About the Afterschool Training Toolkit and Related Resources
The Afterschool Training Toolkit is available online free of charge.

The following resources can be used with the online Afterschool Training Toolkit to give you the resources you need to build fun, innovative, and academically enriching afterschool activities.

Practice: Expressing Yourself Through the Arts

The goals of Expressing Yourself Through the Arts are to identify and build on students' interests in a variety of art forms, while facilitating self-confidence and self-awareness through media, music, theater, visual art, or dance.
Expressing Yourself Through the Arts: Breakdancing (8:25)

Watch as middle school students in Seattle, Washington, participate in a breakdancing class.

More About the Video

Afterschool Program
Denny Middle School, in association with Arts Corps, Seattle

Seattle, Washington

Jerome Aparis, Breakdancer/Artist Educator

Time Allotted
2 hours, twice a week

About the Lesson
The objective of this lesson is to help students develop awareness of dance arts and movement by learning techniques associated with street dance and positive self-expression. Students exercise discipline and teamwork, generate new ideas, and engage in peer-to-peer learning and self and group reflection. Students also build skills around setting and achieving goals through the development of ideas, practice, and performance.


  • CD player
  • Break beats (contemporary/80's music of a medium rhythm, best without lyrics)
  • Comfortable clothing and sneakers
  • Mats (if possible)
  • Videos and DVD's of professional dancers that the class can watch and discuss
  • Camera, videotape, and monitor (to tape the class and show it to them for self and class assessment)

About the Curriculum
The Breakdancing curriculum was designed by Jerome Aparis and Tina LaPadula (director) of Arts Corps Program, in association with Arts Corps, Seattle, Washington.

Practice in Action

What Is It?

Expressing Yourself Through the Arts involves arts-based activities that authentically address the interests of students, their culture, and their community. Activities can take many forms, including a drawing or collage, a personal essay or poem, dancing, the spoken word, or singing.

What Do I Do?

Begin by thinking about your students—what interests them and how do they like to express themselves? Students may wish to express themselves or their environment, their unique cultural traditions, or how it feels to be part of the families or communities they live in. For instance, the culture of a specific community might lend itself to certain dance forms. Working with self-portraits might allow students to reflect on who they are and what is important to them as individuals. Consider what art resources are available in your community to provide instruction or role models. For example, explore a visiting artist program, collaborate with a community arts organization to create a mural, or produce a community history through images, stories, dance, or theater.

Why Does It Work?

Afterschool programs provide opportunities for students to explore and express themselves in a safe, fun environment. The arts lend themselves to self-expression, and when projects are driven by students' interests, ideas, and emotions, students are more likely to be engaged and to find meaning in what they are doing. Research suggests that when students have opportunities to explore and express who they are, they gain confidence that translates into success, both in afterschool and during the school day.

Planning Your Lesson

Great afterschool lessons start with having a clear intention about who your students are, what they are learning or need to work on, and crafting activities that engage students while supporting their academic growth. Great afterschool lessons also require planning and preparation, as there is a lot of work involved in successfully managing kids, materials, and time.

Below are suggested questions to consider while preparing your afterschool lessons. The questions are grouped into topics that correspond to the Lesson Planning Template. You can print out the template and use it as a worksheet to plan and refine your afterschool lessons, to share lesson ideas with colleagues, or to help in professional development sessions with staff.

Lesson Planning Template (PDF)

Lesson Planning Template (Word document)

Lesson Planning Template Questions

Grade Level
What grade level(s) is this lesson geared to?

How long will it take to complete the lesson? One hour? One and a half hours? Will it be divided into two or more parts, over a week, or over several weeks?

Learning Goals
What do you want students to learn or be able to do after completing this activity? What skills do you want students to develop or hone? What tasks do they need to accomplish?

Materials Needed
List all of the materials needed that will be needed to complete the activity. Include materials that each student will need, as well as materials that students may need to share (such as books or a computer). Also include any materials that students or instructors will need for record keeping or evaluation. Will you need to store materials for future sessions? If so, how will you do this?

What do you need to do to prepare for this activity? Will you need to gather materials? Will the materials need to be sorted for students or will you assign students to be "materials managers"? Are there any books or instructions that you need to read in order to prepare? Do you need a refresher in a content area? Are there questions you need to develop to help students explore or discuss the activity? Are there props that you need to have assembled in advance of the activity? Do you need to enlist another adult to help run the activity?

