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“A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words”: Telling Stories Through Paint, Photography and Poetry Using Technology

Author: Dale Apple


Lewis C. Cassidy Academics Plus School

Year: 2010

Seminar: American Literature and American Painting, 1840 to 1940

Grade Level: 6

Keywords: Harlem Renaissance, poetry, Technology

School Subject(s): English, Poetry

When a writer begins to weave a tale, it is often with memories from life, which are the basis for storytelling. Writers embellish, imagine, fantasize and stretch those memories to make their stories appealing to their target audiences. Visual artists may represent their stories realistically or symbolically much as a writer, and both can be considered renderings of a scene, although writers paint with words and visual artists paint with images.

This unit is designed to explore how artists and writers tell their stories through different mediums and how they are shaped by history and culture. We will look at poetry, painting and photography from the Harlem Renaissance and how the work reflected the times in which the artists and writers lived. Artists and writers from today also reflect their world in their work as they seek new ways of creative expression. What would a painting, collage or poem look like today if one of the artists from the Harlem Renaissance were to create it? What if they used technology to create their work- a PowerPoint, a slideshow, a video, a Podcast, a digital painting or digital collage?

Download Unit: Apple-Unit.pdf

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Full Unit Text
Content Objectives


Children are introduced to wonderful forms of literature throughout their years in school but often lack the tools to weave their own tales. Much of the school day is now spent on Reading and Math with emphasis on achieving Proficiency and passing state standardized tests. Less and less time is devoted to developing creativity and providing outlets for students to achieve success in a variety of ways. Students need to explore their own lives, their cultural heritage, similarities and differences to their peers. This is especially true as our school communities continue to change, and students from a variety of cultures share their educational experiences with children who may be different from them.

When a writer begins to weave a tale, it is often with memories from life, which are the basis for any story. Writers embellish, imagine, fantasize and stretch those memories to make their stories more appealing to a target audience. Visual artists may represent their stories realistically or symbolically, much as a writer, and both can be considered renderings of scenes, although writers paint with words and visual artists paint with images.

This unit is designed for students in Grade 6 to explore how artists and writers tell their stories through different mediums. It will be used during an eight-week period, twice per week. Students will examine what it means to be part of a culture, and how culture influences history. Students will study the work of selected visual artists and writers from the Harlem Renaissance, and will begin to recognize the connections between the artists’ work and historical events. Students will examine how life depicted in the days of the Harlem Renaissance through Art, Photography and Poetry compare to scenes of daily life today. They will explore how technology was used to create the work, whether there is evidence of any technology in the work, and how these artists might create if they were alive today.

Students will create their own works using digital software across the curriculum in the areas of Writing, Visual Arts and Technology as a means of understanding their own personal stories, and the stories of others.

Students will learn about the Great Migration North using websites that are already developed for background information on what preceded the move.

Students will use an interactive website of the paintings that were created by Jacob Lawrence called Migration, as a pictorial history of the journey. Students will be able to understand that art records the history of the times in which artists live, and that the times in which the students live, can also be considered history to future generations.

Students will be able to understand how artists borrow from other periods of time and cultures, as Lawrence did from African Art. This will help students meet standards of appreciation of famous works of art and in understanding the visual arts in relation to history and cultures. Students will begin making connections between visual arts and other disciplines as a result of examining history and technology in this objective. Students will also meet or exceed the standards in Technology for utilizing websites to critically evaluate their content and their relevance to specific topics, as well as use digital tools to gather, evaluate, and use information.

Students will be introduced to the photography of James Van Der Zee and the poetry and work of Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen. Students will be able to recognize parallels between the ways that all people in the arts create, and how their daily lives and culture influences their bodies of work. Students will be able to understand how artists paint images and moods with colors, subjects and symbols and how writers paint images with words. They will begin to understand how a mental image can be as powerful as a visual image and how an artist can play on our emotions with a variety of elements in their work.

Finally, students will look at work by Romare Bearden, who not only used stories as the basis for all of his work, but included multimedia and technology in his work as well. Students will be able to use an interactive website of one of his works accompanied by a poem written by Langston Hughes called “Let’s Walk the Block” and will be able to discuss the stories he told through his work in preparation for their own personal stories represented through digital means.

Students will write stories, poetry or raps, will illustrate favorite things or colors, or one aspect of the Harlem Renaissance that interested them. They will then choose to create a multimedia presentation to incorporate text, image and sound to convey a feeling or emotion, much as the artists and writers did that we studied in this unit. Students may use photography to create images for use in iPhoto and/or iMovie to illustrate a poem or rap with narration, sound effects or sound clips where applicable to enhance the presentation. Images may be created using digital cameras or built-in cameras on iMacs.

Students may alternately choose to create a PowerPoint presentation with the same elements above. There can be text, images, clip art, original illustrations imported from painting programs such as Paintbrush, sound effects, sound clips from a 30 second clip of a song or original music created in GarageBand, and narration. One advantage of PowerPoint is that editing clips in iMovie is much more time consuming and requires precision in order to be effective. PowerPoint is more user friendly for the novice. Students will be able to choose their medium after demonstrations of the components of each program.


