Macabre Stories Arts Integration Lesson

By |2018-10-26T09:23:20-07:00October 27th, 2016|

Each year, we feature an arts integration lesson in October that connects in some way to fall celebrations.  In the past, we’ve included lessons on Dios de los Muertos, Fall harvests and Halloween.  This year, we selected the symphonic poem Danse Macabre from composer Camille Saint-Saens to provide inspiration for a spooky third grade writing and music lesson. Here’s the Macabre Stories Arts Integration Lesson.




About Macabre Stories Arts Integration Lesson

This lesson is terrific because the act of composition is reflected in both traditional and non-traditional text. Students must be able to identify and develop a beginning, middle, and end of the story and communicate these three parts distinctively.  Additionally, they use the original piece from Saint-Saens as a way to discover how composers utilize instruments and sound effects to highlight characters and moments in a selection.  For older students, this could even be extended to represent allegories and personification.

While you could use this lesson during Halloween, it doesn’t have to be limited to just that date.  This story is about life and death, good and evil, and I have used it successfully any time that the weather turns colder. The poem that the music is based upon by Henri Cazalis, a French physician who was a symbolist poet and considered a man of letters, who actually says that the “winter wind blows”, so I’ve used this all the way through January with students and it has still been appropriate.

No matter when you choose to use it, this lesson will provide you and your students with an expressive opportunity to explore stories, poems and music in a whole new way.

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  1. Mary Jean De Benedict November 5, 2016 at 9:38 am - Reply

    Hi Susan, it’s me Mary Jean(Marin County, teacher)
    Absolutely loved your Macabre Stories lesson plan, very effective with my students, but what really impacted me for the rest of my life was the format for the lesson. It’s beautifully laid out, clear, concise, and comprehensive. I would love to somehow set up all of my lessons using this template….Just Great! Thanks again for another one of your creative gifts!
    One more thing, we are just now, in our district, working with PBL. New administrators, love one of my principals, are stressing this format. As part of my evaluation this year, my principal wants me to incorporate this into my teaching. Fourth graders will be presenting Emerson and Jacobson’s musical, Go West. I won’t go into detail, but the topic for our PBL will be to explore the story behind the musical, The Westward Expansion,etc. Thoughts? I would appreciate any comments/ideas/info your web might have specifically on PBL’s. Thanks so much!

    • Susan Riley November 5, 2016 at 11:51 am - Reply

      Hey there Mary Jean! SO glad that the new lesson layout is helpful. We really wanted to showcase the aligned standards and how the assessments connect right back to those standards, as well as streamline the process. We’ll take a look at creating a post soon with the template that you’ll be able to download and use for yourself. 🙂

      On the PBL front – it sounds like you are on the right track! Try to frame your musical around a central question so that your students go through the process of inquiry in all of its forms within the musical. Explore the challenges and opportunities presented by expansion, how that’s connected to the journey that a musical follows, and how lyrics, melodies, instrumentation, lighting, acting, staging, choreography all play a role in that journey. There’s a LOT to discover. One of the tricks will be to package it so that it allows for deep exploration and yet doesn’t become overwhelming. Definitely check out the PBL Resource Guide on our PBL page ( – it’s on the highlighted section on the right side of the screen.

      Also, take a look at our online PBL and the Arts course. Our PBL expert, Brianne Gidcumb, created the whole course and she is a former elementary music teacher. I know that you’d find it incredibly valuable – maybe your school would be able to help pay for it? You can find it here:

      Hope this all helps! Keep us updated on your progress, Mary Jean!

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