30 Americans Lesson Plans


Title: current event posters

Grade Level: high school

Academic Subject: fine Arts And Social Studies


In this lesson, students will work with Photoshop (or a similar program) to create a poster that makes a statement about a current event.  Using popular advertising logos/campaigns, they will alter them in a way that is similar to the style Thomas uses to get their point across using the language of advertising.

Big Idea:

Visual culture and advertising as fine art


Students will learn about the work of Hank Willis Thomas and how he uses popular brand logos/advertising campaigns to make statements.  Students will research current socio-political issues and choose one that they would like to make a statement about.  With their current event in mind, students will choose brand logos/advertising campaigns that will help to express the statement they wish to make.  Using Photoshop (or a similar program) students will alter the logos or ads to create a poster about their socio-political issue to be displayed around the school.

Teaching Procedure/Time Allotted: One Week

Class one: The teacher will introduce the project with a brief Power Point about Hank Willis Thomas and his work.  The class will discuss his work and his use of recognizable imagery.  They will talk about what effect that has on the viewer as well as the companies whose logos and campaigns he is borrowing from.  The students are then told they will be creating posters to make a statement about a current event using recognizable logos/ad campaigns that have been altered using Photoshop.

Students will spend the remainder of class in the computer lab researching company logos to use for their socio-political issue.

Homework: The students should have a current socio-political issue selected for the next class period.

Class two: Students will spend time researching and looking for images that would be suitable for their chosen topic.

Homework: Students should narrow down their selection to two logos/ads that they will work with in class.

Class three: Students will spend the entire class period drafting their first option for their poster.

Class four: Students will spend the entire class period drafting their second possibility for a current event poster.

Class five: Students will have critiques in small groups to discuss their two options for posters.  The students will be able to share their two posters and be able to dialogue with their peers about both.

homework: After hearing critiques, students make a final decision on which draft they will use for their final poster.

class six: Students spend the class period finalizing their poster.

class seven: Students present their completed posters to the class.

Questions for Discussion:

What is visual culture?

What is the language of advertising?

How does the use of popular recognizable logos/campaigns change our perception of Thomas’s art?

How can popular culture help to spread the word about important social issues?

What design elements help to make Thomas’s work successful?

Is Thomas’ work considered plagiarism?

What is appropriation?  Is Thomas’s work appropriation art?

Do you think that it is ok to use someone else’s imagery in your own artwork?

What do you think the companies whose logos and campaigns Thomas uses feel about the art work?  How does the use of technology change the way you view the work?

Plans for Differentiating Instruction: 

Rather than having each student create a poster, students can work in small groups to collaborate.  Also, magazine and newspaper clippings could be used if access to computers and Photoshop are not possible.

Enduring Understandings:

While some artists use their own imagery to express themselves, others appropriate already recognizable designs to speak to their audience in a specific way.  If someone else’s image is to be used, it must be altered in such a way that it cannot be considered plagiarism.  Art created using technology can be just as meaningful and powerful as art created in traditional mediums.

Key Knowledge/Skills:

(Declarative) Students will learn/understand how visual culture and the language of advertising can be used to convey a message to the viewer. (Procedural)  Students will learn how to use Photoshop to alter images to their liking.


(Summative) Students will have a class critique where they will have the opportunity to discuss what they think the issue is on the poster based in the imagery used, then hear the intentions of the artists to see if they were successful in their symbolism.  (Formative) As students work in class, the teacher will work with students one-on-one to help problem solve any design or technology issues.

Materials/Teacher Resources:

Computer lab with internet access and high quality printer with the ability to print large-scale work; Photoshop or similar program;  PowerPoint with information about Hank Willis Thomas and images of his work.

Teacher Reflection:

This assignment gives students the opportunity to be more aware of the advertising culture and the influence it has on daily life.  After the project, students are encouraged to be more critical when viewing advertisements.  They will also have a sense that they too, can create ads that can be influential in a positive way.

Development Rationale: 

At this point, these high school students have reached the highest level of artistic development and are encouraged to think critically about their art.  They are computer savvy and enjoy incorporating technology into their schoolwork.  They are familiar with our visual culture and should enjoy using the language of advertising to express a current event that is meaningful to them.