Since everyone has a story to tell, I created this unit to provide outlets in the creative and performing arts for students to tell their stories, and to use technology across multiple disciplines to deliver their stories through slideshow or video. Students will be able to understand that Art and Technology have similarities and differences. Students will learn how to use technology to manipulate and change images to create a desired effect/ emotion; much in the same way as a visual artist or writer can also evoke a mood with the use of color, material or words. Students will learn that while artists have been creating works of art over the years, their mediums have changed in keeping with the times, and that technology has given rise to this change. Students will learn to improve their critical thinking skills as they look at early work in Photography, Multimedia and Painting and will decide for themselves whether technology hindered or helped artists. Students will begin to develop an appreciation for art in many forms and will gain a broader knowledge that art exists in their world everyday, and that art is not only created, but also found in the things that already are in their world.

The curriculum designed by the School District of Philadelphia in Art already provides standards for teaching students about valuing their own work, that of their peers and famous works of art so that this unit will provide opportunities for these standards to be met.

In the area of Technology, the rate of change that technology advances, makes it somewhat difficult to insure that all current standards will be met in the future, but as the standards in Technology Connections presently state, there exist many opportunities for Technology to be taught across the curriculum with an emphasis on using technology as a means to deliver content in other subjects, not as a stand alone subject. However, with technology advancing every six months or so, the need to continue teaching new technologies to younger students will be necessary, especially in urban schools, where the digital divide still exists in households of a lower socioeconomic group.


Learning about the Harlem Renaissance as a student in the Philadelphia Public Schools taught me very little, and it was not until I became a teacher and did my own research into the lives of African-American artists that I developed a strong interest in this time in our history. I was moved through the discovery of a children’s book called Harlem by Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers, during my early years as an art teacher, and I plan to share this same book with my students.

For this unit, I have been reading about The Great Migration North and how the Harlem Renaissance became an important movement in African American culture. I will continue to research painters, photographers, poets, writers, musicians, dancers and artists from the days of the Harlem Renaissance from 1920-1940.

I will explore ways to teach students to make connections between history and art, and how artists used their work as a means of expression in response to the events they were experiencing, and how the legacy of many artists is their perception of those times, not always accurate but important, nevertheless.

I want to emphasize to my students how we are living through history that is not yet written, and that their memories of extraordinary events will eventually be represented in books that their children and their children’s children will be learning about. This will help them make connections to how people’s lives are linked and often shaped by common experiences. They will also experience a sense of having been a part of our history, however large or small.

I would like students to compare and contrast their lives to those that the artists have portrayed in their work. What kinds of things did people do for enjoyment in the works of art? How does that relate to what you (the students) do in your life for fun? What kind of materials do artists use in their work today? Is art different today? What is the definition of art in our society?

Technology has been used for decades to help people improve their surroundings, to do tasks more efficiently, to make their lives better. Can we see the use of technology or the absence of it in art from the Harlem Renaissance? How might the Great Migration have been different without trains and automobiles? What would a painting, collage or poem look like today if one of these artists were to create it? What if they used technology to create their work- a PowerPoint, a slideshow, a video, a podcast, a digital painting or digital collage?

Students will develop an aesthetic and understanding of the work and processes artists used, as well as an appreciation in the creation of their own works of art.

Teaching Strategies

This unit will use internet resources to briefly examine background history of life in the South, the Great Migration, the Harlem Renaissance, and how the Great Depression changed life in Harlem in 1929. Students will use interactive websites to explore the work of artists and writers from the Harlem Renaissance and will explore how Art, History, Literature and Technology intersect. They will visit a timeline at the Schomburg website, will visit the National Gallery of Art to experience the work and life of Jacob Lawrence, will view video from Discovery Streaming and will use word processing application software to record their responses to work studied in class.

Students will use computers to create works of art in response to their research of individuals and will choose a culminating activity to showcase what they have learned. Students will use Inspiration 8 to create Venn Diagrams and graphic organizers to plan their memories and stories. Students will use Paintbrush to create their own original paintings in the style of the visual artists studied, and will develop multimedia presentations as a culminating activity.

Student Activities

– Students will have completed Social Studies units on American History and Slavery through the Harlem Renaissance with their sixth grade teachers. We will review to activate prior knowledge and to lead into the unit.

There are three main parts to my unit. All components of this unit will rely on electronic sources.

Part 1- Art Imitates Life

Students will learn how history and events influence the work of artists and writers and how today’s events become tomorrow’s history. Students will learn about The Great Migration North, and how life began to change for African Americans. They will explore ways in which The Harlem Renaissance gave rise to a new cultural identity and how […]“an unprecedented outburst of creative activity among African-Americans occurred in all fields of art”. 1. (EyeOnArt: The Harlem Renaissance, by Robin Urton. This will be accomplished by viewing poetry and stories online, by viewing works of art online and participating in interactive websites about these works of art, by listening to audio clips of famous writers reading their own poetry, artists reflecting on their own careers, an actor reading a famous poem and samples of jazz from this period in time to set the mood.

Part 2- Little Stories Make Big Impressions

Students will learn about some of the human-interest stories from the lives of many of the participants of the Harlem Renaissance, both artists and scholars, especially stories about growing up.

Students will learn how to weave a tale beginning with an anecdote from their lives as a constructed response to several of the resources they explore to use higher order thinking skills. Students will use rubrics to assess their own work. They will use a variety of electronic tools to tell their stories. We will examine artists from the Harlem Renaissance who tell stories through their paintings, poems, music, voice and photographs and will relate to some themes common to their own lives. We will examine the history of the times and how the events that shaped the artists lives also shaped their work.

