Slavery and Music

Grade Level:

4th grade

Pedagogical Objective:

Students will gain an understanding of the physical and emotional dimensions of being held in slavery.

Artistic Output:

Students will create a print which reflects an understanding of the physical dimensions of being held in slavery.

Lesson Overview:

The students will learn about what slavery was like through mood in their bodies, through the music of spirituals and through viewing art. They will learn about how music served as communication for the people who were held in slavery. They will listen to music and look at pictures of prints. The students will create their own print about what they learned, and learn the process of doing an artist’s rough draft

Length of Lesson:

3-1 hour class sessions


Black American Freedom Songs 1960-1966” CD Smithsonian Folkways: “Wade in the Water” Voices of the Civil Rights Movement:
“Paul Robeson—‘Songs For Free Men’ 1940-1945” CD, Pearl—Pavilion Records, LTD. “Go Down Moses”

“Slavery in America: A Primary Source History of the Intolerable Practice of Slavery” by Tonya Buell, Primary Source, The Rosen Pub. Group, Inc. NY, 2004

“No More! Stories and Songs of Slave Resistance” by Doreen Rapparport, Candlewick Press 2002

“Our Song, Our Toil: The Story of American Slavery as Told by Slaves”, edited by Michele Stepto, Millbrook Press 1994

“Block Printing” by Susie O’Reilly, Thomson Learning, NY 1993

“Relief printmaking: A Manual of Techniques” by Colin Walkin, The Crowood Press 1991


This class took place at Maybury Elementary School

Instructional Objectives:

Day one

  • Mood/Body warm up
  • Introduce different ways of communicating through music and drumming

Day two

  • Show various drawings and photos illustrating slavery
  • Discuss drafting procedures

Day three

  • Individual students create drafts and drawing
  • Feedback and closing


Scratchboards, scratch tools (thin dowel rods sharpened in a pencil sharpener), paper, pencils, erasers

Instructional Plan:

Warm Up
Warm up exercise—begin by having the students focus on their breath to get calm and focused. Stand up and begin to ask them for different moods or feelings and how that would feel in their body. Have the rest of the class follow. Show what the mood of slavery was like. End with a short meditation. Use this same activity each day.

Introductory Activity

Day One
Talk about the history of communication and drumming in slavery. Discuss how the spirituals had meanings and told stories, but also were ways of talking to each other, ie: when slaves heard “Wade in the Water”, they knew the dogs were coming and it was time to go into the water. Play various songs such as this and “Go Down Moses” to also talk about the underground railroad and Harriet Tubman.
Developmental Activity

Day Two
Show various scenes of slavery and discuss what it was like. Show them examples of etchings, as that is what they will be doing.
Explain how artists do artists drafts/sketches, especially when they are going to work on something that they can’t erase or paint over. Have them trace their scratchboard on the paper to get the size and then draw a scene from something they learned about today.
Guided Practice

Day Three
Students will individually create a rough draft sketch and a finished scratchboard.

Reflective Practice
Create an opportunity for each person (alone or in groups) to discuss or implement the learning in a group process. . Provide prompts and support to stimulate discussion how the learning could be used again or how the learning took place.

Assessment Criteria

Identify the behavior which supports the content standard.

  1. Create (cognitive)
    • The student will identify the genre of story, poem, or music
    • The student will Identify person of the voice of the story, poem or music (i.e. 1st person, 3rd person, etc)
    • The student will Identify relationships between various characters in the text
    • The student will identify elements within the text (i.e. plot, repetition, use of language, etc)
  2. Perform (psychomotor)
    • The student will be able to describes decision to apply or combine elements from the texts in the drawing or etchings
    • The student uses elements from several texts to generate drawings or etchings
  3. Respond (affective)
    • The student will make comparisons between current and past life as depicted in the texts.
    • The student will make comparisons between personal and others response to material or texts.

Achievement Standard


  • Students will identify use of 1st and 3rd person narrative in specific uses
  • Students will choose selections from the text and demonstrate how different voices and perspective could transform the text.


  • Students will use specifics from the selections in their drawings.


  • Students will explain how the drawings address specific moods and use specific elements which connect it to the practice of slavery.

Content Standard (s)

Use various standards provided by state and national sources which support the pedagical outcomes identified above.

  • R.IT.04.01 identify and describe the structure, elements, features, and purpose of a variety of informational genre including autobiography/biography, personal essay, almanac, and newspaper.
  • R.CM.04.01 connect personal knowledge, experiences, and understanding of the world to themes and perspectives in text through oral and written responses.
  • R.CM.04.03 explain relationships among themes, ideas, and characters within and across texts to create a deeper understanding by categorizing and classifying, comparing and contrasting, or drawing parallels across time and culture.
  • L.CN.04.01 ask substantive questions of the speaker that will provide additional elaboration and details.
  • L.RP.04.01 listen to or view knowledgeably and discuss a variety of genre and compare their responses to those of their peers.
  • L.RP.04.03 respond to multiple text types listened to or viewed knowledgeably, by
    discussing, illustrating, and/or writing in order to clarify meaning, make connections take a position, and/or show deep understanding.
  • L.RP.04.04 combine skills to reveal strengthening literacy (e.g., viewing then analyzing in writing, listening then giving an opinion orally).

Michigan Visual Arts Standards

Elementary, 1.1: Use materials, techniques, media technology, and processes to communicate ideas and experiences.

  1. Use materials, techniques, media technology, and processes to communicate ideas and experiences.
  2. Use visual characteristics and organizational principles of art to communicate ideas.
    MI. VA. Elementary, 2,2. Apply knowledge of how visual characteristics and organizational principles communicate ideas.
    Elementary, 2, 4. Select and use subject matter, symbols and ideas to communicate meaning.
    Elementary,3.5. Understand how personal experiences can influence the development of artwork.


Develop a sketch book of images specifically tied to songs of the Civil Right Movement.
Create a series of monologues or scenes which further explore the physical or emotional dimensions of being held in slavery.

Develop a montage or collage of “Then and Now” block prints which explore specific locations or practices depicted in the texts.

Teaching Artist:Jennifer Boyak

Classroom Teacher: Schmidt

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