  •  HSP.1.5  Describe and analyze the way the elements of art-color, value, and texture are used to convey an intended concept based on works of art found in the classroom, in art reproductions, in students’ own work, during online research, or a museum visit.
  •  HSP.1.7  Analyze the principles of design as used in works of art.
  • HSP.1.12  Analyze works of art influenced by historical and cultural events utilizing an expanded art vocabulary
  • HSP.1.13  Analyze the media used by a given artist and describe how its use influences the meaning of the work. 
  • HSA.1.9   Explain the role and influence of new technologies on contemporary works of art.
  • HSP.2.4  Design computer generated graphics for advertising and informational products in print or virtual (e.g., the layout of covers, posters, brochures, web sites).
  • HSP.2.5  Use electronic technology for reference and for creating original work, including the manipulation of digital imagery (either still or video). 
  • HSP.2.12  Create a two or three dimensional work of art that addresses a social theme. 
  • HSA.2.9  Use innovative visual metaphors and develop a distinct visual vocabulary in creating a work of art. 
  • HSP.4.3  Articulate how personal beliefs, cultural traditions, and current social, economic, and political contexts influence the interpretation of the meaning or message in a work of art.
  • HAS.4.3  Identify the intentions of artists creating contemporary works of art and explore the implications of those intentions.
  • HSP.4.7  Formulate and support a position regarding the aesthetic value of a specific work of art viewed on museum Website and change or defend that position after considering the opinions of others.
  • HSA.5.1  Speculate on how advances in technology might change the definition and function of the visual arts.
  • HSA.5.10  Compare and contrast works of art, probing beyond the obvious and identifying psychological content found in the symbols and images.
  • HAS.5.11  Identify one or more issues raised by a political work of art, based upon visual clues.  Discuss the power of art to challenge and provoke the viewer.


Title: Visual Poetry

Grade Level: fifth

 Academic Subject: fine Arts, English/Language Arts


In this lesson, students will observe an artwork by Jean Michel Basquiat, Bird on Money. Students will discuss the use of words, symbolic imagery, and the elements and principles of art and design present in Basquiat’s work of art. They will create an expressive abstract composition based on their own brainstorming of meaningful words, stories, or poetry.

Big Idea:

Artmaking and creative writing as a means to express and explore contemporary issues.


The student will:

1. Observe subject matter, detail, and content present in a work of art by Jean Michel Basquiat, and answer questions regarding the work of art.

2. Identify qualities of symbolism and imagery, and describe the principles of design in visual compositions, emphasizing unity and harmony.

3. Create personal symbols, words, stories, or poems to be displayed visually.

4. Use materials to create an expressive abstract painting.

5. Understand the given medium as well as proper uses for tools and materials.

6. Learn vocabulary words surrounding the theme and artwork.

Teaching Procedure/Time Allotted: One Week

class one

Begin class by introducing students to Jean Michel Basquiat and his work. Students will discuss what they see in the artwork, including the identification of the principles of design and any noted symbols. The class will take care to notice the words written all over Basquiat’s painting.  Students will discuss the possible meaning of the work of art as well as what affect a work of art has that contains text. Next, students will break off individually and spend the remainder of the class brainstorming personal symbols or stories (or poems, or words) that are meaningful to them. These symbols, stories, or words will be the backbone of an abstract painting.

class two

Students will spend the entire class period deciding how they would like to portray their word, symbol, poem, or story in visual format. They first will sketch the design, and must decide whether or not to include the text itself. Students may begin painting.

Class three

Students will spend the entire class period painting their abstract images.

class four

Students will spend the entire class period painting and finishing their abstract images.

class five

Students will have an all class critique to discuss their paintings. Each student will present his or her work of art, without contributing the story or meaning behind the painting. Once the class has discussed the painting, the student will have a chance to describe their original symbolism. Teachers might ask: What symbols, stories or words did you choose to focus on? Why did you include the text in your image (or why not)? How did you choose to pictorially display a word (or story, symbol, etc.)?

Questions for Discussion:

1. How can we make text visual? How do words come alive in artwork?

2. What symbolism or text did Basquiat use in his work to emphasize the meaning of the artwork itself? Does the text help you understand the image?

3. What does it mean to create an expressive abstract image?

Plans for Differentiating Instruction: 

Students with special needs may identify one word or symbol that has meaning in their life. In a group, these students may work together to create a larger, collaborative abstract image displaying all of their symbols or words.

Advanced students may work towards multiple pieces of writing or poetry to accompany their images. In addition, students may wish to write a “rationale” statement of why they chose the symbols, poems, words, or stories that they did.