Think about how you might divide up groups―who works well together? Which students could assist other peers? What roles will you assign to different members of the group so that each student participates?

Now, think about the Practice that you are basing your lesson on. Reread the Practice. Are there ways in which you need to amend your lesson plan to better address the key goal(s) of the Practice? If this is your first time doing the activity, consider doing a "run through" with friends or colleagues to see what works and what you may need to change. Alternatively, you could ask a colleague to read over your lesson plan and give you feedback and suggestions for revisions.

What to Do
Think about the progression of the activity from start to finish. One model that might be useful—and which was originally developed for science education—is the 5E's instructional model. Each phrase of the learning sequence can be described using five words that begin with "E": engage, explore, explain, extend, and evaluate. For more information, see the 5E's Instructional Model.

Outcomes to Look For
How will you know that students learned what you intended them to learn through this activity? What will be your signs or benchmarks of learning? What questions might you ask to assess their understanding? What, if any, product will they produce?

After you conduct the activity, take a few minutes to reflect on what took place. How do you think the lesson went? Are there things that you wish you had done differently? What will you change next time? Would you do this activity again?

Sample Lessons

Symbols That Stand for You! (3-12)
view lesson

Students explore the world of symbols (what they mean and how they work) through developing a symbol that will stand for who they are.

Symbols That Stand for You! (3-12)

Duration: Two or three 45-minute sessions

Learning Goals
  • Understand the nature of symbols and how they work
  • Be able to communicate complex ideas through the visual art medium
  • Have a better understanding of self

Materials Needed
  • Examples of symbols
  • Sheets of white paper (1 per student)
  • Pencils
  • Markers or colored pencils
  • Collage materials, magazines, colored paper, glue (optional)
  • Sample personal symbol that you have created to show students

  • Construct your own set of meaningful symbols to show the class. These should be symbols that you see as important to you as an individual. Be able to discuss and explain why they are important. They may also include other symbols as examples.
  • Here's something to consider as you create your own personal symbols: This activity can help you deepen your relationship with your students and also serve as an example to help them understand the project. When you create your own personal symbol to show them, think about the values you cherish (courage, loyalty, honesty, etc.), the characteristics that define you, and important events. You can explain why you chose the images you did when you show your personal symbol to your students.
  • See as reference Signs, Symbols, and Ciphers by Georges Jean (London: Thames and Hudson, 1999); also the Dictionary of Symbols by J. E. Cirlot (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2002).
What to Do
Session 1: Understanding and Finding Symbols
    1. Introduce the concept of symbols and how they function.
    2. Have students collect or make a list of symbols they see in everyday life.
    3. Tell students that they are going to have an opportunity to make symbols to represent themselves, but first they are going to learn more about symbols and what they represent.
    4. Display examples that students have listed and talk about what they are used to represent.
Session 2: Developing Personal Symbols
    1. Show students the personal symbol you created and explain its significance.
    2. Have students brainstorm ideas for a unique symbol to represent their individual identities. Their symbol might represent:
      • something that makes them happy or is a favorite item;
      • hobbies and other images that match their personality; and
      • an image that represents their values.
    3. Remind students that this image or artifact must remind other people of "who they are" each time they see it.
    4. Have students sketch their ideas, refining them as they go.
    5. Once a final symbol design is developed, students can color the symbol to heighten its particular qualities.
    6. Share personal symbols with the group or, for more fun, invite other participants to look at each symbol and try to guess who it represents.
Outcomes to Look For
  • Student engagement in examining a wide variety of complex images and artifacts and demonstrating an understanding of the process of selection based on what makes meaning
  • Students analyze and describe how an image or artifact functions to bring up certain ideas or connotations
  • Students create new combinations of images and artifacts that result in a deeper representation of meaning
Personal Soundtracks (4-12)
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Students use music to express their personal histories, and create a soundtrack that reflects their individual identities.

