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12 Ways to Bring the Arts into Your Classroom

Kim Haynes

width=250We hear about arts programs are being cut in schools across the country, a victim of budgetary restrictions or the need for test-prep time. No big deal, some say. But think again.

 

Students who regularly participated in the arts for at least one full year were more likely to:  

~ be recognized for academic achievement

~ be elected to class office

~ participate in a math and science fair

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~ win an award for school attendance

 

Arts involvement is also linked to higher SAT scores, lower drop-out rates and increased levels of community service. For more information, visit Americans for the Arts’ website.

 

How do you fit arts activities into your already crowded schedule? Try the suggestions below:

 

#1: Have students write a script

This activity can work with almost any subject. In language arts, have students adapt a short story into a script. In history, have students re-create a historical event. In science, students can script a dialogue between different animals, different chemicals, or even different atoms to review content they have learned. By asking students to create and perform a script, you not only expose them to drama, but also force them to think critically about what information to include and how to explain it.

 

#2: Have students create a work of art

Ask students to draw or make a collage about a specific topic you are studying. Collage works particularly well with older students who may claim to be “bad at drawing.” The artwork could illustrate the theme of a novel, the culture and environment of a country for social studies, a genus or species in biology, or the ways chemistry affects our daily lives. For older students, political cartoons are another great way to incorporate art with current events or social studies content.

 

#3: Have older students use music to “illustrate” a concept

Ask students to use music to create a “soundtrack” for a story, a sequence of historical events, or a biological life cycle. This can be a fascinating way to review and you will quickly recognize which students don’t understand the material. If they play happy music during a tragic period in history, they need to review the content again.

 

#4: Have younger students create a “memory dance”

Many songs involve physical movement, from “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” to “YMCA.” Have students work together to create a song that uses physical movement to help them learn a specific concept. This can be a great way to burn off energy in the classroom while still helping students learn the content.

 

#5: Take students to see a play that connects to the curriculum

Find out about local live theater options that may connect to your curriculum. Remember to check local colleges and community theater groups. Some groups actually have plays specifically designed to meet state curriculum standards.

 

If your budget is limited, consider having your students read the play in class, or see if a movie has been made of it. Not sure there’s a play that would correspond to your curriculum? There are plays that deal with the signing of the Declaration of Independence (1776), the moral implications of nuclear weapons (Copenhagen), and even Chaos Theory and entropy (Arcadia). Ask an actor, drama teacher, or theater professor to help you find the right script.

 

#6: Have students write a song

For students who are less comfortable with music, tell them to choose an already created tune (like “Happy Birthday or “Jingle Bells”) and just write new lyrics. Then have students write a song about the lesson content. “Schoolhouse Rock” is always a great example, but for a more modern, hiphop approach, check out the Ron Clark Academy on YouTube. This Atlanta school’s students have been featured on CNN and have performed for the First Lady. Their original song and dance creations cover topics like the health care debate and the life and accomplishments of Sojourner Truth.

 

#7: Have students create a poster, brochure, or advertisement

These can be great alternative assessment products that also teach students about graphic design. There are lots of web tutorials available (http://hiphopmakers.com/10-great-graphic-design-tutorials-sites and http://desktoppub.about.com/od/graphicdesign/Graphic_Design_Tutorials.htm) that you can use if your own art skills are a little rusty. Evaluate student work on content – which comes from your course – and some graphic design basics from the tutorial. You are giving your students exposure to the arts and some workplace skill development at the same time!

 

#8: Use art, music, or dance as a writing prompt

Especially for older children who need writing practice, but get tired of the same old topics, this can be a great way to “sneak in” some arts. Play an instrumental piece of music, especially classical or jazz, and ask students to write about what the music makes them think about or feel. The same can be done with a photograph of a work or art or with a video of dance, especially modern dance or an unfamiliar ballet. This can provoke some interesting writing, and some great classroom conversation.

 

Check out TeachHUB's Video Writing Prompts for some inspiration and ready-to-use prompts!

 

#9: Connect math and music

The connections between math and music are well documented, and many outstanding lesson plans exist to help students of all ages recognize the relationship between these two disciplines. Visit http://www.teachervision.fen.com/math/resource/10340.html# or http://musiced.about.com/od/lessonsandtips/a/mathandmusic.htm for some great ideas.


#10: Teach art, music, dance, or theater history in your social studies lessons.

Changes in art, music, dance, or theater reflect societal changes. Take a class period or two to explore the connection between the arts and the content you’re studying. The Federal Theatre Project was a highly controversial part of the WPA in the 1930s – why? How did that reflect the broader discussion about the WPA and the Roosevelt administration? How does the history of popular music in the 20th century reflect the issue of racial integration that became one of America’s largest social movements? How were works of art used as propaganda during the French Revolution? Lesson plans like these are all over the Internet. ArtsEdge and ArtsWork are two good sources.

 

#11: Have students create a PSA

Have students script, rehearse, and perform a brief commercial. Students could create their own PSA‘s to help them remember content before a test, or could create PSAs connected to an issue they are learning about. In social studies, it’s possible to expand this by providing examples of public safety reminders from previous times in history, such as the posters or film shorts created during World War II to encourage people to buy war bonds or obey rationing guidelines.


#12: Introduce students to artistic works that match your curriculum

This works especially well for language arts teachers. Mythology and famous stories throughout the centuries have inspired ballets, operas, symphonies, sculptures, and paintings. Incorporate those into your lessons. Show students ancient drawings of Greek mythology and ask them: is this how you imagine Zeus, Hermes or Medusa would look? Why or why not? Have students watch the same scene from the ballet of Romeo and Juliet, a film version of the Shakespeare play, and West Side Story, the 1950s musical based on the play. Ask students to compare and contrast the three versions, then design their own, 21st century version.

 

If you’re not an artistic person, thinking about adding the arts to your classroom can be daunting. But it can liven up a dull lesson, increase student comprehension, and expose your students to influences they may miss out on elsewhere. Why not give it a try?

How do you integrate the arts in your classroom? Share in the comments section!