Practice: Making Connections to History and Culture
Practice in Action
Making Connections to History and Culture focuses on understanding the meaning and significance of works of art from different cultural perspectives and historical periods. Visits to museums or the symphony, examining various art forms (such as dance, music, or pottery) as an expression of cultures, or interpreting historical works of art (such as paintings, sculptures, or architecture) are all ways to connect art to history and culture.
Think about your own students, the cultures represented in your community, and the resources that are available to your afterschool program. Consider how local museums, parks, science and natural history centers, or theatre and music groups can highlight a significant cultural expression, or make history come alive. Holidays and school-day themes can also be a starting point.
You can take your students to see an exhibition of Pre-Columbian or Native American pottery, learn about the pottery of that time, and then have students make their own ceramic figures. Alternatively, you can explore community murals (they often tell a story about local history), propose a mural project, or have students study and discuss other murals, such as those of Diego Rivera in Mexico. Watching movies and holding discussions are another way to of make connections with history and culture. Look for adaptations of Shakespeare's plays or reenactments of historical events. Be sure that students are learning about and discussing the history of the arts, creating a work of art, or making connections to their own lives and experiences.
The National Standards for Arts Education suggests that being aware of exceptional works of art from other cultures and historical periods helps students understand the role of the arts in society and, potentially, in their own lives. When students are able to see the relationship between the arts, history, and culture, and see how these are also connected to their own lives—the arts become more meaningful, which in turn may open a door to greater creativity and self-expression.
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)
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?
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?
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?
Students explore the history and culture of the Huichol Indians of Mexico through the native art of making yarn paintings, and create their own yarn paintings to tell a story from their childhood.
Mexican Indian Yarn Painting (2-8)
Duration: Two to three 45-minute sessions
- Understand how symbols are used in art and culture
- Understand and appreciate the art of different cultures
- Learn about and apply the technique of Huichol yarn painting to tell a childhood story
- Copy of The Journey of Tunuri and the Blue Deer: A Huichol Indian Story by James Endredy and María Hernández de la Cruz
- Drawing materials (paper, pencils, markers, crayons)
- Examples of Huichol yarn paintings (see the Resources page for suggested Web sites)
- Masonite or stiff cardboard
- Markers and pencils
- Crock-Pots (1 per group, if possible) or microwave oven and microwave-safe bowls
- Clear beeswax or candle wax (available at many craft stores)
- Yarn in assorted textures and colors
- Read The Journey of Tunuri and the Blue Deer: A Huichol Indian Story by James Endredy and María Hernández de la Cruz.
- Review some of the basic elements of art, including form, color, and symbolism.
- Research Huichol yarn paintings. (See the Resources tab for suggested Web sites.)
- Cut individual pieces of masonite or cardboard (8" x 10" piece per student).
- Melt the wax in the Crock-Pots or in microwave-safe bowls.
- Create space for students to work. Line desks, tables, and/or the floor with newspaper.
- Read aloud the story The Journey of Tunuri and the Blue Deer: A Huichol Indian Story, making sure to share the illustrations with the class.
- Discuss the yarn paintings that illustrate the story, including:
- the elements of art such as form, color, and symbolism;
- the sacred meanings of symbols used in the paintings;
- the paintings and their sacred significance; and
- the importance of maintaining respect for different cultures.
- Discuss the origins of myths and folk tales. Ask students to think about their memories of childhood, and compare and contrast their stories with those of other cultures.
- Ask students to create a picture or design that tells a story from their childhood. This design should incorporate elements of Huichol design, particularly the use of symbols.
- Distribute individual pieces of masonite or cardboard. Have students transfer their designs from the previous session to the masonite using pencils or markers.
- Demonstrate the technique for applying yarn to the design:
- Use a paintbrush to apply a small amount of melted wax to the board, beginning in the center.
- Working quickly, use colored yarn to fill in each figure, pressing yarn into the warm wax to hold it in place.