Personal Soundtracks (4-12)

Duration: Three 45-minute sessions

Learning Goals
  • Develop a timeline of key life events
  • Understand how music can convey ideas and emotions
  • Identify music that represents and reflects one's life story

Materials Needed
  • Writing materials (paper, pens, pencils)
  • 10 to 12 portable CD players, headphones, and CDs

  • Review the basic elements of music that affect emotional quality, such as tempo (speed) and key (major vs. minor).
  • Create a personal timeline to use as an example for the class (optional).
  • Compile CDs to show different kinds of music and the emotions they evoke. For example:
    • Happy: "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" (Mozart), "Stars and Stripes Forever" (Sousa)
    • Sad: "Moonlight Sonata" (Beethoven)
    • Angry: "Ride of the Valkyries" (Wagner), "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" (Bach)
    • Excited: "Flight of the Bumblebees" (Rimsky-Korsakov), "Toreador March" from Carmen (Bizet)
  • Try to obtain a wide variety of musical styles, such as classical, jazz, rock, pop, hip-hop, musical theatre, and country.
  • Compile CDs of music that demonstrates the personal experiences of composers. For example:
    • "The Star-Spangled Banner" by Francis Scott Key describes his pride as he witnesses a British assault on Baltimore and watches the Americans emerge victorious.
    • "A Strenuous Life" by Scott Joplin commemorates Booker T. Washington's 1901 visit and dinner at the White House.
    • "Cry Me a River" by Justin Timberlake describes his feelings about a famous ex-girlfriend.
What to Do
Session 1
  • Begin with a discussion of how music can convey emotions. You may want to play a fast piece and a slow piece and ask students to describe what they hear (fast music can be happy or excited, slow music can be sad). Give examples and play excerpts, if available.
  • Discuss how composers and songwriters often use their life experiences to guide their music. Give examples and play excerpts, if available.
  • Explain that students will use composers' music to tell the stories of students' own lives. Explain that they will use this session to create a timeline of significant events in their lives, and the next session to select songs that best represent each event and the accompanying emotion. Keep in mind that this may be difficult for students who have experienced significant loss or stress in their lives. Allow them to choose the events that they want to share.
  • Discuss the concept of a timeline. Share examples, including your personal timeline if applicable. Ask students to reflect on their lives, and consider important and memorable events.
  • Allow students to use the remainder of the session to create their own personal timelines. Students may wish to first create a list of events, and then transfer the events to the timeline.
  • You may want to ask students to bring CDs or personal CD players for the next session.
Session 2
  • Remind students of your earlier discussion about the use of music to convey emotions and commemorate events.
  • Distribute student timelines. Ask students to consider the events on the timelines. Ask them to think about not just the events themselves, but the experiences that are attached to them (sights, sounds, emotions).
  • Give students time to explore different kinds of music, and to select a variety of songs that represent various events on their timelines. They may use their own CDs or those that you or other classmates share.
  • Ask students to write down the songs they have included on their personal soundtracks, including a brief explanation of the significance of each song. Students can use their own CDs, and they should bring them to the next session when they will share their work.
Session 3
  • Ask students to share two to three songs from their personal soundtracks, explaining why they chose particular songs and what each one represents.
Outcomes to Look For
  • Student participation and engagement
  • An understanding of how music can be used to represent emotions and events
  • Personal soundtracks that reflect students' feelings and emotions about events in their lives
3-D Self-Sculpture (5-12)
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Students explore and express their identities through reading, journaling, and other activities, and create their own self-portraits through clay sculpture.

3-D Self-Sculpture (5-12)

Duration: Three to four 45-minute sessions

Learning Goals
  • Learn self-reflection through journaling and discussion
  • Understand how the visual arts can be used to express the self and communicate meaning
  • Learn how to create a self-sculpture from clay

Materials Needed
  • Copy of Happy to Be Me! by Christine Adams and Robert Butch
  • Writing and drawing materials (paper, pens, pencils, markers, crayons, etc.)
  • Examples of self-portraits (see the Resources page for suggested Web sites)
  • Newspaper (to line tables and floor)
  • Tempera paints and paintbrushes
  • Materials to make clay (flour, water, and salt)

