This lesson uses music and art in a vocabulary study of unfamiliar words from the song "America the Beautiful," increasing students' vocabulary while also increasing their knowledge of U.S. geography. A discussion to activate students' prior knowledge about sights and scenery throughout the United States is followed by a read-aloud and introduction to the song "America the Beautiful," which is then sung in each session of the lesson. Students learn the meanings of the song's words through shared reading and the use of context clues and images. Students then use photographs, illustrations, and descriptive language to create a mural shaped like the United States. Finally, through pictures and words, students reflect on what they have learned. This lesson is appropriate and adaptable for any patriotic event or holiday, and many of the vocabulary strategies are adaptable for other texts or word lists, as well.
In her introduction to Lively Learning: Using the Arts to Teach the K-8 Curriculum, Linda Crawford describes her personal difficulty in learning geography when she was in elementary school, until one day her teacher gave students the opportunity to present information in any way they chose. Crawford found that the active and tactile experience of creating a paper-mâché map of North America helped her learn and remember the topography of the United States.
Also tapping creative learning strategies to teach content area knowledge, Michael Graves addresses the importance of teaching individual words using strategies such as giving students opportunities to use words more than once and in a variety of ways. In this lesson, students use visual art, music, and multiple vocabulary-related strategies to help them learn vocabulary words that describe many features of the United States. At the same time, they learn one of the most well-known patriotic songs in American culture.
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
10. Students whose first language is not English make use of their first language to develop competency in the English language arts and to develop understanding of content across the curriculum.
11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
- discuss and identify places, features, and landforms throughout the United States.
- use pictures to help them describe places and scenery located throughout the United States.
- create multimodal vocabulary posters that describe, illustrate, and define targeted words from the song "America the Beautiful."
- demonstrate understanding of the meanings of selected words from the song "America the Beautiful."
- draw and or locate pictures and write words that exemplify and describe geographic features of the United States, and use these resources to create a large mural of the United States.
- use pictures and words to demonstrate what they have learned about the United States.
- Discuss students' prior knowledge about sights, sounds, and places in the United States. Have students identify and name geographic features of the local area. Ask students to tell about places they may have traveled and what kinds of things they have seen in their travels. Chart student responses and keep the chart for use in the last session.
- One word at a time, ask students if anyone has ever heard or knows the meanings of the following words from the song "America the Beautiful": spacious, amber, grain, majesties, plain, and brotherhood. Accept all reasonable responses and tell students they will learn more about these words. Ask how many can sing "America the Beautiful" and give them a chance to demonstrate.
- Read aloud the book America the Beautiful, showing the pictures while you read. After reading, do a repeat "picture walk," and allow students to respond and make connections to the text or the photographs. When students have finished responding, tell them that the words in this book are actually the words to the song "America the Beautiful," which they will learn to sing.
- Post and call students' attention to a prepared chart with the words to "America the Beautiful." Play or sing the song for them. If students know the song, encourage them to sing along while you track the words on the chart.
- After singing the song once or twice, ask students to identify any words they do not know. Underline those words on the chart with a colored marker and leave the chart posted on the wall. Tell students that they will learn the meanings of these words in the next session.
- Gather students into a group where everyone can clearly see the chart with the words to "America the Beautiful." Have students sing the song with you once or twice while you track the words on the chart.
- Have students help you identify and read the words that you highlighted on the chart in the previous session. Then revisit the book America the Beautiful, and discuss the pictures that illustrate the highlighted words. To help them understand the meanings of the words, ask questions such as:
- What do you see in this picture? (point to specifics)
- How does the sky look? (for the word spacious)
- What color is this? (for the word amber)
- When the wind blows, what does tall grass do? (for the word waves)
- What can you say about these mountains? (for the word majesty)
- What is growing here? (for the word fruited)
- How does this land look? (for the word plain)
- What do you see on this page? (for the word brotherhood)
- After reviewing and questioning all the identified words, revisit each word, asking student volunteers to tell what they mean and/or use them aloud in sentences.
- Conclude this session by singing the song again while tracking the words on the chart.