Students will use a graphic organizer template from Inspiration 8 to plan their story.

Part 3- Making Connections Through the Arts, Literature and Technology

We will experiment with some of the same processes these artists used in creating their work and will finish the unit with a presentation of a multimedia piece – PowerPoint or iMovie, using image, word and sound, whose impact will ultimately be created by manipulating these components through editing.

Classroom Activities

Lesson One- The Great Migration North

This activity will concentrate on the Great Migration for background knowledge. Before students can begin to appreciate the cultural contributions and explosion of creativity of the renaissance, it will be important to explore why African-Americans moved from the rural South to the industrial urban Northern cities in such huge numbers. Much of this will be covered in their Social Studies classes but we will visit websites to connect how history played a role in artwork of this time.

Students will visit a website that showcases the life and work of Jacob Lawrence, an artist who portrayed the Migration in his series. Students will learn that Lawrence did not consider himself a painter of history but of people and their stories. He was a narrative painter and much detail can be gleaned from close observation of his work.

Students will discuss what factors precipitated the move North and will discuss any situations in their own lives that may have similarities. Students will be asked to recall a time they felt they were treated unfairly, whether they have ever been the target of discrimination of any kind, such as religion, gender, race, age or even bullying because someone perceived them as being different.

Students will then visit websites about Jacob Lawrence, and will view his life as a boy, an artist and finally, the Migration Series at the following websites:

Jacob Lawrence, Over The Line at

The interactive website of Jacob Lawrence’ “Migration” Series at

They will make note of how he simplified the imagery and showed great emotion and pain without the use of the ugliness of the actual scenes. One powerful panel, for example is when he portrayed a lynching, without the bodies dangling, but still portraying the same feelings by observing the faces of the witnesses as they all gazed in one direction, while one or two souls turned away, unable to bear the brutality.

Students will discuss the presence of technology in the series by Lawrence and will compare how transportation and ways of earning a living then and now have changed.

Lesson Two- Leaving Behind Prejudice, Or Did They?

This lesson will focus on poetry by two well-known poets about prejudice, one of the most important reasons that African-Americans chose to leave the South. Students will listen to a poem written and spoken by Langston Hughes, called I, Too and one by Countee Cullen, called Baltimore. Hughes’ poem may be found at YouTube.

They will discuss the use of the “N” word then and its meaning today. Students will discuss their reactions. They will be able to understand how powerful words are, how much their meaning can change depending on how it is used. Students will begin to understand that while some things change, others do not. They will begin to draw conclusions of their own and will also begin to see some of the differences in fact and opinion when dealing with these issues.

Students will write their reactions to these poems and any other thoughts about the subject to be used later in the unit. Students will be asked to think about their own experiences, and may include them in their quick write.

Lesson Three- Harlem in the 1920’s

Students will view a black and white movie clip about life in Harlem in the 1920’s made by PBS, which can be found at Discovery Streaming. This clip is rich in imagery and will allow students to make visual connections from the poetry they will be reading and hearing as well as making connections from a historical perspective.

Students will be asked to jot down verbs, nouns and adjectives that come to mind as they view the movie, which will be used in the poems that they create in this unit. Students will listen to a jazz selection from a cd-rom, as they continue writing at the conclusion of the movie. We will discuss imagery and places, and what they visualize when they hear the music. Words will be written on the interactive whiteboard as a collaborative activity, for use as a word bank for their poetry in response to the music and movie clips seen so far.

At this time, depending on needed motivation, I may introduce a website called Piclits, Inspired Picture Writing, which can be accessed at This website has a library of images that students may use, and a word bank, where students may drag and drop words to create a visual poem. It is a great resource as a continuation of this activity, and is especially good for reluctant writers.

Lesson Four- James Van Der Zee and Photography

For this lesson, students will be asked to bring in family photographs, if possible, especially old photographs of grandparents and great grandparents, which will be discussed and compared to the photographs by James Van Der Zee.

Students will be introduced to Photography, with a very brief history of how the medium has changed, most notably from the days of the Harlem Renaissance to today (from glass plates to film, to instant film (Polaroid) and to digital photography).

Students will look at photographs by James van Der Zee, with a short biography of his life. Students will be able to see similarities in his body of work and will be able to understand that photographs tell stories much like stories that are written with words. Students will then use digital cameras to take photos of their peers, as well as use cameras built into their computers. Students will be asked to discuss how this technology has changed, and will be asked to consider possible advantages of new advances in Photography.

Students will learn that James Van Der Zee was the photographer of Harlem, and that he developed superimposing negatives, and began retouching photos before it was in fashion. We will discuss his attitudes about his work and profession, and how he came to have a Dutch name. This will be one of several stories I will share with students from the lives of the artists and writers we will explore. Students will often have stories of their own to tell and this will be a good starting point to activate their own memories. We will watch a brief movie clip about Van Der Zee which can be found at Discovery Streaming, to provide a better understanding of him, and will view images of life in Harlem from his vast collection.

For a connection to their own lives, we will look at some of the images of his that are well known and will discuss how stories of his subjects can be told by observing the clothing they wore and the poses of the members of the family. Students will be asked to observe how a photograph tells a story. They will also look at images they have brought, and will be asked to look for stories in their photos.