  • Read Happy to Be Me!
  • Prepare self-hardening clay:
    • Combine 4 cups of flour and 1 cup of salt in a large bowl.
    • Slowly add about 1 cup of water and combine to form a large ball.
    • Knead the ball until it is smooth and no longer falls apart, adding water as needed.
    • Continue preparing batches until there is enough for each student to have approximately 1 cup of clay.
  • Arrange desks or tables into a workspace and line with newspaper.
  • Review the use of color and palettes in visual arts (for example, reds and oranges are warm; blues and greens are cool).
What to Do
Session 1
  • Read aloud Happy to Be Me! Begin a discussion about what makes each student special and unique.
  • Ask students to pair up. Give students 5 to 10 minutes to make a list of things (characteristics, interests, aspirations) that make them unique. Then give students 5 to 10 minutes to list things that they find unique and interesting about their partner. Have students share their list with their partner.
  • Ask students to journal for 15 to 20 minutes, using words, pictures, symbols, and colors to answer the question: Who am I? Ask students to consider ambitions, talents, interests, and relationships in answering the question.
Session 2
  • Tell students they will build on their journal work from the previous session to create a sculpture that represents their self-portrait. Share examples of self-portraits, both abstract and representational, if desired.
  • Have students work with clay to create a 3-D "self-sculpture." Tell students they may create a representational sculpture, or they may use different aspects of their self-concept to create an abstract sculpture.
  • Let the clay figures harden overnight or longer.
Session 3
  • Briefly discuss the use of color in visual art. Discuss the representational as well as symbolic use of color and palette.
  • Allow students to paint their self-sculptures, using an additional session if necessary.
  • As an extension, create an exhibit of students' work to share with other classes. Have each student create a gallery-style information card to accompany their work.
Outcomes to Look For
  • Student participation and engagement
  • An understanding of the use of art to express the self
  • Sculptures that reflect individual students' view of self
Meaningful Monologues (6-12)
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Inspired by the memories associated with an object of personal meaning, students write and perform a dramatic monologue, explore improvisation, and participate in a peer review/feedback process.

Meaningful Monologues (6-12)

Duration: Two 45-minute sessions

Learning Goals
  • Understand the concept and purpose of a monologue
  • Write and perform a monologue based on a personal object
  • Provide and receive constructive feedback

Materials Needed
  • Writing materials
  • Personal object

  • Ask students to bring an object to class that has personal significance.
  • Identify different kinds of theatrical monologues that involve personal objects (for example, Laura's monologue from The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams). Be prepared to read one aloud, or have students read aloud.
What to Do
Session 1
  • Read and analyze several monologues that involve personal objects. Model performing a dialogue by reading one aloud. Ask students to read a monologue aloud for practice.
  • Ask students guiding questions to help them uncover the meaning of the monologue:
    • How does the author use direct and indirect references to the object to create drama?
    • What do you think the object represents? Could it be a metaphor for something else in life?
  • Allow students to divide into pairs. Have student A tell the story of his or her object's significance, while student B takes notes of meaningful images, ideas, or phrases.
  • Ask Student B to retell Student A's story, while Student A takes notes.
  • Repeat the procedure so that all students have an opportunity to tell their stories and have their stories retold by their partners.
  • Ask students to formalize their improvisations into a written monologue. Students should consider metaphor, descriptive images, language, and dramatic pacing in their work. Encourage students to expand the monologue to include the memories that will provide a context for the object, rather than focusing on the object itself.
Session 2
  • Allow students to perform their monologues. Ask the audience to provide constructive feedback, beginning with positive comments.
  • Ask students to revise the monologues based on performance feedback.
Outcomes to Look For
  • Student engagement and participation
  • Monologues that reference the object in direct and indirect ways
  • References to personal experiences and memories
  • Expression of feelings and emotions through memories about the object
Emotions in Motion (K-3)
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Using basic concepts of dance, students create dance phrases that depict various emotions.

Emotions in Motion (K-3)

Duration: 45-60 minutes

Learning Goals
  • Learn and demonstrate various basic elements of dance
  • Understand that dance and movement can be used to depict meaning
  • Use dance elements to create a dance phrase

Materials Needed
  • A copy of Ballerina! by Peter Sis
  • Open space for dancing
  • Masking tape to designate a stage (optional)
  • CD player, record player, or tape deck for music (optional)

