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Got art? Using visuals as part of your social studies instruction

I admit it. I’m a little biased. Both my kids have a strong sense of art, of being able to create visually appealing pieces. (The Rowdie effort to the left by Jake is not one of his best efforts, though it does accurately convey the family pet’s personality.) We constantly had crayons, painting supplies, easels, and all sorts of other artsy things in use around the house. So I’ve always been keen to the idea of integrating visual arts and images into social studies instruction.

And I think we often forget how powerful the arts can be in connecting our kids with social studies content and big ideas. Art, in all of its forms, is a great way to create emotion, generate connections, and build relationships. When we fail to intentionally integrate the visual arts, music, sculpture, dance, and theater, we do our kids a disservice.

One of the quickest ways to incorporate the arts is to focus on the visual – paintings, drawings, and images. But what can that look like?

I’ve pasted a few resources below. Browse through them at your leisure.

This first list contains past History Tech posts with specific teaching ideas from our Teaching American History grant, from conference sessions, and other random stuff.

Picturing America
The National Endowment for the Humanities created Picturing America which features 41 photos, paintings and images of art. The 41 pieces range from a portrait of Paul Revere to a photograph of the civil rights marchers in Selma, Alabama.When you click a specific image, you also get info about the artist as well as a variety of online and print resources directly related to that image. These include lesson plans from the great EDSITEment site and supporting documents.

And while the images almost speak for themselves, the NEH people have put togethera 100+ page teaching guide to help you integrate them into your instruction. You can also download a PowerPoint file that has all 41 images embedded ready for easy use.

Art History Teaching
Click on the Lesson Plan link for a wide range of resources. Much of what you’ll find is written for high school. But some awesome images and ready to use presentations. Adapt what you need to.

EDSITEment is a partnership between the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Trust for the Humanities and offers a treasure trove for teachers searching for high-quality material on the Internet in the subject areas of literature and language arts, foreign languages, art and culture, and history and social studies.edsitement art culture

The Kennedy Center instituted ArtsEdge as its educational media arm, reaching out to schools, communities, individuals and families with printed materials, classroom support and Internet technologies. They also have a handy mobile app.

Smithsonian American Art Museum
Student and teacher resources from the Smithsonian American Art Museum use visual arts to teach concepts central to social studies and language arts curricula. Intended for grade levels 4-12, these resources contain interactive or media-rich content and align with the Common Core State Standards.

Some web features, such as online exhibitions, include content created specifically for classroom use, while other features contain primary sources such as artist interviews. You also get handy Teacher Guides and student activities. Be sure to download this PDF of instructional strategies.

manifest destiny

Creating Connections: Integrating the Visual Arts with Social Studies
In this nice article from the National Council for the Social Studies, the authors offer offer a rationale for teaching integrated arts with social studies, provide a framework for planning, and illustrate specific classroom examples in two different grade levels.

Arts Across the Curriculum, Grades K-5
A few quick lessons for the lower grades.

Social Studies Arts Toolkit
The toolkit includes multimedia resources designed for use in K-12 social studies and arts classrooms. Integrating arts into the social studies curriculum is an excellent way to allow students with diverse learning modalities to become more effective learners. They also have a nice PDF of strategies.

I know this is a ton of stuff. But pick through it when you have time. And the articles lend themselves to nice professional conversations. So during that next weird silence in your department meeting, you can start an engaging discussion on how Leutze’s use of color and shading in his 1861 Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way is indicative of America’s moral values during western expansion.

You might want to start with a bit lighter topic but we really need to start talking more about effective strategies that incorporate the visual arts into our instruction. Don’t be afraid to be the one who kicks things off.

And feel free to post your own interpretations of Rowdie in the comments.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Here is a link to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Timeline of Art History. It is a great resource for world history teachers.

    October 1, 2015
    • glennw #

      Yes! Thanks so much for sharing. All of the World History teachers are giving you a virtual high five!


      October 1, 2015

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