When learning about ancient history, students can sometimes feel a disconnect. Ancient events happened so long ago that it can be hard to relate. But when the sixth graders in David Cooper’s social studies class learn about Greek mythology, they’re engaged and excited because he makes it come alive with the arts.
Teach Students How to Analyze Art
Students begin by applying their knowledge of social studies to pictures of ancient art. David uses a See-Wonder-Think routine to help them analyze what they’re seeing. In this lesson, students begin by making concrete observations about pictures of ancient art that David projects in the classroom. They then come up with questions about the art and share the questions with each other. This thinking routine requires students to look closely at art and connect it to their content knowledge. It’s a great routine to use across subject areas!
Make It Real
After analyzing art in the classroom, David takes his students to the Getty Villa to examine ancient art up close. Before they enter, David goes over expectations for acting respectfully in a museum. Again using the See-Wonder-Think routine, David’s students work together to identify the gods and goddesses they see at the museum. Because they already have experience looking closely at art in the classroom, students are engaged in applying their knowledge of mythology at the Getty Villa.
Show What You Learned
As a culminating activity for their Greek mythology unit, David’s students write and perform a Greek mythology talk show. Each student takes on the role of a Greek god or goddess, coming up with a costume and attribute to showcase. Students then perform their talk shows for the class while David assesses their understanding. These performances were a perfect way for students to creatively apply the knowledge they gained throughout the unit.
Watching the videos from David’s classroom, I’m in awe of how he strikes such a great balance between teaching content and engaging all students. The arts certainly help to engage, but David also uses simple strategies like rolling dice to encourage student participation. David supports his students every step of the way to learn social studies through the arts and the results were tremendous — a whole class of engaged middle school students excited to express their knowledge of Greek mythology.
Lily Jones taught K/1 for seven years in Northern California. She has experience as a curriculum developer, instructional coach, teacher trainer, and is also a contributing writer for Teaching Channel.