  1. Review some basic elements of dance so that you feel familiar enough to demonstrate them to your students:
    • Level: high, medium, and low
    • Direction: forward, backward, left, right, diagonally, turning
    • Speed: fast, slow
    • Locomotor: walk, run, hop, jump, leap, gallop, slide, skip
    • Axial: bend, twist, stretch, swing
  2. You may want to do some additional research on traditional folk dances and their meanings to share with your students.
What to Do
  • Begin by reading aloud Ballerina! by Peter Sis with your students. Discuss how Terry, the main character, changes her movements and costumes for each dance. (Compare, for instance, her "Nutcracker dance" with her "fire dance.") Talk about why Terry might make these changes.
  • Discuss how dances often tell a story. Examples include traditional folk dances from Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, as well as ballets such as The Nutcracker and Swan Lake. If you have time, you may want to show your students clips from various folk dances or from a famous ballet.
  • Ask students to make up short dances to depict a thought. Begin with an emotion, such as anger, happiness, fear, surprise, annoyance, etc. Once students have identified the emotion they want to express, ask them to create three to five tableaus to demonstrate that emotion. (A tableau is a "freeze frame"—a stop-action combination of facial expression and gesture.)
  • Discuss the basic elements of dance with your students, demonstrating how they can move through these elements:
    • Level: high, medium, and low
    • Direction: forward, backward, left, right, diagonally, turning
    • Speed: fast, slow
    • Locomotor: walk, run, hop, jump, leap, gallop, slide, skip
    • Axial: bend, twist, stretch, swing
  • Instruct students to use these elements to connect their tableaus. Students will start with one tableau, and then create a movement to get from the first tableau to the second. They will create a new movement to connect the second to the third, and so on. Ask students to keep in mind the "integrity" of the emotion as they create their connecting movements. (A "sad" movement would probably be slow instead of fast, etc.)
  • Allow students to perform their dances before the class. See if the audience can guess the emotion that each student is expressing through dance. Allow students to ask questions and provide feedback.
Outcomes to Look For
  • Student engagement and participation
  • Students demonstrate basic dance elements
  • Dances and tableaus that depict emotions clearly
  • An appreciation for dance as a way to communicate meaning


Technology Tip for this practice

Most afterschool programs have access to digital cameras, but if your program doesn't, check out the low prices and look into purchasing one. Your students might want to tell the story of their community and/or culture through digital photography, and then add their own audio voice-overs.

Final productions could be shared with the community through CDs, DVDs, or a Web site for your afterschool program. Kid Pix, Sony Vegas Movie Studio+DVD, and iMovie are software programs that will enable your students to produce high-quality multi-media programs that include digital photography and video.

Kid Pix

Sony Vegas Movie Studio+DVD


Web resources for this practice
National Gallery of Art

Collaborative Arts Resources for Education

A Guide to the Jembe

Wikipedia's Page on Djembe Drumming

Creative Drama and Theater Education

Andean Nation: Music and Instruments from the Andes

Andean Links

Print resources for this practice
Braman, A. (2004). The Inca: Activities and crafts from a mysterious land. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Corrick, J. (2002). Lost civilizations: The Inca. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books.
Lewin, T. (2003). Lost city: The discovery of Machu Picchu. New York, NY: Philomel Books.
Takacs, S. (2004). The Inca. Danbury, CT: Scholastic.

Research Summary: Numerous studies of afterschool setting and the arts discuss the value of providing a method and context for self expression, including Heath and Roach (1999), Burton et al. (1999), Oreck et al (1999), YouthARTS (2003), Wolf, Keens and Company et al (2006), Arts Corp (2005): "You can see the way I look in my drawing. Being happy makes me feel like I am made up of all different kinds of colors on the inside": student comment, Dallas ArtsPartners, (2003).

  • Heath, Shirley B. and A. Roach (1999). Imaginative Actuality: Learning the arts during the nonschool hours. In Champions of Change: the Impact of the Arts on Learning: Lessons from School districts that value Arts Education. E,B, Fiske, Ed. GE Fund/MacArthur Foundation: The Arts and Education Partnership and the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities.
  • Burton, Judith, Robert Horowitz and Hal Abeles (1999). Learning In and Through the Arts: Curriculum Implications. In Champions of Change, E. B. Fiske, Editor. Arts Education Partnership and the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.
  • Oreck, Barry, Susan Baum and Heather McCartney (1999). Artistic Talent Development for Urban Youth: the Promise and the Challenge. In Champions of Change: the Impact of the Arts on Learning: Lessons from School districts that value Arts Education. E,B, Fiske, Ed. GE Fund/MacArthur Foundation: The Arts and Education Partnership and the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities.
  • YouthARTS (2003). Arts Programs for Youth At Risk: The Handbook. Retrieved from the web: Americans for the Arts.
  • Wolf, Keens and Company, Alan S. Brown and Associates, Annenberg Instititute for School Reform, and BigThought (2006). Arts Learning in Dallas: a Report on Research for the Dallas Arts Learning Innitiative. BigThought: Dallas
  • Arts Corps (2005). Building on our success: 2004-2005 Annual Report. Seattle, WA: Arts Corps.
  • Dallas Arts Partners (2003). Arts and Cultural Learning: Changing Achievement and Expectation. Interim report of three year longitudinal study. Dallas, TX: BigThought.


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