Teaching Students About John Henry
Educating students about John Henry, a legendary American folk hero, provides a unique opportunity to explore the themes of perseverance, determination, and resilience. This article will delve into the history of John Henry, outline ways to engage students in learning about his life and legend, and provide resources for further investigation.
The Legend of John Henry
John Henry is a larger-than-life character in American folklore, depicted as an African-American “steel-driving man” who worked on the railroad during the late 19th century. The tale goes that John Henry was a powerful man with extraordinary physical strength who could hammer faster than anyone else. In the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, he took on a steam-powered drilling machine in a race to see who could drive steel into rock faster. John Henry won but tragically died from exhaustion right after his victory.
Teaching Methods and Activities
1. Storytelling: Introduce the story of John Henry through various sources, such as books, videos, or live reenactments. Ensure that these materials highlight not only the story but also its cultural significance.
2. Historical Context: Help students understand the historical context of the John Henry legend by discussing the growth of railroads in America during this era and the impact they had on society.
3. Symbols and Themes: Analyze elements within the story such as perseverance and hard work amidst difficult circumstances – attributes considered vital parts of the “American Dream.”
4. Music: Explore musical representations of John Henry’s tale through traditional songs like “John Henry’s Hammer” and contemporary adaptations.
5. Visual Arts and Crafts: Encourage students to create their own artwork inspired by John Henry’s legend with mediums such as painting, drawing, or sculpture.
6. Debate and Discussion: Facilitate discussions around topics like industrialization versus personal achievement and the consequences that come with the pursuit of progress at all costs.
Resources for Further Investigation
1. Books and Stories: The children’s book “John Henry” by Julius Lester or “Steel Drivin’ Man: John Henry – The Untold Story of an American Legend” by Scott Reynolds Nelson can provide young readers with vivid accounts of John Henry’s story.
2. Documentaries and Films: The Disney animated short film “John Henry,” as well as documentaries like “The Ballad of John Henry,” offer visual representations of the legendary figure and his life’s work.
3. Online Encyclopedias: Websites such as Encyclopedia Britannica or the American Folklore Encyclopedia provide well-researched information on John Henry and other related topics.