Why should you incorporate the arts into your curriculum? The arts are a fantastic vehicle for housing any subject, from literature to science. They provide an opportunity for learners to express or engage in what they know in a multi-sensory way. They fully engage multiple parts of the brain at one time and can also facilitate learning for a variety of intelligences. Art therapy or art mediums have been used in Special Education for years and are so versatile that they needn’t be isolated from everyday curriculum, but fully incorporated. This article is intended to provide practical tips for teaching through the arts, not with them, or near them, but through them; where core subject content and the arts work together.
- Art in Science: Investigation and observation skills are key in building a scientific mind. Have your young scientists get into groups of 4. Provide each group with a prism. Tell them they are going to investigate color. Have learners hold their prism to the light and record the patterns and colors they observe, using crayons or watercolors. Using the recorded rainbow, explain the nature of the color spectrum, how it is used in art, and what it means in science.
- Art in Language Arts: Experience oftentimes drives the written word. Take a stroll through a painting to encourage the use of sensory language. Project a painting onto the wall, have learners pretend they are walking through the landscape or picnicking with the crowd. Guide them through the journey. Afterward, students can use sensory detail to describe what it felt or looked like.
- Art in Math: The most obvious use of art in math is to incorporate geometric figures. Why not try playing an I Spy math game? Show the class a painting or photograph, provide background information on who, what, and why of the image, Next, come up with a list of mathematical terms such as line, symmetry, shapes, and patterns. Together, define each term. Give points to kids who see examples of symmetry, line, shapes, or repeated patterns.
- Art in Social Studies: Sometimes culture groups are defined by the things they make, such as artifacts found in a museum. These items can be highly ornamental. Explain how various groups throughout time have used the principles of design, self-expression, and artistic elements to create these objects. Discuss their historical and cultural significance as well. Have learners use their cultural identity to inspire an artifact. They can write a back-story and label their pieces, then display them in your class museum.
Music and Movement
I will offer ideas for movement (or dance) and music together because they involve many of the same principles, such as rhythm, time, and tempo. The mind moves to music in much the same way that the way the body does.
- Movement in Math: We aren’t clapping out a rhythm here, but moving to music in fraction groups. Discuss body shapes, levels, and choreography, tell learners they are to use high, middle, and low levels and body shapes to show equivalent fractions and fractional parts or wholes, or sets that have been equally divided. This is a problem-solving activity in which you provide basic information and allow the learners to develop the movements and ways they can show both body levels and fractions.
- Music in Science: Music has been proven to stimulate memory and incorporate verbal, logical, and mathematical parts of the brain, but it is also a great way to memorize scientific concepts. Introduce musical artists, such as They Might Be Giants. The catchy rhythms and quirky science-related lyrics set the stage for one of my favorite assignments. After playing the Chemistry Song by They Might Be Giants I have the class compose a song of their own to help them remember the elements found on the periodic table. In groups, they come up with the rhythm, melody, and lyrics that will help them remember H20 for as long as they live.
- Movement in Language Arts: Break the class into groups, explain that dance is a way an artist expresses feelings, images, and emotions. Show a video clip of a ballet (I like Romeo and Juliet). Talk about how each movement acts the way figurative language does in poetry or literature. Figurative language such as metaphors and similes are creative ways to convey a feeling, image, or emotion. Randomly hand out idea strips (rainy day, day at the beach, and snowball fight are a few I’ve used). The groups must use their strips to write a simile or metaphor and then choose and compose a dance that expresses what they wrote.
- Music and Social Studies: As seen with science, music is a great way to help learners memorize various dates, names, or places. Pick an era or event you are studying, have each group write lyrics incorporating key events, locations, dates, and people. You can have each group perform their song for the class, but I warn you, it is not easy to get 5th graders to sing in front of their peers. I always make them feel comfortable by singing a social studies song of my own. Having your class learn a traditional folk dance or song from the era you’re studying is also an easy way to incorporate music or movement.
The dramatic arts are probably one of the easiest and most engaging art forms to incorporate into the classroom. It also gives kinesthetic or highly expressive children an opportunity to shine. Please note, your behavioral expectations must be very strict and clear. For some reason, drama lessons have the tendency to get very silly, very fast. If you don't regulate them from the beginning, you can suddenly experience pandemonium.
- Drama in Math: This is a great lesson to use as a concept review prior to state testing. Each group chooses 1 math concept or skills to sell. They must use everything they know about that concept to compose and act out a math commercial. Selling fractions, division, or order of operations can be really fun!
- Drama in Language Arts: Storytelling is always an obvious choice, so is readers theater, but I love tableaus or frozen pictures. After reading each chapter in a book have small groups choose the main event or point of that chapter. They must then create a tableau or frozen picture of that event, the picture freezes, then comes back to life as you give the command. Have the audience discuss what the performing group has chosen as the main even in the chapter. The best thing is that many groups choose different events. This becomes a class discussion on story sequence, author’s point of view, and main idea.
- Drama in Science: Nearly any scientific concept can be incorporated into this frame work. If you are studying the systems in the human body, in groups, your students work together and use their science texts to help them script and act out a scene depicting the function, interaction, or life of a given body system. For example: One child is a red blood cell, one is oxygen, and the others form the heart. They can script a dialogue that explains how the red blood cell moves through the heart to re-oxygenate and be circulated back through the body.
- Drama in Social Studies: Have learners view portraits or images of famous people from the era you’re studying. Each child researches an individual and composes a one-minute monologue telling about the economics, politics, issues, or events that marked that person’s life.
Incorporating the arts into your everyday curriculum requires extra preparation; you need to be able to convey concepts of both core content and the artistic medium you’ve chosen. This is because you are teaching two things at one time and connecting them. The result of the extra labor will be rewarding.