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Procedures for Teachers
Settlers, ranchers, and cowboys living on the 19th century American frontier had limited recreation and leisure time, and that time was spent very differently than it is today.

In this lesson, students will investigate recreation and leisure time in the frontier West, and closely examine two popular types of entertainment among Texas cowboys: the tall tale and the cowboy ballad. Using a variety of web sites and video segments, students will identify the characteristics of a tall tale, and create their own tall tales based on the experiences of the participants in the PBS series TEXAS RANCH HOUSE. After creating their tales, students will examine a selection of authentic cowboy ballads, and use one ballad as the basis for a new song which tells the story of their original tall tale.

This lesson can be used as a pre- or post- viewing activity for the PBS series TEXAS RANCH HOUSE, or as an independent lesson on the settling of the American West. A basic knowledge of 19th century US history is required.

Grade Level: 5-8

Time Allotment: Three to four 45-minute class periods (excluding homework time)

Subject Matter: US History, English/Language Arts

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
  • Explain how leisure time activities have changed over the last 150 years, and specifically compare contemporary experiences with life on the 19th century American frontier;

  • Describe how cowboys used tall tales and music as a means of entertainment;

  • Discuss the characteristics of a tall tale;

  • Create their own tall tales based on primary source video;

  • Utilize a 19th century folk song and their tall tales in the creation of an original cowboy ballad.


From the National Standards for History Grades 5-12, available online at http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/nchs/standards:

Historical Thinking Standard 2: The student thinks chronologically; therefore, the student is able to read historical narratives imaginatively, taking into account what the narrative reveals of the humanity of the individuals and groups involved--their probable values, outlook, motives, fears, strengths, and weaknesses. The student is also able to describe the past on its own terms, through the eyes and experiences of those who were there, as revealed through their literature, diaries, letters, debates, arts, artifacts, and the like. The student is also able to draw upon visual, literary, and musical sources to clarify, illustrate, or elaborate upon information presented in the historical narratives.

Historical Thinking Standard 4: The student conducts historical research; therefore, the student is able to formulate historical questions from encounters with historical documents, eyewitness accounts, letters, diaries, artifacts, photos, historical sites, art, architecture, and other records from the past.

Era 4, Standard 2E: The student understands the settling of the West. Therefore, the student is able to explain the lure of the West and the reality of life on the frontier, and analyze cultural interactions in the trans-Mississippi region.

From the English Language Arts Standards, available at the National Council of Teachers of English web site at: http://www.ncte.org/about/over/standards/110846.htm:

Students will read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.

Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g. conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively for a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.

Media Components

Video: TEXAS RANCH HOUSE, Episode 5, "Showdown at the Cooke Corral"

Web Sites:

For the Introductory Activity

The History of Invention
This site from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation provides an interactive timeline of inventions from throughout human history.

Innovation Timeline
This site also provides an overview of inventions from ancient times to the present.

How the West Was Fun
This site, part of the Web companion for the PBS series Frontier House, provides an essay about recreation and leisure time on the 19th century American frontier. Students may read this article online, or you may print out and distribute an "abridged" copy for your class. The end of the essay contains some references to some "adult pursuits" in the Wild West.

For the Learning Activity

Tall Tales featuring Pecos Bill
This web site provides links to a variety of tall tales about Pecos Bill. Three of the stories included on the site are used in this lesson: "Pecos Bill Finds a Hard Outfit," "Pecos Bill Rides a Tornado," and "Pecos Bill and Slue-Foot Sue."

Texas Ranch House: Meet Rob Wright http://www.pbs.org/wnet/ranchhouse/meet_rob_wright.html
This site, part of the web companion to the PBS series Texas Ranch House, provides an introduction to Rob Wright, one of the participants in the project.

Texas Ranch House: Meet the Adventurers
This site, part of the web companion to the PBS series Texas Ranch House, provides biographical information on the project participants, as well as streaming video segments from their on-location video diaries.

For the Culminating Activity

Popular Music in American History
This excellent site provides tunes, music, lyrics, and information on hundreds of folk songs, tied to specific periods in American history.


For the class:
VCR or DVD player
Chalkboard or whiteboard
TEXAS RANCH HOUSE, Episode 5, "Showdown at the Cooke Corral"
Computers with Internet Access and sound (can be headphones)
"How the West Was Fun" answer key (download here)
"How Tall is Your Tale?" answer key (download here)

For each student:
"How the West Was Fun" student organizer (download here)
"How Tall is Your Tale?"student organizer (download here)

Prep for Teachers:

Prior to teaching the lesson, review all of the web sites and video segments used in the lesson to make certain that they are appropriate for your students. Determine whether you will send your students online to read the "How the West Was Fun" essay, or if you will print out and distribute an "abridged" version of the article. Bookmark the Web sites used in the lesson on each computer in your classroom, or upload them to an online bookmarking utility such as http://www.portaportal.com. If necessary, download the Realplayer plug-in, available for free download from http://www.real.com to each computer in your classroom.

Download, print, and duplicate the "How the West Was Fun" student organizer and the "How Tall is Your Tale?" student organizer for each student in your classroom. Download and print the "How the West Was Fun" and the "How Tall is Your Tale?" answer key for your own reference.

CUE Texas Ranch House, Episode 5, "Showdown at the Cooke Corral" to the appropriate starting point, which is where you see a group of three cowboys riding past a gate, and you hear the narrator say, "Heading out for their overnight cow hunt. . ."

When using media, provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, a specific task to complete and/or information to identify during or after viewing of video segments, web sites, or other multimedia elements.

Continue for Procedures for Teachers