American life are present? (5 – 10 mins.)

The following songs are available on the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site Education Web-Site:

Careless Love /audio/song02.htm
Jay Gould’s Daughter
Casey Jones
Man Goin’ Round
The Good Boy

Other songs may be found in the American Memory Collections at the Library of Congress. (See G. Materials Used in This Lesson Plan)

Lesson Four:  Read All About It! (1 class period)

Carl Sandburg worked as a columnist for the Chicago Times publishing a weekly editorial column on the events and issues of the day from April 1941 to June 1943. Carl Sandburg said about these articles, “The result rather was a “Portrait of a Man in a Fog,” at times, or again the piece of writing offered represented the best lucid memorandum occurring to the writer for that particular week-end moment of time.” (Home Front Memo, p.275). Sandburg was also known to be an avid reader of newspapers and would go through the daily newspapers with his pocketknives (Object: Carl 30585,30477), cutting out articles to save, to comment about, or share with others.

Lesson Objective:
In this lesson, students will learn how to read and critically evaluate a newspaper article. Students can make their own visors like Sandburg’s (Object 92502) to use with this activity.

  1. Read the following article from Home Front Memo:“How to read a newspaper” – May 3, 1942, p.158.
  2. Provide each student with a copy of a current newspaper or newspapers brought from home.
  3. Follow Sandburg’s instructions for “Class exercise.”
    • “Find a news story you think strictly factual and well written. Find another news story you think distorted, explain why you think it distorted, and tell how you would write it better.
    • “Bring in examples of perfect headlines indicating what the reader may expect. Bring in examples of misleading headlines where the headline writer was either careless or well meaning or intentionally was editorializing in line with the policy of the paper. Pick a lead paragraph you feel lacks color and see whether you can brighten it in rewriting.” (Home Front Memo, p. 159)
  4. Display the photos of Sandburg’s pocket knives (CARL 30585, 30477).  Carl Sandburg often cut articles out of the daily paper with his little pocket knives to save or share. Have students find an article that they feel is worth saving or sharing. Articles should be from national or local news articles or editorials, not sports.
    • What is the article about?
    • What is its significance?
    • Is it an important issue today? Will it be important in 5 years? 10 years? 50 years?
    • With whom would you share it and why?
  5. Choose other articles in Home Front Memo. Follow Sandburg’s directions for evaluating a news story. How did he do? Did he follow his own guidelines? Why or why not?
  6. Have students create a personal journal of newspaper articles that are important to them. Each article should have a reflection as to its personal significance or historical value, noting the author’s bias or distortion of facts.

Wrap Up Activity

Lesson Five:  Sandburg Slam
Performance to showcase some of Sandburg’s work and student work from the unit.

  1. Explain to students at the beginning of the unit they will be expected to perform at the Sandburg Slam.
  2. Students can choose a piece of Sandburg’s work to perform for students and faculty. (teacher approval required)
  3. Student can choose a piece of their own work to perform for students and faculty. (teacher approval required)
  4. Students will practice their oral presentations at home.
  5. Encourage students to dress and use props to enhance their performances.
  6. Have students sign up for the order of their performance. Create a program to give each student.
  7. Explain the procedures (and enforce them!) for a slam. Before the student begins his or her performance they will say, “Hi, I’m __________.” The audience will respond, “So what?” The performer will then say, “So, ___” and begin their performance. At the end of each performance, the audience will snap their fingers, not clap. If they truly enjoyed the performance, they may stand and snap their fingers.
  8. After the performances are over, have all students write a paragraph explaining something new they learned about Sandburg or his work or what they learned about performing their own work in front of people.
  9. Have students help you clean the media center before you leave. This will help you secure the use of the media center the next time you want to have a slam.
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J. Evaluation/Assessment for Measurable Results
  • Lesson One
  • Lesson Two
  • Sandburg Slam Rubric
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K. Extension and Enrichment Activities
  • Have students create a PowerPoint of Sandburg poetry and illustrate with photographs from the FSA-OWI collection at the Library of Congress that reflect the ideas in the poem.
  • Have students research President Franklin Roosevelt’s radio broadcasts known as the “Fireside Chats.” Evaluate a broadcast according to Sandburg’s guidelines in “How to Read a Newspaper.”
  • Students can perform material from the Sandburg Slam for a neighboring elementary school.
  • Research hobo life. Have students write and perform a play about Sandburg’s days as a hobo.
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L. Resources
Audio CD (Theory on Free Verse – 41:08 – 42:40) – Available from the Carl Sandburg National Historic Site

Lesson Plan “Holding a Poetry Slam” by Nancy Blalock
Learn NC


  • Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site, Flat Rock, North Carolina
  • Carl Sandburg Home. (National Park Handbook), U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C. 1982
  • Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site: Middle School Curriculum Guide. Flat Rock, NC: National Park Service. 2000.
  • Sandburg, Carl. The American Songbag. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. 1927.
  • Sandburg, Carl. The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg, Revised and Expanded Edition. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1969.
  • Sandburg, Carl. Homefront  Memos. Chicago: Harcourt, Brace, & Co. 1943.

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M. Site Visit
Visit the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site virtual exhibit at, and the home in Flat Rock, NC
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N. Charts, figures and other Teacher Materials
Click here to download supplemental documents.