Building Skills in the Arts
The key goal of Building Skills in the Arts is to provide guided practice in skills specific to various art forms, such as doing movements in dance, learning to play musical instruments, learning lines and roles in a play, or sketching and designing images.
Practice in Action
What Is It?
Building Skills in the Arts involves activities that develop students' skills across art forms, from reading notes in music and playing an instrument, to understanding color and mixing paint. Students also learn about what constitutes good skills in the arts by attending museums, musical or theatrical performances, or by watching examples on film.
What Do I Do?
Think about the art forms students are interested in—something they might enjoy making, or something they can perform. For example, creating a mural would develop drawing and painting skills; performing a musical would build singing, acting, and dancing skills. Once you have identified the art form and goal (a performance or a product), think about what skills students need to develop in order to be able to accomplish the goal. In the case of mural painting, students must be able to design an image that would be appropriate on a wall, use a brush, mix color, and work collaboratively to complete the mural.
Consider the resources in your community. Invite a local artist or performer to talk to students or help teach a particular skill. If you are teaching the skill yourself, start with simple concepts and build on what students already know—teaching them, for example, one step at a time, one dance at a time. Model the skill for students and give them time to practice. Show them examples by going to live performances or watching a video or DVD. Finally, give students an opportunity to perform or demonstrate their skills to others.
Why Does It Work?
Doing anything well requires practice. As students learn and then practice the skills of an art form, they become more confident, capable, and better able to express themselves. They also learn about various art forms and may find that they have interests or talents that they were not previously aware of. Whether students are engaged in working with the arts for fun or to develop performance-based skills, building skills builds confidence. They more they know, the more they realize what they are capable of accomplishing.
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 Questions
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?
Create a Script (1-6)
Students read Teach Us, Amelia Bedelia, act out idioms from the story, and then write a script and act out their own idioms.
Duration: Two 45-minute sessions
- Understand how figurative language, exaggeration, idioms, and comedy relate to drama
- Create a script that dramatizes a scene from a book
- Create and perform an original script
- Copy of Teach Us, Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish
- Chalkboard or dry-erase board
- Paper, pens, pencils
- Various costume materials and props (optional)
- Review some of the basic elements of drama, including characterization, exaggeration, and improvisation.
- Read Teach Us, Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish.
- Create or clear a performance space (masking tape can designate a stage).
What to Do
- Begin by defining and discussing idioms (a figure of speech; a phrase that can't be interpreted literally). Give examples, such as "bent out of shape," "raining cats and dogs," "lend a hand," and "kick the bucket." Ask students to brainstorm additional examples.
- Read aloud Teach Us, Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish. Make a list of the idioms that appear in the book.
- Ask students to help create a list of funny things in the story, labeling them as surprises, exaggerations, or repetition. Discuss how these elements might be expressed in a dramatic performance (using facial expressions, actions, etc.).
- Divide the class into small groups. Ask each group to select a scene from the book that includes an idiom. Ask students to act out the scene, improvising actions and dialogue. Encourage students to use dramatic elements such as characterization and exaggeration in their performances.
- Allow groups to perform their scenes for the class. Afterward, discuss how different groups interpreted the same scene.
- Remind students of the book Teach Us, Amelia Bedelia and the scenes performed during the previous session.
- Divide the class into small groups again and ask each group to think of an idiom that is not in the book. This time, students will develop a script, including dialogue and stage directions, for a new scene with Amelia Bedelia that includes the new idiom.
- Allow groups to perform their scenes before the class.
Outcomes to Look For
- Student engagement and participation
- Answers and presentations that reflect an understanding of idioms and figurative language
- Scripts that include dramatic elements and humor
- Performances that include improvisation and characterization
The Language of Dance (4-12)
Students learn how music and dance can communicate meaning, prepare a song map, and choreograph their own dance.
Duration: Three 45-minute sessions
- Understand how music and dance can be used to communicate meaning
- Create a song map based on a particular piece of music
- Choreograph an original dance based on a particular piece of music
- CD player and various CDs
- Overhead projector and transparency sheets (optional)
- Consult the Resources tab for suggested Web sites and books to familiarize yourself with the basic elements of dance and music.
- Review the basic elements of music, such as tempo (speed), dynamics (volume), and pitch (highs vs. lows).
- Gather music that expresses emotion. Suggestions:
- Happy: "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" (Mozart), "Stars and Stripes Forever" (Sousa)
- Sad: "Moonlight Sonata" (Beethoven)
- Angry: "Ride of the Valkyries" (Wagner), "Toccata and Fugue" (Bach)
- Excited: "Flight of the Bumblebee" (Rimsky-Korsakov), "Toreador March" from Carmen (Bizet)
- Review some of the basic elements of dance so that you feel familiar enough to demonstrate:
- 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
- Create a performance space (masking tape can designate a stage).
- Review and show Disney's "Fantasia" as a musical/dance performance that reflects emotion (optional).
What to Do
- Begin with a discussion of students' favorite genres of music (pop, country, rap) and their reasons for liking them.
- Talk about how music can evoke emotions and images. Play several excerpts of music that demonstrate various emotions. Ask students to close their eyes, listen to each piece, and let their imaginations go. After each piece, ask students to describe the emotions they felt, as well as the images that appeared while the music played.