- Continue working through the rest of the design, applying wax in small amounts so that it does not harden too quickly.
- Continue work into a third session if necessary.
- As an extension, create a gallery-like display of student yarn paintings. Have students create a museum-style information cards to accompany their paintings, including a brief description explaining the symbols.
- Student participation and engagement
- An understanding and use of the elements of art, such as form, color, and symbolism
- An appreciation and respect for the art and symbols of other cultures
- Yarn paintings that reflect a story, use symbolism, and reflect Huichol designs
Students examine early explorers in history by role-playing a character, and learning about the political and social settings in which the explorer lived.
Persuasive Explorers (4-12)
Duration: Two to three 45-minute sessions
- Use improvisation to explore the concepts of motivation and persuasion
- Investigate and understand various explorers and key voyages in history
- Use character motivation to better understand historical periods
- Writing materials (paper, pencils, pens)
- Internet access (optional) or books about the early explorers (for example The Explorers Who Got Lost by Diane Sansevere-Dreher and/or Around the World in a Hundred Years by Jean Fritz)
- Review basic drama concepts, including characterization and motivation.
- Review drama activities that demonstrate character motivation.
- Collect research materials (articles or books) about early explorers.
- Discuss the concept of character motivation with your class. Actors often consider the reasons their character might do something, and use that to guide how they perform the action. To demonstrate, have students role-play the following situation: One person has water, the other person needs water. Allow up to three pairs to perform the scene, giving each a different (secret) reason for needing the water (e.g., being thirsty after a long hike, needing to soothe a burn, needing to put out a small fire, etc.). Encourage students to perform without actually telling their reasons.
- Discuss what made each role-play effective (words, gestures, actions, etc.).
- Ask students to consider early explorers like Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan. What would explorers need to make their journey, and who might they have to persuade? For example:
- A crew willing to sail into the unknown
- People to invest money in a risky venture
- Family members to wait anxiously and patiently for their return
- Divide the class into small groups. Let each group choose an explorer and give students time to read about or research their explorer. Ask students to brainstorm and write a list of the people an explorer would need to persuade and what some of their persuasive arguments might be. Save these lists for the next session.
- Revisit the discussion about explorers from Session 1. Discuss the lists they created about explorers and the persuasive arguments they might have made. Ask groups to think about the more persuasive arguments. Which would be the most exciting argument to see acted out? What words and actions might convey the passion and desire of the explorer?
- Ask each group to select a persuasive scene to depict. Have them write a script or improvise a dialogue and actions between the explorers and the people he or she wishes to persuade for the exploration.
- Have groups present their scenes to the class. Allow the audience to critique the scenes, pointing out particularly effective moments and suggestions for improvement.
- Student participation and engagement
- Scenes that reflect and demonstrate an understanding of character motivation
- Scenes that reflect and demonstrate an understanding of the early explorers in history
Students work in small groups to research and make presentations on folk dances from different cultures and time periods.
Dance Across the World (6-8)
Duration: Four 45-minute sessions
- Understand how dance is used to express culture and history
- Understand how dance is used to communicate stories, moods, and feelings
- Work together to research the anthropology of a particular folk dance and to create a presentation about it
- Internet access
- Library access or books about dance from different cultures and time periods
- CD/tape player (optional)
- Audio/visual equipment (optional)
- Materials to create props/scenery/costumes for presentations (optional)
- Generate a list of various folk dances from different cultures and time periods. You should have one folk dance for each small group of students. Write or print the name of each dance on a small slip of paper. Fold the papers and place them in a bowl for students to draw from. Examples include:
- El Jarabe Tapatio
- Contra dance
- Cotton-Eyed Joe
- Ribbon dance
- Irish jig
- Select a folk dance. Be prepared to tell students a few basic interesting facts about the dance and the people who perform it.
- Generate a Folk Dance Research Guide. Include the following questions for students to answer about their folk dance:
- What does this dance look like? (include movements and costume)
- What music traditionally accompanies this dance?
