Searching for Oklahoma

Barbara Howry, Putnam City West High School, Oklahoma City


Many Oklahomans do not have a positive image of our state.  Indian Territory did not become the state of Oklahoma until 1907, so as a young state we have not had the time to develop a consistent image.  Knowing that many of my students hear negative comments about our state at home, I wanted to take my time with them and try to give them some positive images about our rich history and beautiful state.  Since no one can definitively decide where Oklahoma is located in these United States—West, Southwest, Midwest, South, Central Plains, Heartland, or Plains—I believe it even more important to look at who we are as Oklahomans.

When I found Michael Wallis’ book Way Down Yonder in the Indian Nation, which is a collection of stories about Oklahoma, I knew the piece “Searching for Hidden Rhythms in Twilight Land” would be perfect for my students to really look at their place. I wanted to start with only the first couple of paragraphs because the language is poetic and full of great images. My objective with this assignment was for students to look at Oklahoma’s colorful beginnings and to appreciate our history in perhaps a new way. 

I also wanted the students to think for themselves about what impressed them about the geography of our state.  While most people think we are the flat lands, only part of our state fits that description.  Many of my students don’t even realize that in the eastern part of the state there are mountains and a National Forest. I spend time showing a video our tourism department produced that shows all the areas of our state so my students can be more aware of it. 

Instructional sequence

1. For several days before assigning the writing about “My Oklahoma,” have students use their writer’s notebook to direct their thinking about what they see around them and Oklahoma’s history.

2. Show video and pictures of Oklahoma landscapes for students to know about the changing geography in the state.

3. Read out loud in class the excerpt from the book Way Down Yonder in the Indian Nation, “Searching for Hidden Rhythms in Twilight Land” by Michael Wallis. 

4. Discuss Wallis’ piece, in particular pointing out the importance of his mentioning some of the images like “calloused hands,” “wildcat gusher coming in,” and “million-dollar deal cemented with a handshake.”

5. Students are to compose a piece of writing describing their Oklahoma.  They can use Wallis’ piece as a model, or they can come up with their own format.  However they choose to go about the assignment, students need to make sure the writing is their own.

Student artifact

Oklahoma is the red earth to seed by the North and South winds.  It is the lean structure of the Native American.  It is the breeding ground for homegrown heroes.  It is the land that offers gray cold winters and honeysuckle sweet summers.  It is the long ago home of the adventurous, thrill-seeking cowboy.  It is the wild stories of buffalo, covered wagons, and tribes battling over the pride passed down by their ancestors.  It is the tiny towns tucked deep into the landscape.  It is the black oil that cascaded over our history, setting the scene with fortune.

Oklahoma is the state, the people, and the history.  This pan and its panhandle are full to the rim with surprising greatness.  The one state started by a race and a bullet shot from a gun.  Wagons rolling wild and people going crazy over the free land and a chance to a new life.  I see the feathers mended together and worn on the Native Americans brow, as a definition.  This land defined by true everlasting honor and pride of the Oklahomans who realize that they belong to something very full of culture, and built from the ground up.

                                                          -- Cassie

Teacher reflection

This activity is one of the first assignments I tackled when I begin dealing with the concepts of community, home and place.  I really enjoy working on this with my students.  Even though they have had Oklahoma History before they get to me, I am amazed at what they don’t know about our state.  Perhaps the way we are able to discuss our interesting history gives them another view of who we are as Oklahomans.  Of course, the fact that they do their own thinking and writing about the many aspects of their homeland definitely gives them a new perspective of who they are in relation to their place.  I am amazed at the writing I get from this assignment.  I especially like the fact they are able to visualize such great images and convey them in their writing. 

Since we do this writing early in the term, many students go back to it when they are putting their writing portfolio together later in the term.  I am always surprised at the number of students who choose this piece to include in their portfolio.  By the time they are working on their portfolio, we have completed many more discussions and writings, so students often make revisions to their original piece that add texture and richness to their writing.  I will continue to use this assignment because I get such positive feedback from my students, who often say they have never thought about Oklahoma in such a positive way.

Curricular Crossing

--Students could examine the negative images of their regions through television, newspapers, advertisements, etc.  As the negative images are located, consider the following question:  Who promotes the negative images and, more importantly, why do they persist?  A follow-up activity could involve students discussing and writing rebuttals to the negative images projected (see student reflection in “Hometown History: The Hickory Flat Oral History Project” by Peggy Corbett).

--Students could examine their school’s image within the following communities:  the school itself, the neighborhood in which the school exists, and the city in which the school exists.  Through interviews, students will investigate their school’s image.  Class discussions will allow students to share their findings.

--A social studies class could examine international editorial cartoons, focusing on specific images, such as America and its leaders.  Students could then write reflective essays or editorial letters.  International editorial cartoons can be found at

--Students could observe their neighborhoods and/or communities, writing or drawing something new they see each day for a designated number of days.


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