- Discuss the elements of music (tempo, dynamics, pitch) that contributed to the emotions they felt. (For instance, a song that evokes sadness is likely to be slow and in a minor key.)
- Hold a vote to select the class's favorite piece from the excerpts played. This piece will be used during the next two sessions.
- Play the selected musical piece for your class. As the music plays, ask students to think about the images that appear in their minds, and the story that those images tell.
- Divide students into small groups. Ask each group to draw a series of images or a song map that depict the story they think the music tells. See Language of Dance (PDF).
- Discuss the basic elements of dance with your students.
- Ask each group to discuss how they might use movement to depict the various images and emotions that appear in their song maps.
- Have groups choreograph a dance that corresponds to their song maps. Ask students to make choreography notes so that they will be able to remember and perform their dance in the next session.
- Create transparencies or handouts of each group's choreography notes.
- Allow each group to share their dance, using the overhead projector to display their choreography notes for the class to see.
- Discuss each dance, allowing students to how the dance captures the emotion of the music.
Outcomes to Look For
- Student participation and engagement
- An understanding of how music and movement can be used to express emotion
- Song maps and dances that reflect basic elements of movement
- Dances that clearly reflect specific emotions
Found-Object Orchestra (K- 3)
Students use classroom materials to create and use simple musical instruments to play.
Duration: Two to three 45-minute sessions
- Learn to analyze various musical pieces
- Understand musical concepts such as tempo (how fast or slow the sound), dynamics (how loud or soft the sound), and pitch (how high or low the sound)
- Learn to improvise simple expressive rhythms and melodic variations on musical instruments
- Max Found Two Sticks by Brian Pinkney
- Various sound- and instrument-making materials (dry pasta, rice, beans, tissue paper, cardboard tubes, cellophane)
- Paper plates and cups, boxes with lids, cans, plastic bottles
- Stapler, glue, tape, rubber bands
- CDs (or cassettes) with excerpts of suggested classical music pieces:
- "Night on Bald Mountain" by Mussorgsky
- "Moonlight Sonata" by Beethoven
- "Stars and Stripes Forever" by Sousa
- Compile excerpts of suggested classical music pieces.
- Read Max Found Two Sticks.
- Review the basics of the musical concepts to be discussed.
- Create your own musical instrument to demonstrate.
What to Do
- Read aloud Max Found Two Sticks, a book about a boy who uses two sticks to beat out the rhythms of the city around him.
- Discuss how musical instruments can be found all around us. For instance, Max used sticks. Primitive people used shells and animal horns.
- Allow students to use the materials you have provided to create musical instruments. Students don't have to make an instrument if they can use objects or materials in the classroom to make sounds (for example, a zipper on a backpack or a desktop for a drum).
- Listen to brief excerpts from classical music pieces to hear how orchestras "play" various emotions. For example, "Night on Bald Mountain" by Mussorgsky is "angry"; "Moonlight Sonata" by Beethoven is "sad"; "Stars and Stripes Forever" by Sousa is "happy."
- Discuss how tempo (speed), dynamics, pitch, and rhythm affect the music.
- Have students use their musical instruments to express various emotions.
- If possible, use additional time or sessions to investigate dynamics (loud or soft) and pitch (high or low). Play classical music pieces as a demonstration, and allow students to use their found object instruments to investigate musical concepts in a hands-on way.
Outcomes to Look For
- Student participation and engagement
- Students analyze and describe melodic variations in musical pieces
- Students create and use instruments to demonstrate musical concepts such as tempo, dynamics, and pitch
Technology Tip for this practice
If your afterschool program has a computer and projector or whiteboard, consider adding a Mimio for small- and large-group collaboration in creating an original script or story.
Try NaturePainter Digital Canvas to create a class mural, or use interactive, multi-media Web sites such as those found at
If you do not have access to a whiteboard, go to the hardware store and purchase a sheet of shower board, which is much less expensive and works just as well.
Web resources for this practice
Research Summary: Being proficient in at least one art form means that a student has enough disciplined practice with it to be able to be successful in expressing themselves in that medium, whether it is music, visual arts, drama or dance (National Standards for Arts Education, No. 1, 2). The practice and the self-discipline transfer to other endeavors: "the skills learning through the arts are transferable to other areas of life" (NAEP, 1998); The effects of practice playing the piano are documented in a study conducted by Rauscher et al (1997) where mastering a musical instrument aids in developing mathematical understanding and special-temporal reasoning (Raucher and Shaw, 1998); also discussed by Catterall et al, 1999).
Print resources for this practice
- Rauscher, F. and G. Shaw, L. Levine, E. Wright, W. Dennis and R. Newcomb (1997). Music training causes long-term enhancement of preschool children's spatial-temporal reasoning. Neurological Research, 19, 2 - 8.
- Rauscher, F. and G. Shaw (1998). Key components of the Mozart effect. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 86, 835-841.
- Catterall, James S., Richard Chapleau and John Iwanaga (1999). Involvement in the Arts and Human Development: General Involvement and Intensive Involvement in Music and Theater Arts. In Champions of Change, E. B. Fiske, Editor. Arts Education Partnership and the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.
- National Standards for Arts Education (2003). Retrived from the web:www.ed.gov/pubs/ArtsStandards.html