Searching for the Heart of the USA:

A Geographical Drama

Lois McFadyen Christensen


Aesthetic education is an often neglected part of the social studies curriculum, yet nurturing students in the arts can simultaneously inform them about social studies content. By using drama, for example, students make meaning through an experience that touches the imagination. Drama can be an active, student-centered means of learning, informing students about people, places, and events through physical, affective, and cognitive engagement. Music, when added to a drama, becomes one more avenue through which students can channel their natural curiosity.

Young students can learn about history and geography, about things that are distant in time and space, through drama and music. It is often problematic for young learners to understand such concepts, but aesthetic experiences provide opportunities for them to “try on” a small piece of the life of a historical figure who lived in a different time and place. As students engage in a dramatic production, students begin to construct a contextual understanding of geographical locations and historical figures and events.

The following play with music is a version of one that I wrote for and produced with a group of kindergartners in 1986 at a parochial school in Hoover, Alabama. The students memorized their lines at home. Parents designed the costumes and helped their children practice their lines. The students practiced the songs in their once-a-week music class for four weeks. (They sang only the first verse, a few stanzas, or the chorus of each of the musical numbers). We practiced the performance for less than an hour a day in classes over two weeks.

The whole play took less than 30 minutes to perform. Students stood in a semicircle while each character stepped forward to speak his or her lines. (One child can stand in front of a map of the United States and trace the search as it progresses.) The final scene of the play is in Alabama, but there is no correct order to the presentation of the states; tailor the play to fit your needs. Add pertinent historical figures from your state or from any state. The Internet is a grand resource that we did not have in 1986 that makes it easy to acquire lyrics for the tunes listed in this drama. Many popular tunes can be found on the Internet at www.

This musical could be performed on a national or state holiday, St. Valentine’s Day, or on any day toward the end of a unit on the physical and social geography of the fifty states. It could be adapted for any elementary grade. Have fun on your “search!”



Christensen, L. M. In Search of the Heart of America: A Primary Grade Geographical Musical Play in Study of the United States. ERIC Document ED343836, 1987.

Greene, Maxine. Releasing the Imagination: Essays on Education, the Arts, and Social Change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1995.

Harrison J. and E. Van Zandt, The Young People’s Atlas of the United States. New York: Kingfisher, 1992.

Weitzman, D. ed. “The California Missions.” In California Chronicles: A Cobblestone Publication 2, no. 1 (1999): 1-32.


Lois McFadyen Christensen is an assistant professor in curriculum and instruction at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, School of Education.

Searching for the Heart of the USA
by Lois McFadyen Christensen

Objectives of the Project
After participating in this geographical search for the “heart” of theUSA, students should be able to:

The Cast
Uncle (or Aunt) Sam (the narrator)
Cajun (Acadian) man or woman
six-year-old student Ruby Bridges
fisherman or fisherwoman
cowgirl or cowboy
astronaut Sally Ride
saguaro cactus
The missionary Father Junipero Serra
Mickey Mouse
Minnie Mouse
giant redwood tree
aeronaut Amelia Earhart
The tin man from the oz
Cherokee teacher Sequoyah
Liberty Bell
Statue of Liberty
Big Apple
coal miner
poet Maya Angelou
Country singer Minnie Pearl
Smokey the Bear
“Heart of Dixie” (the state of Alabama with a big heart on it)

Searching for the Heart of the USA

Uncle (or aunt) sam
Today, we are on a special journey. We will travel together through our diverse and wonderful country learning about some of the states as we search for the heart of the United States of America.

SONG: “You Gotta Have Heart.” Alder and Ross (1995/1983).

Uncle (or aunt) sam
Our first stop is the Pelican State, Louisiana, which lies beside the Gulf of Mexico. Much of the state is almost at sea level.

Cajun (Acadian) Man or woman
Louisiana was settled by Acadian people who were forced to relocate from Nova Scotia, Canada, to Louisiana. It is the birthplace of American jazz music.
One of Louisiana’s claims to fame is the annual celebration of Mardi Gras, which is French for “Fat Tuesday.” This celebration began as a religious holiday. Each spring before Easter, people wearing masks and necklaces would go from house to house, collecting excess fats and oils from each kitchen. Today, Mardi Gras in the city of New Orleans is not a religious event. It has become a week of parades and festivities, enjoyed by all.

Ruby Bridges
I am Ruby Bridges. In 1960, I was in the first grade. I was among the first African American children to integrate the public schools in New Orleans. On the first day of school, there were a lot of noisy people outside. I thought that maybe they were celebrating Mardi Gras. But the angry crowd yelled and threw things at me and the marshals who walked with me into the school. It took a whole year, but finally people accepted integration. That means that all students, whatever the color of their skin, have a right to go to school together. When I was six years old, I showed a lot of courage and heart.