Students will also use digital cameras to create a visual poem about a person, place or thing. Students may choose a color to illustrate, or something that is not abstract and will import the images into iPhoto to create a slideshow with a clip from a song that enhances the mood or meaning.

Lesson Five- Revisiting Langston Hughes

Students will learn about the sources of inspiration from the life of Langston Hughes- the divorce of his parents, for example, his mother’s fight for justice for treatment of her son and his father’s rejection of his situation as a black man in America. Students will click on a link for a walking tour of his neighborhood, which can be found at Students will read a brief history of places of interest at this site with links to his poetry, as well as other important supplements for teaching about the Harlem Renaissance.

Students will then read poetry by Langston Hughes, specifically poems he wrote illustrating life in Harlem during these times. Students will read Harlem, Mother To Son, and Night Funeral in Harlem. Students will be able to understand how he expressed mood with his rhythmic verses and language and will choose their favorites to create a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting 2 of the poems.

Lesson Six- Poetry and Performance

Students will listen to the Langston Hughes poem “The Freedom Train” read by Paul Robeson. Audio file is located at This will begin a dialogue about what life might have been like at this time. Students will discuss their reactions to the poem, mood, message and conventions of writing, especially rhythm.

Students will view a clip of a performance of Weary Blues, by Langston Hughes, featuring Cab Calloway and recited in the film by author and Harvard Professor Dr. Allen Dwight Callahan. This file can be found at They will discuss how music, spoken word and imagery enhances the mood and meaning of the poem as an example of how these facets can contribute to the excitement of the subject.

Students will write their own poems or raps about an injustice in their life, their neighborhood or the world, in the style of Langston Hughes. They may also write about something in their lives that influenced them- something someone said, an “aha” moment or a life changing event.

Lesson Seven- Countee Cullen

Countee Cullen was a poet who wrote poetry for adults and prose for children. As a teacher in a junior high, he wrote two books so that his students could understand and appreciate his work. Both were written in collaboration with his cat, Christopher. My Lives, And How I Lost Them, is an autobiography of his cat, filled with humor and sarcasm. It is filled with literary devices, and will serve as a great starting point for students to write about an event in their lives from a different point of view. Students will review his life although he chose to keep many of the details of his beginnings to himself.

Students will listen to an excerpt from a book written for children, by Countee Cullen, called My Lives and How I Lost Them. Students will see how a writer uses point of view as a literary device, and how the author’s use of a cat as the narrator can create a story as funny and touching as any human being. Cullen also uses personification to enrich the character’s escapades and it creates a warm and moving story that the students will enjoy. This may also serve as a starting point in their narrative, rather than be written as a first person account. They might think of how they would retell a story from their own lives in the point of view of something else that was there, such as a chair or other inanimate object. Personification and humor will be an important literary device for this lesson. They will write a rough draft for later use in the unit.

Lesson Eight- Romare Bearden

Students will look at a book in print called “Let’s Walk The Block” by Romare Bearden and Langston Hughes and compare it to life in the students’ own neighborhoods. The book features a six-panel collage by Romare Bearden and a poem written by his friend, Langston Hughes. It is a rich work of art with many scenes depicted simultaneously on the block and is a great way for students to begin to observe how art and literature go hand in hand.

Of his work, Bearden said, “It delivers, all the energy of a “particular street” whose buildings have been “X-rayed…with the imagination.”( 2 Students will observe how he was able to capture this “energy” by his use of color, repetition and variety of shape and collage materials.

Students will also visit an interactive website of the same name at We will look closely at the stories taking place, and students will compare and contrast it to what life might look like on their own block. What would be the same? What would be different? Are there any themes that are universal in art throughout modern history- (family, work, play)? Students will learn that much of Bearden’s work was influenced by jazz, and the shapes he used and the spaces between them, were often used to depict the spaces between musical notes of music by his friend, Earl Hines.

Students will begin a painting of a scene in a window using a graphics paint program in their neighborhood. The illustration may be similar to one taking place in their home. If someone looked into your window, what would they see? What would your family members be doing? Students may prefer to use photographs from magazines, and create a scene as a collage.

Lesson Nine- Technology, Then and Now

In anticipation of how technology has changed since the beginning of the Great Migration, we will visit interactive timelines at PBS on Technology Then And Now. It can be found at There are many links to explore.

Students will learn some of the technologies that were new in the 20’s and will be able to visit a sliding timeline by scrolling to the links of this time period. Students will then brainstorm how these have changed and what the modern counterpart would be. Students can also think about how history might have been different if today’s technologies were available then.

Students will also look at the tools that artists used then and now. If Romare Bearden were alive today would he use computers? If so, how might his work be different? What about Photography? They will also look at whether technology was represented in the work. Students will examine the role of technology in the production of works of art and will look at how the media used has changed. They will have opportunities to explore many areas of technology and how it has changed in relation to ways people write, paint, photograph, compose music and use multimedia.

Lesson Ten- Tell A Story

Students will write a story based on the events of their own lives. Students will choose an event that shapes the way they perceive something in their world. It could be an event that signaled a change in their life such as birth of a sibling and how it changed family dynamics, a move from a house or city to a new place and the impact it had on their lives, changes in their family unit through marriage, divorce, death or economic need, an illness in the family that changed things. The story can be a small event or a life-changing event.

Children often forget the little things they experienced, which may have the most meaning. Students will be asked to find out how they were named, and whether there is tradition in their family history in regard to naming.

