One of my favorite arts integration activities from Pre-K to 12 grade is an activity I call “Our Town”. This activity can be as small and as big as time and age allows. I’m going to demonstrate how this simple activity can grow into a big project overlapping into many of the content areas.
A group of students create a town. We discuss and list the characteristics of a city/town.
- Buildings (houses, offices, schools, hospitals, etc.)
- Rural, suburban or urban
You can tailor this discussion and characteristics according to the students, grade level and time. The students will create a town (Know your class! You can preselect groups or have a prepared selection plan or student select groups).
I usually provide the students big chart paper and markers. Depending on the group, I let them use map keys (You will need a discussion on map keys). Typically students have wanted to draw the entire map which if time allows is perfect and creative. My main questions for the students: What makes your city/town special? Why is your town better than the rest? With some students I have to give examples (ice cream town, sports town, tropical town, toy town, etc.). They present their towns and this can be the end! But it could go on…with extension activities, research city/towns, research of their city/town.
I have taught this lesson for grades Pre-K to 12. I planned and implemented this lesson as entire grade level school project and as a small project just in my classroom. Big or small you can add other content areas into the activity from social studies, language arts, math, and of course the integrated arts.
Younger Students – When I first implemented this math lesson it was with primary grades for informal and formal units of measure. The lesson requires using a ruler to create roads and buildings and documenting findings/measurements on a worksheet. The worksheet was assessment tool that will evaluate the students’ understanding of measurement. I required that some roads and building be a specific measurement. I provided the students creative freedom on measurements as long as it was documented correctly.
Older Students – This was a geometry lesson for high school students. My friend/colleague observed me teaching this lesson with students and wanted to collaborate. She is a geometry teacher and shared her vision with other teachers. We met to plan and organize the series of lesson and this became the students’ final culminating project. The students were required to plot, graph, and calculate all the angles for the town created. They had to adhere to the same creative process of making their town unique. As with the primary grades the buildings and roads had certain geometric requirements and must solve the word problems to create specified buildings.
Adding environmental science was essential. A town has a nature and habitats! What animals, plants, or other organism live in the city/town. With younger or older students, try implementing this on a small or extensive scale. With my younger students I provided each group with list of natural elements that had to be included in their city/ town. Your town is in the woods vs. on the beach, near the equator vs near the North Pole. In the same school as the geometry lesson the biology teachers decided they wanted to participate in this project. They required students to include in the city/ town natural elements based on the written descriptions of the habitats. The descriptions were coded with descriptors that would require the students to demonstrate their knowledge of key objects of the unit.
There are many different ways to use Social Studies. I used it to discuss historical periods (create a city/ town that would be an example during the civil war), different countries (Mayan Ruins/Downtown Tokyo), and/or my favorite, government (Civics/US government). I co-taught US government at an international high school in New York City. Most of the students were English Learners. We used the activity to teach about laws and amendments. Students had to create laws and amendments based on the United States. They could develop a city/town with similar or opposing laws but they had to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the US laws and amendments.
I’m sure most educators can think of a million different literacy skills that could align with “Our Town”. In the past for younger students I have used vocabulary words related to the town that had to be evident the city/town and read stories like All Through My Town by Jean Reidy. I’ve also had students write short sentences explaining the city/ town. With older students I always include a writing assignment, in the past it has consisted of creative writing of students’ descriptions of the city/ town, a script and/or the information for a brochure or PowerPoint.
I only use technology in two ways but I’m sure there are many different activities using technology that one could incorporate. At the school where the math and biology teachers were involved the computer teacher wanted to be involved. She had the students create brochures, posters, and PowerPoints based on their towns. When I implemented this lesson as a summer camp counselor, I had a group of students really engaged in technology and they created a virtual town.
As with the other content areas, I am sure educators can find different ways to use music, especially music teachers. I have only used it one way. When the project became an entire 10th grade project, I had the student create their “Our Town” theme song/anthem.
Lastly and most importantly, you must let the students present their work! Even on a smaller level of the activity, it is important to let them showcase their work. This could be a small gallery walk, informal sharing to the class, or a formal presentation. I implemented this lesson this in my theatre course and the students were required to present their city/town as a commercial.
When this activity became an entire 10th grade activity, the groups had to present their entire project to the whole school (the school was a small public/charter). The students had to display their city/town drawing (actual drawing displayed in the entrance to the auditorium, and also projected on a large screen while presenting). The presentations were commercial style format with the skits and theme songs performed. Each student’s presentation included a PowerPoint of characteristics of the city/town. They explained their town’s mathematical structures, the habitat, laws/amendments, and even passed out brochures.
Overall this project is meant to be informative, engaging and fun but with information and skills from applicable content areas. Again, be creative and use it however is best for your students!
Dr. Janna Chevon Thompson is an Assistant Professor in the Educational Studies Department at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, teaching courses on arts integration, language acquisition, and instructional methods. She taught early childhood, elementary education, and secondary education majors in arts integration and diversity at Towson University as an adjunct professor. Previously Dr. Thompson taught acting, playwriting, stage make-up and design at Coppin State University as an adjunct professor. She has been teaching and implementing arts integration for over 15 years.