To assist in the study of rhythm in writing, whether poetry, lyrics, or even prose, use the imagery of the railroad. Ask students what sound a moving train makes. (Although many modern trains do not make the "chug-a chug-a chug-a chug-a" sound, most people are likely to vocalize this beat when asked to make the sound of a moving train.)
Then have students listen to historic recordings of railroad songs to hear the train rhythm guiding the song. Search on railroad in the American Memory collections listed below to find sound recordings, song sheets and sheet music. (Note that someone may need to play the sheet music for students who are unable to read it.)
- African-American Sheet Music, 1850-1920
- America Singing: Nineteenth-Century Song Sheets
- Blues, Gospel, and the Fort Valley Music Festivals, 1938-1943
- California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties
- Fiddle Tunes of the Old Frontier
- Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920
- Southern Mosaic: The John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip
- Voices from the Dust Bowl, 1940-1941
Noting the dates and regions where these songs were performed, students can search Railroad Maps to see what rail lines traversed the areas in which the songs' creators lived.
Once the students can hear the rhythm of the train in these songs, have them write poetry and prose with this same rhythm. Students will need to think of words that fit the rhythm in either the number of syllables, the sounds of the letters, or other creative ways. They can recite the poem aloud for the class while listening students tap out the rhythm of the train.