I will share anecdotes from my own childhood that made an impact on my life as a motivation, and will tell stories from the lives of the great writers and artists from the renaissance.

Lesson Eleven- Paint A Picture

Students will create illustrations based on stories or poetry they have written during this unit, using such programs as AppleWorks 6, PaintBrush, Tux Paint, SumoPaint, and KidPix. They can also draw in PowerPoint. Students will recall the styles of Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence for influence and may re-visit any site used in this unit for inspiration.

Students may also choose to create collages on paper using black and white reproductions of their photos or to scan them and create them online. This is a laborintensive project and will be done by a small group of interested students as an after school activity over several weeks.

Lesson Twelve- Multimedia Presentations- Putting It All Together

Before allowing children to choose a presentation application, I will introduce several to be used to assess learning and understanding of this curriculum unit at the end of the unit.

Students will choose a multimedia presentation program to showcase understanding of the connections between core academic subjects, and how history influences the body of work that a visual artist, writer, poet, musician or songwriter creates.

  • In PowerPoint, students will learn how to create slides, import images, add text and sound and then transitions to edit and finish presentation.
  • In iMovie, students will import their original photographs, paintings and/or collages. They will add text, sound and transitions, and will edit all components to create a short but effective movie of no more than 3 minutes in length.

Students will present their work in a gallery walk, with computers playing the presentations as a loop or Quicktime movie. Selected work will be presented to the school at a special assembly program at the end of the project, and there will be original work displayed as well, in the areas of writing, poetry and illustration.

As a culminating activity, students will create this presentation using a variety of methods and materials, utilizing their learning strengths. Students will use PowerPoint or iMovie with:

  • Poetry (text only) written by students, set to music created in GarageBand or with music clips.
  • Poetry/ Rap recorded and performed in iMovie.
  • Paintings
  • Digital Collages
  • Slideshow of paintings, images, scanned collages or digital collages with music and/or text.

Students will have the option of choosing which multimedia presentation method they will use to assess their understanding of this unit, and may also use other possible topics on an individual basis, such as exploring technology and inventions during this time, or focus on a specific visual artist, performing artist, writer or historical figure.

At the end of this unit, students will be able to do the following:

  • Students will be able to research, evaluate, and summarize information about the Harlem Renaissance from varied online resources.
  • Students will be able to respond to the Migration series by Jacob Lawrence by choosing one activity using their strengths from the multiple intelligences, in one of the core academic subjects.
  • Students will be able to demonstrate an understanding of the Harlem Renaissance through multimedia presentations using PowerPoint and iMovie.
  • Students will be able to compare and contrast how life depicted in the days of the Harlem Renaissance through Art, Photography and Poetry compare to scenes of daily life today.
  • Students will be able to understand how technology has impacted history and how it was used to create the work, whether there is evidence of any technology in the work and how those artists might create if they were alive today.
  • By the end of this unit, students will be able to make connections between core academic subjects, and that throughout history people have been making these connections.
Sample Lesson One: The Great Migration

Activating Prior Knowledge

Objective: Students will be able to understand

Materials: Computer, Projector, Interactive whiteboard, Promethean pens, photographs of Harlem from the days of the renaissance will be displayed in the room throughout the eight week unit to begin the discovery process and arouse student’s curiosity. There will also be some reproductions of the Migration Series by Jacob Lawrence for the first lesson. Students react visually to what is in my classroom as they enter and go to their seats so this will be a great way to begin a dialogue.

Time: 1 or 2 periods of 45 minutes each

Materials and Resources:

Reproductions of paintings and photographs in PowerPoint- photographs of slaves from Slavery In America Image Gallery, at

Artwork from The Slave Gallery

“The Migration Series” by Jacob Lawrence and

“Jacob Lawrence, Over The Line” at

Introduction: As an introduction to this unit, I will begin by asking students to share some of what they know about the Civil War, also known as the War Between The States. We will establish that the Southern states seceded from the Union but that the Federal government wanted the Union to be unified, and a bloody war ensued.

The end of the war brought about an end to slavery, though not its problems. Students will discuss what was happening in our country after slavery ended and how life changed for African-Americans. We will discuss how African-Americans were treated in the southern states, which were once the slave holding states, and the desire to escape racism.

Students will review what they know about the migration before we begin by contributing to a class discussion. We will estimate what years this took place before we begin and will revisit the years in our review. Students will learn what else was taking place in the country and whether there were any important world events during these years. We will create a chart and will add to it throughout the lesson.

We will discuss how agricultural jobs in the south were not profitable for AfricanAmericans and how the lure of industrial jobs in the big cities in the North enticed hundreds of thousands of African-Americans to migrate there. Students will offer other reasons they thought African-Americans were seeking new lives. I will ask students if anyone has ever moved to a new house, neighborhood, school, city, state and country. We will discuss reasons people move today to put it in perspective. Students will imagine what people feel as they make new lives in strange places to put themselves in their shoes, an experience that brings about excitement, fear but also hope.

Students will be shown how the migration gave rise to a new sense of racial pride after so many years of oppression through slavery. This will take place over the course of several lessons in which major contributions from poets, writers, painters, sculptors, musicians and dancers will be represented through audio, video or quotes.