- What culture and people traditionally perform this dance? Why?
- When was this dance developed?
- What was occurring in this place and culture during that time period?
- Does this dance tell a story? If so, what?
- What else about the history and/or culture does this dance express?
- Provide a brief introduction to folk dances and explain how they connect to different cultures and time periods. For example, choose one or two dances that students will not be researching. Show them a book or video that demonstrates the dance, or play the music that accompanies the dance. Include details from the Folk Dance Research Guide to model the kind of information that students will present.
- Divide students into small groups. Ask a representative from each group to come forward and choose a dance (written on folded paper and put in a bowl).
- Explain that each group will research one dance, using the Internet and books to find information and answer the questions in the Folk Dance Research Guide.
- Provide students with the Folk Dance Research Guide questions and answer any questions they may have about researching their dance.
- Ask students to use this session to do research as a group on their dance.
- Circulate among student groups to check in, see how students are doing, and answer any questions. Make sure that each person in the small group has a role. For example, one person might search the Internet, another person can explore books, and another person can record facts. By the end of this session, students should have answered the Folk Dance Research Guide questions.
- Ask the groups to create a presentation using what they have learned about their dance. Each group can perform the dance, show the dance on a video, play the music that accompanies the dance, or draw or act out what was happening in history that may have inspired the dance. All presentations should provide the historical and cultural context for the dance and answer the questions in the Folk Dance Research Guide.
- Each student should have a role in the final presentation.
- Ask the groups to present their dance, including what they have learned about the dance and the history and culture it represents. Each student should have a role in the final presentation.
- Allow time for questions and answers. Encourage other students to ask questions of presenting groups.
- Student participation and engagement
- An increased understanding and appreciation of different cultures
- An increased understanding of how dance expresses history, tells a story, and expresses moods and feelings.
- Students work together to research and prepare presentations
Engage students with a project to create a Web page on art history. Ask students to work in production teams and compete for prizes as part of ThinkQuest, an annual competition to produce outstanding educational Web sites. The ThinkQuest Library includes more than 5,500 educational Web sites created by students from all over the world, as well as competition guidelines.
Research Summary: This idea is reinforced in the National Standards: "Have an informed acquaintance with exemplary works of art from a variety of cultures and historical periods" as a means of providing a knowledge base and context for works of art (2003, No. 4). It is also described in studies of afterschool settings where the community and its culture is an important element (Winner and Hetland, 2002; Miller 2003, YouthARTS, 2003, Arts Corps 2004, 2005). Student involvement with their own culture and history allows them to explore personal and local issues and interact with their community in a positive way. Community collaborations about history and culture are a way to gather support and acknowledgement of the students' efforts. McCarthy et al in Gifts of the Muse see promoting early exposure to the arts, through school, community, or museum based programs as a way to start a process of involvement as well as to establish a context for why the arts are important to history and culture (2004).
- YouthARTS (2003). Arts Programs for Youth At Risk: The Handbook. Retrieved from the web: Americans for the Arts.
- Miller, B.M. (2003). Critical Hours: Afterschool Programs and Educational Success. Nellie Mae Education Foundation.
- McCarthy, Kevin F., Elizabeth Ondaatje, Laura Zakara, and Arthur Brooks (2004). Gifts of the Muse: Reframing the Debate About the Benefits of the Arts. RAND: Research in the Arts. Commissioned by: The Wallace Foundation.
- Winner, Ellen and Lois Hetland (2000). Beyond the Evidence given: A Critical Commentary on Critical Links. In Arts Education Policy Review, 2000. Retrieved from the web: www.old-pz.gse.harvard.edu/Research/Reap/REAPCritLinkResp.htm
- Arts Corps (2004). Program Evaluation Report: 2003- 2004. Seattle, WA: Arts Corps
- Arts Corps (2005). Building on our success: 2004-2005 Annual Report. Seattle, WA: Arts Corps.