Enduring Understandings:

1. Who Jean Michel Basquiat is, and his importance in the realm of contemporary American art

2. How two art forms, writing and visual arts, can be combined to create one work

3. How the concepts of expression and abstraction can be applied to works of art, including literary arts

Key Knowledge/Skills:

(Declarative) Students will learn/understand how the visual and literary arts can be combined to convey a message to the viewer. Students will study and learn about an artist who painted in this manner. (Procedural)  Students will practice painting techniques to create their own abstract work. Students will apply elements of design to works of art.


(Summative) Students will have a class critique where they will have the opportunity to discuss what they think the symbolism represented in the painting is based on the imagery used, and then hear the intentions of the artists to see if they were successful in their symbolism.  (Formative) As students work in class, the teacher will work with students one-on-one to help problem solve any technical issues.

Materials/Teacher Resources:

8.5×11 inches canvas paper, various colors acrylic paint, paintbrushes, sketchbooks, pencils

Teacher Reflection:

Students should internalize the idea of abstraction in terms of art and art history.  Students will also be given a public forum to express themselves as artists as well as develop critical thinking skills during the writing and sharing portion of the project.

Development Rationale:

Fifth grade students in the Emerging Expertise stage of artistic development see art as a creative endeavor.  They have become dissatisfied with their schema/symbols and begin to struggle with developing expertise to create more “realistic” works.  They now understand that different media produce different expressive and stylistic imagery and that the same subject can be interpreted in a variety of ways.  Cognitively, they are developing a sense of history, including the ability to distinguish between works of art created by different cultures.  Physically, they have increased manual dexterity.  They should feel a sense of accomplishment and confidence in art making as making collages removes the pressure of creating “realistic” works and appeals to their increased manual dexterity skills.


  • 5.1.5  Identify, name, and describe the principles of design in visual compositions, emphasizing unity and harmony
  • 5.2.5  Maintain the workspace, materials, and tools responsibly and safely.
  • 5.2.6  Create an expressive abstract composition based on real objects using line characteristics (e.g. straight/curved. thick/thin/zigzag).
  • 5.2.8  Use the principles of unity and harmony to create an assemblage (a found object sculpture) or a mixed media two-dimensional composition that communicates a universal theme.
  • 5.2.9  Communicate values, opinions, and/or personal insights in an original work of art.
  • 5.3.2 Identify and describe examples of African- American art and architecture, explaining how African- American artwork reflects multicultural West African and European- American art and societies.
  • 5.4.1  Make judgments about works of art and design using a context and critique process involving elements of background history.
  • 5.4.3  Develop and use specific criteria individually and in groups to assess works of art.
  • 5.4.4  Using specific criteria , students assess their own works of art and describe what changes they would make for improvement


Title: My Fair Lady

Grade Level: High School

Academic Subject: Visual Art and English/language arts


Students will learn about and become familiar with the Greek myth, Pygmalion.  They will then examine Robert Colescott’s, Pygmalion and compare and contrast the classical version with Colescott’s version.   Students will contemplate, consider, and create their own Pygmalion based on icons of beauty as identified and defined by them.

Big Idea:

Art making as a means to explore issues of race and stereotypes.


The student will:

1. Observe subject matter and details and answer questions regarding about the work of art.

2. Use materials to create a collage focusing on the Pygmalion theme.

3.  Understand the given medium as well as proper uses for tools and materials.

4.  Learn vocabulary words surrounding the theme and the artwork.

Teaching Procedure/Time Allotted:

Pre-assessment-lesson one

Introduce the Greek myth, Pygmalion, and the artist, Robert Colescott

intro/motivational dialogue

Begin by introducing and discussing the Greek myth Pygmalion.

A king of Cyprus who carved and then fell in love with a statue of a woman, which Aphrodite brought to life.

Have an image of Colescott’s artwork, Pygmalion, available for the students to view. Ask the following questions:

Why did Colescott title his work Pygmalion?

What famous figures do you recognize in the work?

Does the location of the famous figures in the work make a difference?

What is a stereotype? Why and how are they used?

What statement is Colescott making about racial inequity? Stereotypes? How is beauty defined in Western society? Are standards of beauty applied equally to each gender OR does a “double” standard apply to females? In what ways might works of art confront stereotypes and double standards—or enhance them? Particularly with what is perceived and defined as beauty in society.


After class discussion, homework will be for students to decide what/who they would like to put in their own version of Pygmalion.  They should have at least four figures in mind. [Bearing in mind the discussion on stereotypes and double standards of beauty—students may choose the gender of their Pygmalion figure]

Work periods

Students will research images of figures they would like to include in their own work, create a draft and then complete their final piece over several class periods.


