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Teaching Guide

Teaching the 1960s

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The 1960s left a legacy of groovy music and out-of-this-world fashions, but it wasn't just the Age of Aquarius. It was a time of counterculture and social change. So shake off your bell-bottoms, and accessorize with this teaching guide.

In this guide you will find

  • activities analyzing historical documents, videos, and songs of the time.
  • discussion questions on ideology, labor, and culture.
  • historical resources from the history of rockin' and rollin' to a bio of JFK and the powerful Civil Rights movement.

Our wicked righteous teaching guide comes highly recommended. Wearing platform shoes to class: optional.

What's Inside Shmoop's History Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring history to life.

Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 3-5 Common Core-aligned activities (including quotation, image, and document analysis) to complete in class with your students, with detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes to be sure students are looking at the material through various lenses.
  • Resources to help make the topic feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop's teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the topic and how you can overcome the hurdles.

Instructions for You

Objective: In the 1995 film Dangerous Minds, Michelle Pfeiffer's character asks a colleague about teaching poetry to her students, and he recommends Dylan.

"Thomas?" she asks. 

"No, Bob."

The 1960s produced several talented poet-songwriters, but Bob Dylan is generally recognized as the greatest of these. In this analytical exercise, your students will examine several of his songs from the decade and explore what they reveal about the values of the counterculture and youth movement.

Length of Lesson: 1-2 class periods (depending on the number of different songs students wind up choosing).

Materials Needed:

Access to lyrics from several Bob Dylan songs. Hey look! Here's a list of songs you can use (with links to their lyrics):

You can find more at the songs page on Dylan's official website if necessary. (You may want to bring the page up in class to show students just how prolific Dylan has been.)

Step One: Either working in pairs, groups of three, or individually (it's nice for students to have the option, and it's good for you to see your students' preferences for future reference), have students select two songs from the list below to analyze.  

You can give them 5-10 minutes to make their selections so they have a chance to quickly scan some of the lyrics as they make their choices. 

Step Two: Once they've made their selections, students should analyze the two songs they've chose using the following questions as a guide. 

  1. What was the message of the song?
  2. Were its references allegorical or literal?
  3. To what specific events or attitudes did the song refer?
  4. Is the song political or personal?
  5. What was the spirit of the song (i.e., hopeful and forward-looking or pessimistic)?

In their pairs, threes, or on their own, students should jot down answers to each of these questions. 

While they're chatting, make the following list down the left-hand side of your dry erase (or chalk, or Smart) board, leaving a bit of space between each item.

  • Message
  • Allegorical/Literal
  • Events/Attitudes
  • Political/Personal
  • Spirit

You'll be using each of the songs the students chose to work with as column headers across the top to make a nice chart for all of their responses, but wait until they're done discussing to do that just in case some people switched songs mid-discussion. 

Step Three: Bring the class back together and start going through the songs one at a time. As you go through each song, first ask, "Who did this one?" If nobody analyzed a particular song, skip it. If even one student did it, write its name at the top of a column and fill in the chart, one item at a time, by going through the questions from Step Two.

For questions such as, "Were its references allegorical or literal?", you can ask for a brief explanation, but you don't need to record the whole answer on the board.

Step Four: Stand back and gaze with wonder at your beautiful chart. Wow! Nice work everyone. 

Step Five: Let's put that chart to work. Using the data on the chart, discuss the following questions with your students. 

  1. Was there any overlap between your two songs? Explain. 
  2. How about the songs as a whole? Do any of them speak to a similar concern or hope? 
  3. Collectively, what values do these songs reflect?
  4. If you didn't know when these songs had been written, would you be able to guess? Why or why not? To what time periods could these songs apply?
  5. Are there any artists today who remind you of Dylan? Who and how?

NOTE: If you've run out of time when you get to this step, you can either save it for tomorrow or have students answer these questions for homework. In either case, you can take a picture of the board in order to email it to students, post it on your class website, or recreate the chart for tomorrow's class. Of course, if you've been working on a SmartBoard or with a computer/projector, you can just save the page and bring it up again when you need it.

Instructions for Your Students

Do you like Bob Dylan? 

 Do you listen to Bob Dylan? 

Ever heard of Bob Dylan? He's been on the cover of Rolling Stone 20+ times, but if you don't know him, maybe you know his son, Jakob.

In any case, the elder Dylan carries a lot of labels—the "poet laureate of the 60s," the "voice of his generation." What did he have to say? And does he speak to your generation, in addition to his own? 

Today, you will be exploring some of his music by analyzing the lyrics. You can get jump-started by listening to this classic.

Step One: Either working in pairs, groups of three, or individually (your choice!), select two songs from the list below to analyze.  

You can take 5-10 minutes to make your selections so you have a chance to quickly scan some of the lyrics. It's nice to know what you're getting into, right? 

Step Two: Once you've made your selections, work in your pair, trio, or on your own to your two songs. Use the following questions as a guide, and jot down your answers to each one as you go. You're going to need notes for quick reference in Step Four. 

  1. What was the message of the song?
  2. Were its references allegorical or literal?
  3. To what specific events or attitudes did the song refer?
  4. Is the song political or personal?
  5. What was the spirit of the song (i.e., hopeful and forward-looking or pessimistic)?

Step Three: Your teacher will bring the class back together and start going through the songs one at a time. When your songs come up, get in there. Volunteer your thoughts even if they're different from what other people are saying. We're only going to get the best data in this chart if everyone participates. 

Step Four: Stand back and gaze with wonder at your beautiful chart. Wow! Nice work everyone. 

Step Five: Let's put that chart to work. Using the data on the chart, discuss the following questions with your classmates. 

  1. Was there any overlap between your two songs? Explain. 
  2. How about the songs as a whole? Do any of them speak to a similar concern or hope? 
  3. Collectively, what values do these songs reflect?
  4. If you didn't know when these songs had been written, would you be able to guess? Why or why not? To what time periods could these songs apply?
  5. Are there any artists today who remind you of Dylan? Who and how?

WANT MORE HELP TEACHING THE 1960S?

Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Summary & Analysis    Timeline    People    Facts    Photos    Best of the Web    Citations    
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