The Fisherman or Fisherwoman
Boatloads of fish are caught in the Gulf waters off the coast of Louisiana. Shrimp and all types of shellfish are big exports of the state and a main staple for the people in Louisiana, a state that leads the nation in commercial fishing. Louisiana heralds some of the most famous chefs in the USA.

SONG: “Shrimp Boats A Comin’.” Jerry Jackson (1991).

Uncle (or aunt) sam
Let’s mosey along west to Texas, the Lone Star state.

Cowgirl or Cowboy
When we think of Texas, we think LARGE, and we think OIL. Texas is known for the cattle on its great ranches. Our Stetson hats protect us from the sun as we raise cattle and tend cotton farms.

Davey Crockett
Remember the Alamo? I, Davey Crockett, along with Jim Bowie and others, fought for the “Lone Star Republic” of Texas against the Mexicans at a mission called the Alamo. The Mexicans won the battle of the Alamo, but later, in 1848, they lost a war with the United States. Today, the Alamo is a museum that lies within the city of San Antonio, Texas.

Sally Ride
Come in Houston! This is Sally Ride! Can you read me? I’m Sally, the first American woman to be an astronaut. NASA’s mission control center is located in Houston, a city named after General Sam Houston, hero of the Texas War for Independence. NASA stands for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and it is the center for space flight. NASA engineers in Houston monitored the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo space flight missions.

Uncle (or aunt) sam
Could the heart of the USA be deep in the heart of Texas?

SONG: “Deep in the Heart of Texas”

Uncle (or aunt) sam
Let’s go further west, to Arizona, the home of many Native American tribes. It’s a state of majestic landforms, mountains, forests, and deserts.

Saguaro Cactus
Yep, I’m a Saguaro Cactus, and I love the hot, dry climate of Arizona. The Grand Canyon lies in the shadow of the San Francisco Peaks, which are hallowed grounds for the Navajo and Hopi peoples who have lived there for nine centuries. Today, Arizona has one of the largest Native American populations of all the states. Arizona became a state on Valentine’s Day in 1912. Could the heart of the USA be here? Or did we leave our heart in San Francisco?

SONG: “California, Here I Come.” A. Jolson et al. (1925).

Uncle (or aunt) sam
The Spanish missionary, Father Junipero Serra, built nine missions up the coast of California, each a one-day walk apart from the next. In all, twenty-one missions were built.

San Diego, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, San Jose, San Carlos, San Francisco, . . . OLE!! OLE!!

Father Junipero Serra
I am Father Junipero Serra. I built missions on El Camino Real, the King’s Highway, up the coast of California. In my zealousness, I did not consider the culture of the Native American people that I tried to convert to Christianity. California cities grew up around the missions that I built.

Mickey and Minnie Mouse
We live in the heart of Disneyland, which is Hollywood, California. We make each other’s heart throb: thump, thump, thump. Pluto, Donald Duck, and Goofy are our good friends. Walt Disney brought us here, and made this place our home.

Giant Redwood Tree
Just north of the California vineyards, you’ll find Highway 1, which runs almost the length of the Pacific coast, stretching 780 miles. You will find me, a giant tree, in Redwood National Park. I am among the tallest of all trees in the United States. My heart has been beating for thousands of years!

Uncle (or aunt) sam
Could this be the heart of the USA? Perhaps, we should check the heartland of America, the Sunflower State of Kansas.

Amelia Earhart
Kansas is the geographic center of the United States. I am Amelia Earhart, and I was born in Kansas in 1897. I was a pioneer of flight, when there were few women pilots at all. I flew solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1932, but my plane was lost somewhere in the Pacific Ocean when I attempted a flight around the world in 1937.

The Tin Man
Remember me, the Tin Man? I followed the yellow brick road with Dorothy Toto, Lion, and Scarecrow to the Wizard of Oz. He gave me a heart. See it? Dorothy got what she wanted too. She got to go back home to Kansas.

Uncle (or aunt) sam
Sooner or later we’ll find ourselves searching for the heart of America in Oklahoma. I can smell that wheat blowing in the breeze across the plains.

SONG: “Oklahoma.” Rogers and Hammerstein (1955).