Class will gather together in order to share images and explanations.

What figures did you depict in your piece?

Why did you choose those?

What did you learn during this lesson?

What did you already know?

Plans for Differentiating Instruction: 

Students can work in pairs or groups if needed.  More extensive study of Pygmalion could occur and include the George Bernard Shaw play.

Enduring Understandings:

The concept and parts to a Greek myth.

Historical context and knowledge about the artist and his importance in American art.

How historical stories and art can influence more contemporary artists and their themes.

Issues of racial inequity and stereotypes can be addressed and explained through art.

Key Knowledge/Skills:

(Declarative) Students will learn/ understand Greek mythology and how cultural statements can be portrayed through art. (Procedural)  Students will learn how to draw portraits and create a collage.


(Summative) Ability to use materials and execute a collage, stay on task and involved with techniques.  Students understand and expand on ideas about  culture and the role of stereotypes and double standards in Western society. (Formative) Involvement in on-going critiques, questioning, and critical thinking skills.

Materials/Teacher Resources:

-Image of Robert Colescott’s Pygmalion.

-Drawing paper

-Various drawing utensils

-acrylic paint


Teacher Reflection:

Students should have a deeper understanding of how art can be used to convey social justice issues such as racial and gender inequity and stereotypes.  They will also explore the concepts associated with the Pygmalion myth and how they exist in the present day.  They will have a better understanding of how cultural influences can be portrayed through art.

Development Rationale: 

In the artistic thinking stage of development, students are entering the adult world and adult understanding of the artistic process.  This project will help enable them make contemporary connections to enduring historical concepts and ideas surrounding standards of beauty and stereotyping. At this stage students are capable of grasping abstract ideas, make use of visual metaphor, and understand that art can be many different things and made with a variety of materials. They have an interest and ability in creating works of art that express emotion.  Students are developing their own unique visual voice and rendering with an individualistic style.


  • Create a two or three-dimensional work of art that addresses a social theme.
  • Create a work of art that communicates a cross-cultural or universal theme taken from literature or history.
  • Apply art and design as a means of understanding global issues. 
  • Use Greek, Latin, and Norse mythology; the Bible; and other works often alluded to in American and world literature to understand the meaning of words or phrases.
  • Analyze the characters, structure, and themes of classical Greek drama and epic poetry.



Title: Performing Identity

Grade Level: seventh and eighth

Academic Subject: visual Art


Students will work in groups and collaborate on the creation of a sound suit, made from found and hand-made art objects reflective of a particular culture/community identity. Students will discuss how identity is “performed” through examples from their everyday life—which includes expression and dress as well as body language/kinesthetic movement. Students will complete their own identity map [see Congdon, Stewart and White identity map attached], study the works of Nick Cave, and view images from the fashion world and dance. Students will consider how movement and performance in tandem with costume enhances cultural identity. Students will design a sound suit and perform the identity they have chosen to visualize.

Big Idea:

Performance and costume as art. Students will contemplate the relationship between culture, fashion, art and performance in expressing identity.


Students will learn about the work of Nick Cave and how he uses costumes and movement to make a statement about present day culture.  They will then create their own moveable costume and performance.

Teaching Procedure/Time Allotted:

Pre-assessment – Lesson One

While knowledge of fashion, kinesthetic movement and sewing techniques is optimal, it is not required.  This plan can be adapted to using glue rather than sewing.  Learning activities are based in students’ knowledge and interest in fashion design, expressive movement, and the ability to conceive unique designs symbolic of identity, personality, and culture. Students with delayed fine motor skills may need to be paired up with another student to adjust for multiple intelligences.

intro/motivational dialogue

The sound suits are politically/socially inspired and have deeper meanings than just looking fantastic and making rustling sounds.  Nick Cave considers himself to be a humanitarian, and his works are a vehicle for change.  He draws from sources as varied as African ceremonial costumes, Tibetan textiles, and pop-culture fashion.  Many of the sound suits and accessories recall the African positing of spiritual power in objects.  His goal for the audience is to learn about another culture and to look inwardly to examine personal and cultural identity in relation to the world.  The value of history and theory and how they relate to fine art is very central to his work.  His sound suits are a counterpoint to the business suit, asking the viewer to look closer and amplify the evocative movement.