Procedure: At the beginning of the period, students will create a KWL Chart on a blank flipchart as a group on an interactive whiteboard to show what they know about the Great Migration. There will be three columns pre-drawn and students will brainstorm to fill in What They Know, What They Want To Know. Students will leave the last column of What They Learned, blank at this time.

Students will then begin their research using the site below. Students have a variety of learning strengths, and providing opportunities to tap into these strengths will motivate students to take responsibility for their own learning. At the end of this lesson, students will choose one activity to respond to the series, depending on their interest and ability. These activities come directly from the interactive website of Jacob Lawrence’s Migration series, located at, which has great resources for teachers.

Standards Addressed: 1.9.6.A: Use media and technology resources for self-directed learning, group collaboration, and learning throughout the curriculum.

Closure: At the end of this part of the lesson, students will complete the KWL chart as a group and will conclude that there were many factors that gave rise to the migration, some of which still exist in today’s modern world.

Assessment: Students will complete a hamburger template, which can be found at Students will choose the Great Migration as the topic, with 3 supporting details and a concluding sentence.

Sample Lesson Two- Jacob Lawrence

The Life of Jacob Lawrence

Objective: Students will be able to understand how artists find subject matter for their work in the events happening in their lives. Students will be able to relate how these events are history happening before their eyes- history that is not yet written.

Introduction: Jacob Lawrence referred to himself as a product of the Great Migration. We will begin at the first website to learn about his life, at the following website: Jacob Lawrence, Over The Line,

Time: 1or 2 periods of 45 minutes each

Materials and Resources: Same as Lesson One, Activity 1

  • Students will view slides on the website of Part 1, Beginnings, as a whole class using an interactive whiteboard.
  • Students will take turns viewing slides and will activate different parts of the website to reveal a street scene in Harlem with views of actual windows revealing paintings from where he lived.
  • As part of the site, students will listen to an audio clip of Lawrence describing living in Harlem.
  • We will highlight some of the slides in Part 2- The Young Artist, and students will be given time to view and respond to the website on their individual computers.

Standards Addressed: 1.9.6.A: Use media and technology resources for self-directed learning, group collaboration, and learning throughout the curriculum.

Closure: We will review how Jacob Lawrence was considered a narrative painter, a painter as well as a storyteller and how events in his own life influenced his work.

Assessment: Students will complete an exit ticket explaining two events from his life.

Sample Lesson Three: Looking At Paintings- Migration Series

Objectives: Students will be able to understand that the principles and subject matter of other disciplines taught across the curriculum are interrelated with the visual arts.

Time: 1 or 2 periods of 45 minutes each

Resources: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration series, located at

Standards Addressed:

  • 9.2.6.B.1: Identify one significant work of art and recognize it’s historical, cultural, and social context.
  • 1.9.6.A: Use media and technology resources for self-directed learning, group collaboration, and learning throughout the curriculum.

Materials: Computer access, Color reproductions of some of the 60 panels found at

Introduction: This lesson will begin with an introduction to the 60 paintings done in 1941 with tempera paint, and which were approximately each the size of a piece of paper. He applied one color at a time to each painting so that he had to pre-plan all 60 paintings to know where the colors would go. Interest in the series was so intense, that The Phillips Collection and New York’s Museum of Modern Art agreed to divide it, with Phillips buying the odd-numbered paintings.

Procedure: When viewing works of art with children, it is best to look at subject matter and to focus on the stories being told. Young children can be guided with leading questions and specific details, whereas older children can start to analyze elements and use critical thinking skills to surmise meanings. Some possible questions might be to:

  • Describe the visual elements in the paintings. What do you see? Where are the people? Where are they going?
  • Ask students to find persons, places or things and tell what they might represent- a letter, a train, the country, the city etc.
  • What materials did the artist use? What colors? What does it remind you of- any influences, places?
  • Do the materials used affect the mood of the artwork?
  • How does the artist paint his subjects? Why do you think he does it this way?
  • What do you think the artist is trying to convey in this work?
  • Do you like these paintings? Give an explanation to support your answer.

Lawrence has stated that he was not a history painter but that he was painting his own story, his community. Older students may make the following connections:

  • Do you agree? Support your answer.
  • Do you see any evidence of technology in the work- machinery for creating goods, transportation, inventions that would make the completion of tasks more efficient?
  • Can you make any literary connection to poetry or authors of this time during the Harlem Renaissance?
  • What are the themes he illustrates?
  • Do you see any connections to other artwork or art from other cultures?

Closure: Students will review how Lawrence’s own life’s experience played a vital role in his work.

Assessment: Students will complete a worksheet from this website called The Poetry of Art to assess understanding.


