4 Steps to Creating an Arts Integrated Lesson

The other day, while presenting to a group of teachers in Michigan via Skype, I was asked, “How can a teacher get started on creating an arts integrated lesson?”  My presentation was on this topic, but there seemed to be a need for more of a step by step approach.  So, for those of you who are just getting started or need a jolt to add more arts integration into your repertoire, here are the four steps I recommend.

  1. Think about what lessons, projects or units of study you teach.  (content vocabulary, science or social studies unit, literary devices, math concepts)  What lessons are getting tired and need more life?  What do you do well and want to make even better?  What is something new that would lend itself well to the arts?
  2. Brainstorm art forms that may work for this particular lesson. Look for the “elegant fit”.   In other words, don’t force it.  Sometimes an idea just comes to me, other times I have to think things through or bounce ideas off of someone else.  Is there a song that can be composed?  (Think lyrics, instruments, or sounds.)  Is there a visual piece of art that could be created?  (Think illustration, diagram, 3 dimensional figure, etc.)  Could your students tell a story or act out a concept?  Could your students move in a way that would deepen their understanding of what they are learning?  (Consider movement in science or interpreting vocabulary.)  Think about your own interests/talents and those of other teachers you can work with.  If there is an art form with which you are more comfortable, start there.  Otherwise you can experiment a little bit with another art form.
  3. Check out the art’s standards. See what speaks to you in terms of what may work and fit with your lesson. The language of the standard may lead you in the right direction. Also check in with an arts teacher to see what your students are learning with them.  If, for example your art teacher is teaching your students about shading, maybe your students could create a still life of something you are learning in science.  If your music teacher is teaching your students how to play the xylophone, allow them to use that musical instrument to create an ostinato of a song to express their understanding of concepts.  Remember to place both the content standard and the art standard at an equal level.  When I create arts integrated lessons, the two standards are displayed side by side.  Here is an example:
  4. Go for it!  Just do it.  Implement the lesson and allow yourself (and your students) time for reflection on how things went.  Make a few mistakes if you need to.  It’s no biggy. It’s all part of the process. 😉

Two real life examples:

Erosion Blues – This is a lesson I have already done.  For a full explanation of it, please go to this post.  Basically, my students learned the form of the blues and wrote original lyrics containing science vocabulary from our unit on land and water.  Want to hear our recording?  Go HERE!

Erosion Art – This is a lesson in the making.  Again, I would be integrating with the concepts learned during our land and water unit, but the art form would be visual art instead of music.  I recently learned about a British artist named Andy Goldsworthy who, “is interested in the ‘movement, light, growth and decay’ of nature. He exploits its vital impermanence: changes in season, weather and terrain.”  (Source)  I know there is an elegant fit here – a great lesson that needs to be created, a wonderful experience that my students should have.  I am still in the research and standard finding stage with this one.  I’m not sure if I want my students to study his work, create their own artwork or do both.  There will be more to come with this one.

In my next post, I will discuss much more about arts standards and how to choose ones that will work for you.  (Consider this part 1 of 2.)  For many more articles on the topic of getting started (or staying the course), please click the “Getting Started w Arts Int” tag.

In the meantime, please share how your ideas on how to start creating your own arts integrated lesson.



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Article by Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth Peterson has devoted her life to education and to reaching out to other teachers who want to remain inspired. Mrs. Peterson teaches fourth grade in Amesbury, Massachusetts and is the host of www.theinspiredclassroom.com. She holds an M.Ed. in Education, “Arts and Learning” and a C.A.G.S. degree with a focus in “Arts Leadership and Learning.” Elizabeth is author of Inspired by Listening, a teacher resource book that includes a method of music integration she has developed and implemented into her own teaching. She teaches workshops and courses on the integration of the arts into the curriculum and organizes the annual summer Teacher Art Retreat. Mrs. Peterson believes there is a love of active, integrated learning in all children and from their enthusiasm, teachers can shape great opportunities to learn.
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  1. Definitely great tips! I just impressed that your write up only 4 steps which is very useful to create an Arts integrated lesson. Thanks for such informative conception. Keep it up! 🙂

  2. Jessica Moody says:

    I like the part about “elegant fit”. It seems like it would make the process easier to find a lesson that naturally lends itself to arts integration as opposed to picking out a lesson where it’s harder to make a connection and trying to force it.

    After the retreat, I’m thinking about puppetry and a bullying unit as being a natural fit. Puppetry is a great way to give kids a voice. Sometimes when kids are involved in a bullying situation as either the target or the bystander, it feels like they don’t have a voice, so I think there could easily be a connection there.

    • I think that is a great example of an elegant fit. What kinds of puppets do you think you’d use? Student made? Already there? Shadow puppets? Hand puppets? Sock puppets?

    • Jennifer Daileanes says:

      I agree with Jessica about not forcing the process. Arts integration is not just drawing a picture after writing a story; it’s about incorporating the arts as part of the learning process and assessing both the content and arts. I clicked on the link for arts’ standards, and it is very organized (but overwhelming). I am excited to develop a unit for my creative writing class as the final project for the art retreat.

  3. Jessica Moody says:

    That’s a great question! I like the idea of students making their own puppets. In the past I have had students write and illustrate their own bullying story and many automatically see the bully as being a bigger male student and the target as being a student who is smaller and has glasses or braces. By allowing them to make their own puppets we can discuss how sometimes a bully and a target do fit those profiles and that fits the definition of bullying with the imbalance of power. However there are certainly other bullying scenarios and it would be interesting to explore those as well.

    I’m unsure what type of puppet would best fit my needs. I’ll have to give it some more thought.

  4. Nicole laponius says:

    I really connected with the “erosion blues” assignment. My freshman year of college, I was assigned to create a piece of art that described a piece of music. The artwork had to be two dimensional, and consist of pieces of painted, cut out paper of a variety of shapes and color. I chose a Whitney Houston song that was very upbeat and I couldn’t believe the outcome! I didn’t even understand the assignment at first, but once I got stated, I couldn’t stop. We had to present our piece while our music was playing, to show how we arrived at our finished product. I would love to do this with my middle school students.
    I also really liked the idea of integrating other class
    Assignments with my art lessons. For instance, having them illustrate a story they are reading or writing in language arts. I would like to find out what each class is learning about in their academic classes and try to integrate my projects with them. This will be beneficial to their other teachers and it will help
    Me to get to know more about them in return.

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