Famous Southern Voices BiographiesThree Indian Springs Middle School (Columbia City, IN) seventh grade teachers developed a biographical unit that begins with a song. Jann Johnson, Karen Hedrick, and Katie Waterfall kicked off the research unit having their students read and listen to the lyrics of country singer Tim McGraw’s song “Southern Voice.”

After listening to the song, students listed the famous people mentioned and how their actions made a difference using the Song Dissection graphic organizer. (A quick-reference Answer Key is provided.) Students then selected a single person from the song lyrics to research further. (TIP: You may want to eliminate Jack Daniels as one of the choices.)

Beyond finding the typical biographical facts, the teachers encouraged students to dig for more about the character traits of their subjects. They challenged their students to look specifically at how these qualities affected their subjects’ accomplishments. To aid in this kind of research, students gathered answers to some key questions within their Biography Notes.

  1. What were the person’s ties to the South?
  2. What is this person’s most memorable accomplishment?
  3. How did this person’s ties to the South influence his/her accomplishments?
  4. What are the two or three most important lessons you or any other young person might learn from the way this person lived?
  5. How did this person give “voice” to his/her accomplishment? How did this person use his/her accomplishments for the greater good?

Using researched information, visual images, and optional music, students first prepared PowerPoint presentations consisting of 5-8 slides each. While delivering their individual slideshows to the class, students were assessed by the teacher and their peers (Oral Presentation Peer Feedback form).

Per the deadline schedule, students’ PowerPoints were due before the research papers, giving them a couple of extra days to add finishing touches to their final drafts.

Jann mentioned that this short-term research option has been a perfect end-of-the-year project. What a creative combination of research writing, technology, and music!

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