“Wichita Lineman”

Johnny Webb, 1968

The BBC describes this song as “a simple tale of a lonely telephone repairman working in the vast open plains of the American Midwest. It has just two short verses and one chorus, but says as much in them as many authors say in a lifetime.”

The song has a lot going for it in terms of language teaching–clear diction in the recording and a good backstory, plus spinoff lessons on grammar and discussion.

Choose from the following activities:

  • Reading Read the story behind the song.
  • Listening Copy the lyrics from the Internet. Then listen to the audio-only video while reading the  lyrics.
  • Grammar Focus on the line “I hear you singin’ in the wires.” This line is a perfect example of a common construction: verb of perception (hear) + someone or something (you) + the -ing form of a verb (singin’). Practice the construction with the gap-fill worksheet below. Permission granted to duplicate for classroom use. For levels high beginning and up.

verbs of perception.docx          verbs of perception.pdf

  • Listening Watch Glen Campbell’s performance of “Wichita Lineman.” His recording of the song was chosen by the U.S. library of Congress for preservation for future generations because of its “cultural, historical, or aesthetic significance.”
  • Discussion This song invites a discussion about the pros and cons of different kinds of work. You could structure the discussion with the worksheet below. For levels high beginning and up. Permission granted to duplicate for classroom use.

ideal work.docx          ideal work.pdf

  • Reading If you use the True Stories reading series, you could follow up with a story in which someone’s occupation plays a central role: “The First Day” (True Stories 2), about a 911 operator; “The Last Laugh” (True Stories 2), about a waitress; “A Long Fishing Trip” (True Stories 3), about fishermen; “How You Finish” (True Stories 4), about a teacher; “The Chef” (Stories 5), about a blind chef. (The story “The Chef” is offered as a sample unit of True Stories 5. It is on the Pearson catalog site.)