Reading List for Teachers:
  • Driskell, David C. Harlem Renaissance: Art of Black America. New York: Abradale/Abrams, 1994. Print.
  • Gabbin, Joanne V. Furious Flower: African American Poetry from the Black Arts Movement to the Present. University of Virginia, 2004. Print.
  • Greenberg, Jan. Romare Bearden: Collage of Memories. New York: Harry N Abrams Inc, 2003. Print.
  • Mc Ghee, Reginald. The World of James Van Derzee. NY: Grove Inc, 1969. Print. This book describes the life of James Van Der Zee, from his early days growing up in Lenox, Mass to the glory days of the Harlem Renaissance in New York, and finally to his downfall in the remaining years of his life, when so many people, who prospered were hit hard by the Depression. His triumphs and defeats were described in many first person accounts and while he lost the splendor of the way he once lived, the author was able to convey the contributions and feelings of peace that Van Der Zee found with his new wife and life.
  • Mercer, Kobena. James Van Der Zee. London: Phaidon, 2003. Print. This small but glowing book offers a glimpse into the faces and worlds of the people who came to be photographed in James Van Der Zee’s studio. It shows how stories of his subjects’ lives were created in the studio and adds another dimension to the man who never even considered himself an artist.
  • Rochelle, Belinda. Words With Wings: A Treasury of African-American Poetry and Art. New York: Harper-Collins Children’s, 2001. Print.
  • Westerbeck, Colin. The James Van Der Zee Studio. Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 2004. Print.
  • Willis-Braithwaite, Deborah. VanDerZee, Photographer 1886-1983. NY: Harry N. Abrams, 1993. Print This book offers a peek into the stories of Van Der Zee’s life, rather than the images.
Reading List for Students:
  • Bearden, Romare. Li’l Dan, the drummer boy: a Civil War Story. New York: Simon and Schuster for Young Reader, 2003. Print.
  • Bolden, Tonya. Tell All the Children Our Story: Memories and Mementoes of Being Young and Black in America, by Tonya Bolden. New York: Abrams, 2001. Print.
  • Chanhassen, Lucia R. The Harlem Renaissance: A Celebration of Creativity. MN: Child’s World, 2003. Print.
  • Cullen, Countee. My Lives and How I Lost Them. Chicago: Follett, 1941. Print. By Christopher Cat, in collaboration with Countee Cullen Written for children by Christopher Cat, the story represents an amusing point of view as to how Cullen’s cat got into trouble over and over again and lost many of his nine lives. Written as a chapter book for better readers, it offers a delightful story with many laugh-out loud moments.
  • Giovanni, Nikki. Shimmy Shimmy Shimmy Like My Sister Kate: Looking at the Harlem Renaissance Through Poems. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1996. Print.
  • Hardy, Stephen, and Sheila J. Hardy. Extraordinary People of the Harlem Renaissance. New York: Children’s, 2000. Print.
  • Haskins, James. James Van DerZee : The Picture-Takin’ Man. Trenton, NJ: Africa World, 1991. Print. This book is a biography of Harlem photographer, James Vanderzee. It has rare photographs of James as a young boy, and reflects his desire to live life in the shadows rather than have fame. People didn’t know his name, only that “he was the Picture- Takin’ man”. Although written for children, this story of James Van Der Zee is better suited for middle school students due to the dry narrative of his life. While it is informative, I think many children would lose interest as it feels dated and the language is not descriptive to hold one’s interest.
  • Hill, Laban C. Harlem Stomp!: A Cultural History of the Harlem Renaissance. New York: Little Brown, 2003. Print.
  • Hughes, Langston, and Romare Bearden. The Block. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art and Viking, 1995. Print. This is a great book, which is the result of collaboration between Langston Hughes and Romare Bearden. The poem is richly illustrated through Hughes’ words and is accompanied by paintings of Bearden, which children as well as adults could pore over indefinitely, due to the myriad of events and personalities represented in the various windows of the homes on this vibrant block. It reminds me of a treasure hunt activity.
  • Rummel, Jack. Langston Hughes. Danbury, Connecticut: Chelsea House by Grolier Inc., 1988. Print The book begins with an excellent anecdote about what sparked the beginning of his writing career. He was only 18 years old. This is a great way to motivate children to observe their world, and that great poems and stories have their beginnings in everyday life.
Resources Online:
  • “Art of Romare Bearden”: A Resource for Teachers.” National Gallery of Art. Web. 28 Feb. 2010. <>
  • “Drop Me Off In Harlem” Created by Artsedge, a division of the John F. Kennedy Center of The Arts March 2003 <>
  • “Experience-Jacob Lawrence Migration Series.” The Phillips Collection. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2010. <>
  • Friedlander, Terry. “ – Create a PicLit ” – Create a PicLit. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 May 2010. <>. is a creative writing site that allows the user to match an image from the site to words from a word bank. “The object is to put the right words in the right place and the right order to capture the essence, story, and meaning of the picture.” Terry Friedlander
  • Harlem- 1900-1940 N. R. Lindo, Nashormeh. “Harlem 1900-1940: Schomburg Exhibit.” Welcome to the Schomburg Exhibition, Harlem 1900-1940. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, n.d. Web. 1 Apr. 2010. <>
  • Harlem + Bespoke: Walk: Langston Hughes House. < >Created by Ulysses, New York This website shows photographs of many of the important landmarks in Harlem at the height of the renaissance.
  • Harlem’s Heritage: Shifting Geography. Maps of Harlem < jsv=230b&ie=UTF8&oe=UTF8&msa=0&msid=110025838876850268749.00000 1133f555bfb7aac9> This website was created in Google Maps and shows the neighborhood landmarks that a tourist would come to see from the glory days of the renaissance.
  • “Harlem Renaissance Resources (Virtual Programs & Services, Library of Congress).” Library of Congress Home. Library of Congress, 26 Mar. 2010. Web. 29 May 2010. <>. This site was originally created in support of the PBS series SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA, produced by Thirteen/WNET New York and sponsored by New York Life Insurance Company.
  • “Jacob Lawrence.” The Phillips Collection. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2010. <>
  • “JazzAge Culture: Part I.” Pittsburg State University, Pittsburg, KS. N.p., 30 July 2003. Web. 29 May 2010. <>.
  • “Jazztime”- Screenplay by Maxine Fisher. Set in Harlem in 1919, two girls – one white, one black – form a lifelong friendship through a chance encounter and the jazz time music of young “Fats” Waller. Narrated by Ruby Dee. Part of the Weston Woods Series. (From Discovery Streaming)
  • Life’s Rendezvous, Interview With Countee Cullen. James Baldwin. The Magpie Sings the Great Depression: Selections from DeWitt Clinton High School’s Literary Magazine, 1929-1942, New Deal Network. New York <>
  • Myers, Walter Dean, and Christopher Myers. “Storytime Online – Harlem.” The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2010. <> Children and their families can now view an online adaptation of Walter Dean Myers’s poem Harlem, which is illustrated by Christopher Myers.
  • Paul Robeson Reads Freedom Train. Created by Rutgers University, Electronic New Jersey, Digital Archive of New Jersey History. <> “Real Audio” recording of Paul Robeson’s performance of Langston Hughes’ poem “Freedom Train”, Courtesy of Folk Era Records.
  • Podcast of Romare Bearden on National Public Radio < xR0=11445+_pxK=17273/anon.nprmp3/npr/atc/2003/09/20030914_atc_10.mp3?dl=1> The podcast introduces the exhibit that made Romare Bearden known to the rest of the world, since he was already known to the art world. It makes connections to Harlem, and the influence of jazz in the creation of his work.
  • ” Poetry by Langston Hughes – The Weary Blues
  • VideoSift: Online Video *Quality Control.” Sifted Videos
  • VideoSift: Online Video *Quality Control. Brash Network, n.d. Web. 6 June 2010. <>.
  • Romare Bearden “Let’s Walk The Block” <>
  • “Slavery In America Image Gallery.” Slavery In America Teacher Resources. New York Life, n.d. Web. 29 May 2010. <>.
  • “Walking Tour: Langston Hughes’ Harlem of 1926.” – Poetry, Poems, Bios & More. Academy of Poets, 1997. Web. 13 May 2010. <>. The walking tour for which this brochure was originally prepared (1981) was made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts, with special thanks to the Harlem Cultural Council.



