Ideas for Classroom Activities

Want to read stories about these artists when they were West Virginia schoolchildren?
Want to hear their music?
Just click on their pictures.

Bill Withers Explore the life and times of Bill Withers. Click on his photo to get to the stories and music.
Explore the life and times of Hazel Dickens. Click on her photo to get to the stories and music. Hazel Dickens
Billy Edd Wheeler Explore the life and times of Billy Edd Wheeler. Click on his photo to get to the stories and music.
Special Bonus: Billy Edd’s early years in a coal camp provide a wonderful way to teach coal camp history through the eyes of a child. Click here for ideas about ways to use his stories.

In this unit, you’ll find stories about the childhoods of three of West Virginia’s most-loved musicians: Bill Withers, Billy Edd Wheeler, and Hazel Dickens. You can use the ideas, songs and videos, and stories to teach writing skills while you build student pride in West Virginia.

To read the stories, click on the photos at left. We plan to produce story units on more musicians, so we’d like feedback from you. Send your comments and ideas to:

Use the stories and links with the rest of the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame website. If the Hall of Fame’s traveling exhibit visits your school, you can use this material to stir up interest in advance or let interested students research further after the exhibit leaves.

These musicians’ childhood stories teach much about West Virginia history. Billy Edd Wheeler’s story, for instance, paints a vivid picture of a child’s life in a southern West Virginia coal camp.

The stories also teach solid life lessons. Success did not come easily to any of these three artists. They worked for it. They made the most of their chances. We hope students will think, “Well, if they did it, maybe I can too.”

Not all students want to be musicians, but all must persist past roadblocks in life. These stories give teachers a way to help them think about that.

You can use this material for whole-class activities or independent study projects.

The childhood stories are 4-8 pages long. They are easy to copy. The stories often contain the seeds of the songs. The internet links lead students to more information, plus wonderful performances of the songs by other well-known artists.

A piece of advice: Tell students a bit about a musician or have them read a story before they listen to the songs. Some of the recordings are not the polished productions students normally hear. They will listen with more interest if they know about the songwriter. We chose songs that contain life lessons and are easily discussed.

The artist pages include URLs of YouTube videos or audio files. These videos can all be accessed from the classroom.

Click here for a list of featured songs.

The material in this section was developed and written by Kate Long.

This project received support of the West Virginia Humanities Council.