Nick Cave does not draw out his design beforehand, but rather gets inspiration from the material and builds from there.  He often gets his materials from second hand stores, saying “I’m interested in working with objects that are taken for granted or laughed at or deemed less precious, yet have a certain significance in themselves.”

work period – Lesson One

Students will create their identity maps and select 1 of the 12 facets of identity that resonate most with them. They will then break into small groups to discuss as a group which of the identities they would like to create a suit for and create sketches of what objects and symbols should be on the suit to “visualize” the aspect of identity they have chosen. In addition they will think about how we “perform” our identities daily through facial expression and body language/movement and think about what movements and expressions relate best to the aspect of identity they have chosen to create a suit for.

The sound suit base can be made from t-shirts and jeans or a large cloth with an opening for the head and arms (burlap, sheets, etc.—old hand-me-down clothes from home).


Groups will then report on their ideas to the whole class for discussion and problem solving.

work period – Lesson Two

Students will look at the works of Nick Cave and ritual costumes from African cultures [videos of ritual performance].  Comparisons and discussion on how we use costume and ritual in American culture [to celebrate special occasions—birthdays, masquerade parties, Halloween, etc.] and discussion of how other cultures represented in the classroom use costumes in ritual performances [El Dia de los Muertos, etc.].  Students might also view videos of dance performances –ballet, modern dance etc.  Discussion on the importance of movement and body language as well as costume in expressing an idea, belief, or emotion will also be included.

Students will then get into their groups and make any refinements to their costume design and begin working.  Teachers may want to do a basic sewing demonstration lesson.


Each group will spend a few minutes discussing with the whole class any problems they have encountered and how they plan to solve them through an in-process critique.

work period – Lesson Three

At this point costumes are complete and this lesson is about performance.  The student performer with assistance from their group will perform their identity.  Each group will have a written statement about their process—which aspect of identity they selected, and how that identity is visually symbolized in the suit they made and how the movements relate to that identity.


After all the groups have presented a critique of the unit and what they learned about performance and costume as art and its ability to portray identity (individual, communal and cultural).

Questions for Discussion:

What is identity?  How is identity connected to community and culture? What do we mean by “performing” identity?  In what ways do we perform our identities (individual, communal and cultural) everyday? [Give examples based in individual personality behaviors or how we might feel one way inside but act another way towards others]

How do I portray my communal and cultural identity?

What does it mean to create works of art that raise questions about social equality in our culture and society?  Why is it important? How might I do this in my own art making?

How do I add movement to my artwork?

What types of materials reflect the idea I want to convey?

Plans for Differentiating Instruction: 

Students will work in groups and sketch out their ideas using pencil and paper, the computer or collage.

Enduring Understandings:

Identity is a broad concept that encompasses individual sense of self, our place within an environment and our sense of who we are in relation to a community. Identity is also deeply rooted in our beliefs and these beliefs are both consciously and unconsciously performed each day as we interact with others in our world.

Ideas on environmentalism, globalization, social justice, identity, and the performing and visual arts.

Culture impacts the place and time period we live in

I have an effect on culture

Art can be made of materials other than paint and pencil, and movement can add a deeper comprehension to my work.

Key Knowledge/Skills:

(Declarative) Students will learn/ understand how cultural statements can be portrayed through wearable art with a kinesthetic component. (Procedural)  Students will learn how to create wearable art as an artistic statement.


(Summative) Ability to use materials and create a costume, stay on task and involved with techniques and work collaboratively with other students to accomplish the tasks.  Students understand and expand on ideas for culture.  (Formative) Involvement in on-going critiques, questioning, and critical thinking skills.

Materials/Teacher Resources:

Found objects, hand-made objects, fabrics, hot glue gun, needles and thread, feathers, cotton balls, items of nature (i.e., leaves, twigs), buttons/ beads.

Teacher Reflection:

This assignment gives students the opportunity to examine popular culture and the influence that fashion on personal, communal and cultural identity.  After the project, students are encouraged to be more critical when viewing clothing, wardrobe and the influence it has on modern culture.

Developmental Rationale: 

In the Artistic Challenges stage of development, students are self critical.  This project will help them look at themselves and others through the view point of their social or political beliefs and values.  Allowing them to discuss what clothes and costuming mean to them, leading to what culture means to them.  At this stage students are often focused on making artwork look realistic.  This project will help them to use imagination as a critical thinking tool and broaden their concept of what art is.

National Visual Arts Standards:

Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes

Using knowledge of structures and functions

Choosing and evaluating a range of subject matter, symbols, and ideas

Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and cultures

Reflecting upon and assessing the characteristics and merits of their work and the work of others

Making connections between visual arts and other disciplines.







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