Literacy Standards

  • 1.2.6.B.3: Use the criteria necessary to develop a media project that promotes understanding of a topic for a targeted audience.
  • 1.3.6.C: Describe how the author uses literary devices to convey meaning.
    • 1.3.6.C.2: Describe figurative language (e.g., personification, simile, metaphor, hyperbole, allusion).
  • 1.3.6.F: Read and respond to nonfiction and fiction including poetry and drama.
    • 1.3.6.F.1: Read and respond to nonfiction and fiction including poetry and drama.
  •  1.4.6.A Write poems, plays and multi-paragraph narrative items.
    • 1.4.6.A.1: Organize thoughts.
    • 1.4.6.A.2: Increase detail in descriptions.
    • 1.4.6.A.3: Use relevant illustrations.
    • 1.4.6.A.6: Include literary elements.
    • 1.4.6.A.7: Use literary devices.
  • 1.4.6.D: Maintain a written record of class work, activities, interests and honors.
  • Write with a sharp, distinct focus.
  • 1.5.6.A: Identify topic, task and audience.
  • 1.5.6.B: Establish a point of view.
  • 1.7.6.B: Analyze the various types of language used in different situations (e.g., dialect, slang, jargon, electronic messaging, formal and informal).
  • 1.9.6.A: Use media and technology resources for self-directed learning, group collaboration, and learning throughout the curriculum.
  • 1.9.6.B: Use relevant graphics (maps, charts, graphs, tables, illustrations and photographs)
  • Technology Standards NETS.1.6-8 Students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology.
  • NETS.1.6-8.B.4: Integrate a variety of file types to create and illustrate a document or presentation.
  • NETS.2.6-8 Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others.
  • NETS.2.6-8.A: Interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts or others employing a variety of digital environments and media.
  • NETS.3.6-8 Students apply digital tools to gather, evaluate, and use information.

Visual Arts Standards

  • 9.1.6.A.3: Demonstrate use of color and color relationships.
  • 9.1.6.B.1: Identify and experiment with drawing/painting media, techniques, and processes.
  • 9.1.6.B.5: Identify and experiment with computer graphics, collage and mixed media.
  • 9.1.6.C: Identify and use comprehensive vocabulary within the visual arts.
  • 9.1.6.C.1: Use appropriate art vocabulary to describe, demonstrate, classify, and evaluate works of art.
  • 9.1.6.E.3: Identify and discuss unifying themes or point of view in the form of subject matter, symbols and/or ideas.
  • 9.1.6.G.4: Use both traditional and contemporary technologies to create works of art.
  • 9.1.6.G.5: Use both traditional and contemporary technologies to explore the humanities.
  • 9.2.6.A.3: Identify the chronology of artwork as related to historical events.
  • 9.2.6.B.1: Identify one significant work of art and recognize it’s historical, cultural, and social context.
  • 9.2.6.D.2: Discuss how historical and cultural world-view and experiences influence artists and their work.
  • 9.2.6.E: Analyze how historical events and culture impacts forms, techniques, and purposes of works of art.
  • 9.2.6.J.2: Identify the role historical and cultural differences play in the creation of artwork.