Guantanamera: A Poem and a Song

Learning about the Cuban folk song made famous by Pete Seeger with lyrics from a poem by Jose Marti.


Key Staff

Primary instructor

Key Skills

Developing Arts Literacies: Understanding Genres, Analyzing and Evaluating - Critique
Global Connections: Connecting to History and Culture


In this lesson students will listen to "Guantanamera," a Cuban folk song made famous by Pete Seeger with lyrics from a poem by Jose Marti. They will discover that the song brings together multiple traditions and is indicative of the revolutionary history shared by these two men.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Listen to and discuss the song "Guantanamera.".
  • Compare revolutionary activities of Jose Marti and Pete Seeger.

Teaching Approach

  • Thematic
  • Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Discovery Learning
  • Discussion
  • Experiential Learning
  • Reflection
  • Research

Assessment Type



What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • Projector
  • Speakers
  • 1 Computer per Classroom
Technology Notes

CD player needed if no computer available.

Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Teachers should familiarize themselves with Pete Seeger and Jose Marti using the following sources found on the web:

Prior Student Knowledge

Students should generally be familiar with the concepts of poetry, lyrics and music. They should also be familiar with the concepts of connotation and the format of a Venn diagram.

Physical Space



Small Group Instruction


Have the song “Guantanamera” ready to be played as soon as students walk through the door.

Accessibility Notes

Students with visual impairments or disabilities may need modified handouts or texts. Students with hearing impairments might benefit from watching a video of someone performing the song, in order to get a general feel for the rhythm and style of the song.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.

Build Knowledge


1. Play a recording of “Guantanamera." Ask the students if anyone has heard this song before. Ask what languages they hear (Spanish and English). With the LCD projector, display the lyrics to "Guantanamera" (available online on Lyrics Connection) and go over the lyrics with students. Have the students read the lyrics along with you.

2. Lead a discussion about the meaning of the song. Ask students what they think the meaning and the purpose of the song might be. Ask them for a list of words they heard in English and Spanish. Ask them about the connotations of these words. What do they represent? How are these words indicative of or linked to revolutionary activity?

3. Play the song again.

4. Give the students a copy of the student Vocabulary List located under 'Resources in Reach', and go over the words with the students.

Build Knowledge

1. Play the song again. Explain that the song was made famous by Pete Seeger and that the words come from a poem by Jose Marti. Note that these two men lived in different times in two different countries, but that their lives had many similarities.

Explain to the students that this song brings together several traditions. Mr. Seeger writes that in 1961 a young Cuban was working at a children’s summer camp in the Catskill Mountains when he read some simple verses by Jose Marti. He found that the verses could be fitted to an old popular song of Havana that was used to sing any verse one wished. He combined Marti’s patriotic verses with a chorus addressed to a country girl. This combination ennobled the old street melody. Later that summer, while Mr. Seeger was singing for the children, they taught him the song they had learned from their Cuban counselor. Now the song is an international favorite.

2. Divide students into small groups. Ask the students to look at the lyrics and discuss why the combination of Marti’s verses with the chorus is either effective or ineffective.

3. Give students a copy of the Jose Marti Biography handout located under 'Resources in Reach'. Read it with students, making sure they understand everything. Distribute the Marti Biography Questions handout located under 'Resources in Reach'. Have students complete the handout and turn in their work.

4. Give students a copy of the Pete Seeger Biography handout located under 'Resources in Reach'. Read it with the students, making sure they understand everything. Distribute the Seeger Biography Questions handout located under 'Resources in Reach'. Have students complete the handout and turn in their work.


1. Have students create a Venn diagram comparing Jose Marti and Pete Seeger. (One similarity is the fact that they are both musicians. One difference is that they are from different places in the world).

2. Have students present their Venn diagram to the class (or to each other in small groups).


1. Have students use information they gleaned throughout the lesson to write an essay responding to the following questions:

  • Discuss how the song Guantanamera brings together multiple cultural and stylistic elements.
  • How can men from such different backgrounds create such a powerful and popular song?
  • In your opinion, what are some of the most effective elements of the song (melody, combination of lyrics)?
  • Can you think of any present day songs written by two people from different backgrounds?"

2. Have students get into small groups and share their essays with one another.


Assess the students' responses to the worksheet questions using the Answer Sheet located under 'Resources in Reach'.


Extensions to this lesson could include:

  • a more extensive study of the poetry and other writings of Jose Marti.
  • a deeper look at the McCarthy era and how it affected the arts.
  • a broader look at Pete Seeger’s other songs.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education

Grade 9-12 Music Standard 6: Listening to, analyzing, and describing music

Grade 9-12 Music Standard 7: Evaluating music and music performances

National Standards in Other Subjects
Language Arts

Language Arts Standard 5: Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process

Language Arts Standard 6: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of literary texts

Language Arts Standard 7: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts



Phyllis Gron
Original Writer

Jen Westmoreland Bouchard

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Use this collection of resources and articles to devise an approach for supporting individual needs in the classroom: from English Language Learners or students with disabilities, to conflict resolution and giving feedback.



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