Ken Burns Classroom

Ballad of Horatio


Students assess the literary quality and elements of Jackson’s journey to write a ballad about his automobile adventure.


Explain to students that Horatio Jackson’s road trip was a saga of sorts, with myriad stories and anecdotes that merit literary attention. Divide students into small groups to identify some of the many incidents that occurred during the adventure. Invite them to consider creative venues they would develop to highlight these events — film, music, poetry, etc., and on what aspects of the trip would they focus.

Ask students to define “ballad,” and give examples of any with which they might be familiar. Introduce students to this type of poetry, providing background on the origin and distinguishing features of ballads, such as their rhyming patterns. Distribute several ballads such as those written by Samuel Coleridge and William Wordsworth (see the Resources section) for students to review and discuss noting common elements and patterns.

Divide students into small groups. Using the film Horatio’s Drive and related resources about the road trip, instruct them to select key aspects of Horatio’s journey they find particularly interesting and then use this information to write a ballad about Jackson’s adventure. (They might opt to write a musical ballad.) Invite each group to share its work. Students can publish a compilation of their ballads in their school newspaper or on the school Web site.

Extended activities

Students can:

  • Write a science-fiction version of Horatio’s journey in which his vehicle is a space ship traveling through the galaxy for the first time.
  • Write a folk tale that centers on Bud, Horatio’s canine traveling companion.
  • Create a storyboard for an animated cartoon series centered on Horatio’s journey.


Types of Ballads:

Lyrical Ballads: William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge:


This activity addresses the following national content standards established by the Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL):

Historical Understanding

  • Understands the historical perspective

Language Arts

  • Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing
  • Gathers and uses information for research purposes
  • Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of literary texts

About The Authors

Michele Israel

From classroom instructor to an executive director, Michele Israel has been an educator for nearly 20 years. She has developed and managed innovative educational initiatives, taught in nontraditional settings in the US and overseas, developed curricula and educational materials, and designed and facilitated professional development for classroom and community educators. Currently operating Educational Consulting Group, Israel is involved with diverse projects, including strategic planning and product development.