Spice it Up: Simultaneously Teach Writing, Character, and Art

Today’s post is from our 2014 Arts Express Session by Mary Favro, Character Education Specialist

This lesson idea is to teach the core concept of compare and contrast. It recommends that teachers start by discussing works of art and continue by discussing character implications. Throughout this lesson, students will learn to compare and contrast, feel naturally motivated to write, understand stereotyping, and learn more about art and about themselves.

Start with Visuals

Image 1: from Oxygen Axes Minstrel Show
Image 2: The Banjo Lesson painted by Henry Ossawa Tanner

To teach the concept of comparing and contrasting, begin by analyzing two visual images. The images used for this lesson are of African American men holding or playing a banjo. These two images work well because there are similarities and differences between them.

Compare and Contrast as a Class

While both pictures are of African American men with banjos, the first image shows a stereotype placed on African Americans during the late 1800s and early 1900s of a Vaudeville entertainer. The next image, a painting by an African American painter, depicts for its viewer a tender moment between a man and his grandson, something many people can relate to. 

Discuss Character Tie-Ins

The conversation that can follow about character education is: how does it make you feel when you are stereotyped? How does it make you feel when others recognize in you things they can understand and relate to? Further, if it makes you feel bad to be stereotyped, remember that when you have to make a judgement about another. When you stereotype people, you don’t get to learn much about them, and you rarely learn what you might have in common.

Assign a Compare and Contrast Essay for Practice

While students talk through the similarities and differences in these images and the messages they express, they come to understand the concept of comparing and contrasting and learn a lesson about stereotyping. This makes a great writing prompt. Have the students compare and contrast how they feel when someone stereotypes them vs. how they feel when someone takes the time to get to know them for who they really are.
Let us know how it goes!

This Art Sparks Tip is taken from the Arts Express session by Mary Favro, The Arts and Character Education: How to Use Noteworthy Paintings, Literature, and Music to Cultivate Positive Character Traits in Children.

Mary Favro specializes in designing and implementing curriculum for elementary and secondary teachers in the field of character education. As a graduate student at Boston University she trained with top scholars in the field of moral development and worked as a teacher educator for the Center for the Advancement of Ethics and Character. Following her graduate studies she taught school and worked as a curriculum coordinator for six years. Her current work includes designing and advising teacher training seminars for Inside Out Learning—an international education organization in Africa.

More great lessons and ideas can be found on her blog:

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