Southbound – song – lesson idea and worksheets

Doc and Merle Watson tuning up
Level: intermediate to advanced.
Ages: older teens and adults.
Type: scanning a text for vocabulary anomalies; listening and responding to a song; various writing- or performing-based follow-on tasks.
Skills: reading; listening and pronunciation; speaking; writing.
Language focus: vocabulary related to travel and moving (and missing) home.

Note: the song and lesson ideas below would fit in well with travel- or emigration-related vocabulary and lesson themes; or, of course, they could be used on their own.


  • This worksheet (3 pages)
  • this song (you might want to use keepvid or savevid to download it to your computer):
    [youtube width=”425″ height=”344″][/youtube]
  • you may want to print out the notes below, too (don’t worry, all lesson plans and ideas here are printer-friendly!).


  • make one copy of the complete worksheet (pages one, two and three) for yourself;
  • copy pages one and two for each of your students.

Merle and Doc Watson, black and white photo

    Ideas for warmers

    Option 1

  • Dictate the following questions (or use some of the ones from the “travel” section of my topic-based materials) – you may need to say them more than once:
    1. Describe the place where you grew up. What was it like? What was the best thing about it?
    2. Have you moved house before? If so, how did you feel when you moved? If not, what would make you move home?
    3. Where would you most like to live in the world, and why?
  • Pair your students and ask them to check what they wrote. Elicit the questions and board any which caused difficulty. Drill pronunciation as necessary.
  • Ask your students to answer the questions in their pairs. Elicit that they can ask questions you haven’t asked, to get more information. You may like to monitor your students’ output here, noting down language for subsequent feedback.
  • Stop the activity after a few minutes and get some content feedback from your learners – for example: is there a consensus on the best place to move to? What are some of your students’ favourite memories of (their first) home? How do they feel about where they’re living now?
  • Option 2

  • Draw a rough map of the USA on the board and invite your students to guess what it is.
  • Elicit approximately where New York and Chicago would go on this map. Elicit roughly where Kentucky or North or South Carolina would go (further South!).
  • Ask your students to imagine they come from a farm in a Southern US state. They’ve just moved to a big city up North. How do they feel about their new home? How do they feel about their old home now? What are the main differences between their new and old lives?
  • Allow your students to think about this for a little while, and make some notes about it. Then pair them up, or put them into small groups, and ask them to discuss their ideas. While they discuss, board the following table:
    City lifeCountry life

  • Get some content feedback from your students, helping them reformulate any grammatical or vocabulary errors and boarding their (corrected) answers in your table. Ask your students to note down any words or expressions from the table which they want to remember.
  • Poster: Doc and Merle Watson in concert

    Working with the song

  • Board “Southbound”. Explain that this describes a journey, and elicit which direction you’re travelling if you’re going southbound (South!). Explain that you have a song you’d like your class to listen to – it’s called Southbound and it’s about a man travelling back to his childhood home in the southern United States. If you like, you could ask your students if they think the man will be happy to be going back home and why/why not. They could invent a back story for him, too: why is he going back home? What’s he been doing up north?
  • Divide your students into pairs and show them page one of the worksheet (the lyrics with 10 mistakes). Explain that these are the song’s lyrics, but that there are ten mistakes. Ask them to read through the lyrics and work together to try and change any words that seem wrong or strange.
  • Hand out page one of the worksheet, one copy per pair of students. After a few minutes, ask them to listen to the song and see if they were correct. Give out more copies of page one of the worksheet, so your students each have a copy. Elicit that they can make any further changes as they listen, then play the song below:
    [youtube width=”425″ height=”344″][/youtube]
  • Play the song again if necessary, then hand out the second page of the worksheet. Ask your students to check the real lyrics against their own corrections – any surprises? Which parts of the song were hardest to understand? Check and drill pronunciation of any difficult passages for your students. You could also check unknown vocabulary here, or play the song again while students read along (or sing along with it).
  • Focus your students’ attention on the comprehension questions. Ask them to read the lyrics and try to answer the questions, discussing with their partners what the answers might be and why these might be the answers. Encourage your students to justify their answers – you might want to demonstrate the first question with a stronger student.
  • Get feedback from the class (see the third page of the handout for my suggested answers).
  • Doc Watson - family photo

    Some possible follow-ups

    Follow-up 1 – updating the lyrics

  • Board:
    Reason for moving:
  • Put your students into new pairs or small groups. Focus on what you’ve just boarded and ask each pair or group to decide together on answers to these prompts.
  • Ask them to choose a musical style they all like, and to write their own “journey” song describing how they’re feeling as they move from one place to another.
  • Circulate and help with language as necessary.
  • Students could either finish this for homework, pin their lyrics on the classroom walls for other groups to read and suggest corrections to or write questions for more information, or they could even record a song to accompany their lyrics (these could be worked on in class as part of a longer project, or added to a class blog, etc.)
  • Follow-up 2 – writing a letter or an email home

  • Board Place: from; to;, and Reason for moving:, as above, put your students into new pairs or new groups and ask them to choose answers to the boarded prompts.
  • Explain that they will write a group letter or email to someone close to them (they can choose who this is), saying where they’re moving to and why. Elicit that the letter/email will be informal and personal, and elicit (and board) a few ways of beginning and ending such correspondence.
  • Circulate and help with language.
  • For homework, students could each take a photocopy of a letter or email from a different group and reply to it.
  • Follow-up 3 – working more with the language of the lyrics

  • Focus your students’ attention on a couple of the internal rhymes in the lyrics – for example: homesick/seem to pick; street/feet. Ask them to find some more examples, either of internal rhymes or rhymes at line-endings.
  • Focus on the image of the moving train. Ask how the internal (and other) rhymes help to capture this rhythm, and how successful they are at doing this.
  • Focus on some of the informalities of the language, such as cos (for because) and burnin’ (with no final g). Ask your students what other words or expressions they can find which show the song is not very formal (some ideas: counting sheep; ain’t got a dime; big old engine; …).
  • Board some of these informal words and expressions, then set the groundwork for a new story (you could ask, and accept the first serious answers to, these questions: how many people are in the story? Do they know each other? If so, how? If not, how do they meet? How old are they?, and so on – by asking fairly closed questions in this way, and not allowing pauses before answers, you’ll quickly be able to build up a story framework with your students).
  • Ask your students to write this story, either as a narrative, a song, a poem, a letter or an email. Ask them to incorporate all of the boarded informal language in what they write.
  • Monitor and help with language, and suggest ideas (perhaps using the closed questions technique above), as necessary. Stories could be finished for homework, pinned around the room for corrections or questions from the other groups, etc.

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