I am Sequoyah, the famous Cherokee who developed an alphabet for reading and writing the Cherokee language. In the 1830s my people walked the Trail of Tears from the Eastern United States to Oklahoma because of the Indian Removal Act. Many of my family members died along the Trail of Tears from cold, hunger, or disease. Oklahoma means, “Land of the Red People.” Even though we could have easily lost heart from this heartless act in U.S. history. Today, we have stayed true to our culture. Oklahoma has the second largest Native American population in the USA. Over 60 tribes call Oklahoma their home.

Uncle (or aunt) sam
It would be wise to check out the city of Brotherly and Sisterly Love, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for the heart of the USA.

The Liberty Bell
I am the Liberty Bell. I was cast to commemorate the 50 years that Pennsylvania was a colony. I was cracked when I was first rung, at the first reading of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Today I am on display in Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

Uncle (or aunt) sam
In a heart, skip, and a jump we’ll be in New York, a city with 18 million hearts.

The Statue of Liberty
I am the Statue of Liberty. My torch stands for Liberty. My light shines hope for all the millions of immigrants who come to the United States looking for the heart of America. In the artist’s original plan, I was to be a woman of African heritage. I stand as an icon proclaiming liberty and offering hope to those who are denied freedom and justice.

Big Apple
New York City is the largest city in the state of New York and the most populous city in the United States. New Yorkers are proud of Central Park, the Yankees baseball team, the fashion center called Fifth Avenue, and the theaters on Broadway. They call their city the “Big Apple.”

SONG: “New York, New York.” Sinatra, Frank

Uncle (or aunt) sam
Let’s go wheeling on a country road to Wheeling, West Virginia.

Coal Miner
I am a coal miner. West Virginia was a leader among the states in coal mining. The Mountain State was born out of the turmoil of the Civil War. Its citizens wanted to remain loyal to the union, while the rest of Virginia voted to join the Confederacy. West Virginia is celebrated for tall tales. Maybe this is because of the elevation of the Appalachian Mountains. John Henry the railroad worker is one of the most notable legends.

SONG: “Country Roads.” Bill Danoff (1974).

Uncle (or aunt) sam
Shall we travel across the Appalachians to North Carolina in search of the heart of America?

Maya Angelou
I am Maya Angelou, a professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University. I began my career in dance and drama. Now I teach and write poetry. I read one of my poems at the inauguration of a United States President. I read a poem before the United Nations. I live in North Carolina, but I am a seeker of the heart of America.

Uncle (or aunt) sam
Let’s take the Chattanooga Choo Choo to Tennessee. Will we find the heart of America here?

Minnie Pearl
Howdy! I am Minnie Pearl. I am the heart of Opryland and country music. The blues and rock ‘n roll were birthed here too. Names like Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and Elvis Presley come to mind and heart when you think about Tennessee.

Smokey the Bear
When you come to the Smokey Mountains, you aren’t looking for hearts. You are on the lookout for me. Only you can prevent forest fires to keep my habitat safe. As you travel the forest-covered land of the Cumberland Gap, where three states connect, you will find many black bears. Watch your heart and that of your true love because bears are the largest carnivores on the continent.

SONG: “On Top of Old Smoky” Traditional.

Uncle (or aunt) sam
We could take a rocket, or a battle ship, the USS Alabama, but perhaps Interstate 65 is best to travel southward to Alabama as we continue our search for the heart of the USA.

Heart of Dixie
I am Alabama, the heart of Dixie. The scientist and former slave, Booker T. Washington, founded Tuskegee University in 1881. George Washington Carver thrived as a scientist here. I am the home of Helen Keller, the blind and deaf woman who surprised people with her sharp mind. Cotton used to be king in Alabama. Today Alabama is pine trees, mountains, rivers, and a coast along the Gulf of Mexico. Alabama is home of NASA’s Space and Rocket Museum. Important Civil Rights events took place in my state. The largest city, Birmingham, works tirelessly to right the many wrongs of prejudice. This important story is told at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

SONG: “Sweet Home Alabama.” R. Van Zant et al. (1974).

Uncle (or aunt) sam
We have traveled all around this nation of ours looking at people, places, locations, and STILL have not found the heart of America! Or have we?

Heart of Dixie
Hmm, I think that quite possibly the Heart of America doesn’t reside in a particular place or region. The collective heart of America is in the heart of each and every citizen. We are diverse, we are many, and yet we are one. E Pluribus Unum.

Uncle (or aunt) sam
We are united by the land and by the laws we create together and live under. We are united by our history and by our dreams. We work to make liberty and justice a reality for ALL.

Heart of Dixie
The Heart of the United States of America lies as possibilities in the beautiful hearts of each one of us.

SONG: “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” S. F. Smith (1832).

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