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Music & The Pioneers Lesson Plan

Author: Michelle Willis

Year: 2016

Artform: Music

Subjects: Social Studies

Grade: 4th

Duration: 30 minutes

Overview: Students learn to recognize a famous pioneer tune by analyzing the sheet music, practice writing in lyrics, and learn a dance to accompany the tune.

Standards and Objectives

Experience and explore music which connects us to history, culture, heritage, and community
Utah Pioneers, Many People Move West, Standard 2, Objective 1, Indicator ABCD
  1. Figure out what familiar song is written on a piece of paper without the use of lyrics or a title.
  2. Demonstrate how to add lyrics to a written melodic line.
  3. Perform a wagon wheel-style circle dance to a pioneer folk tune.



  1. Pass out sheet music for “O Susanna”. It will have no title and no lyrics. Students must use the other clues on the page to help figure out what the song is (rhythm, intervals, tempo).
  2. Once the students have figured out the title of the song, put the lyrics on the projector and see if they can put the correct syllables under each note. After 3-4 minutes, put an answer key up so they can check and see how they did.
  3. Sing the song together and explain the origins of the song. (see Historical Element)


Watch a typical circle dance taught to “O Susanna” (see link in Other Information)


Try the dance as a class. 3 students will be assigned to play percussion, 16 students will dance, and the rest of the students will sing along with the song. After going through the circle dance completely once, switch singers, dancers, and percussionists.


While students assist with clean up, ask what they liked best about the day’s lesson.


This lesson integrates with the 4th grade unit on the Utah Pioneers and the pioneer migration to the West.
How did music and dance help with the difficulties encountered by the pioneers?
How do the verse and chorus differ in “O Susanna”?
  • Circle Dance
  • Lyrics
  • Syllables
  • Verse & Chorus
In 1846, Stephen Foster moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, and became a bookkeeper with his brother’s steamship company. While in Cincinnati, Foster wrote “Oh! Susanna”, possibly for his men’s social club. The song was first performed by a local quintet at a concert in Andrews’ Eagle Ice Cream Saloon in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on September 11, 1847. It was first published by W. C. Peters & Co. in Cincinnati in 1848.
  1. Students see if they can name the song without seeing a title or lyrics.
  2. Write lyrics in so the syllables match up with the correct notes.
  3. Participate in the circle dance.
Link to dance tutorial - Barn Dance/Oh Susanna


  • “O Susanna” sheet music with no lyrics (can be found with a simple Google Image search)
  • 3 percussion instruments
  • Pencils
  • Projector/Computer