- Review the words students learned in Session Two by having students identify and read the words on the lyrics chart. Write the words on the board, or have student volunteers write them. Have student volunteers give informal definitions for each word, and ask other students to use each of the words in at least two different sentences.
- Then, have students work in small groups to choose one or two of the words. Alternatively, the teacher can assign words to the groups so that each group will work with a different word, or the teacher can choose just one or two words for all students to work with. For younger students and students who need assistance, this activity can be done in centers or stations, with an adult on hand to help with writing.
- Give each group a large sheet of construction paper or an appropriate-sized sheet of butcher paper or chart paper. Have students follow these instructions to create a poster for each word:
- Write the word on your paper.
- Write what the word means, or talk about the meaning with your adult helper.
- Use the word in two different sentences. Write the sentences on your paper.
- Draw a picture that shows the meaning of the word.
- While student groups are working, the teacher or adult helpers can ask groups questions such as these Sample Questions.
- When all students are finished, have them share their vocabulary posters with the entire class. Then display them on the wall.
- Add all the words to an existing classroom word wall, or create a thematic word wall just for this lesson's words. Encourage students to use the words in their writing and conversations.
- Post the cut-out paper for the United States mural on the wall at a height that students can reach.
- Review the highlighted words from the song chart and their definitions with students. Ask students to tell you what they might draw to show what the words mean.
- Do a picture walk through a photographic essay book of the United States (such as America: A Celebration of the United States) and invite students to comment about the pictures. Be sure to point out any specific photographs that are of places in your own state or places like those mentioned in "America the Beautiful."
- Show students a topographical map of the United States, and point out your own region. Through questioning and direct instruction, identify the mountains, valleys, plains, lakes, and oceans. Compare this map to the blank United States mural, and, with students observing, show them where these areas would be on the blank mural paper. Post the topographical map near the blank mural paper for reference. If desired, with students observing, lightly draw in lines to show where mountains are located.
- Explain to students that in the next session they will draw and cut out pictures of places in the United States and place them on the blank paper to create a mural.
- Briefly discuss ideas for drawings that would be appropriate for the mural.
- Do a short picture walk through another photo essay book that shows scenic photographs of features in the United States or show students scenic photographs on the Web sites from the Resources section.
- Remind students that they will be gluing pictures and words to the United States-shaped mural until it is filled with pictures. Have students volunteer ideas for drawings. Make sure students understand that the pictures they draw need to be large and colorful.
- Distribute drawing paper and allow students enough time to draw whatever features they choose. Alternatively, provide words (such as vast, cliffs, ocean, shore, rocky, river, waterfall) on slips of paper that students can select from a basket, and have them draw an illustration for the word they pick. As drawings are finished, have students label their drawings with descriptive words, especially words that are present in the song "America the Beautiful." Have students cut their drawings into interesting shapes, keeping the word labels intact. Then have students glue their drawings onto the mural in appropriate places.
- After students have added at least one word and/or illustration to the mural, allow them additional time for some of the following activities:
- look through magazines to find scenic photographs for the mural,
- draw additional, labeled illustrations for the mural,
- work with partners to create "America the Beautiful" crossword puzzles using the Crossword Puzzles interactive tool (with adult help in Kindergarten), or
- find and cut out related words from magazines or newspapers, glue them onto construction paper, and add illustrations (with adult help in Kindergarten).
- Give students plenty of time to fill the mural with pictures and drawings and to participate in at least one of the activities.
- When the mural is finished, allow students to discuss what they've learned about the United States and to share any crossword puzzles they created. Make copies of the student-created crossword puzzles (one per student) for use in the next session.
- Have students complete the "America the Beautiful" reflection sheet, using words or pictures or both to show four things they have learned about what makes America a beautiful place to live.
- As students complete their reflection sheets, have them explain their work individually during a teacher conference.
- While waiting for all students to complete the reflection sheet and meet with the teacher individually, allow students time to browse through additional books from the "America the Beautiful" Extended Book List or to work in groups to complete one or more student-made crossword puzzles (with adult help for Kindergarten).
- When all students have completed and discussed their reflection sheets, allow additional time as available for students to discuss the additional books they might have read or browsed through.
- To culminate the lesson, ask students to discuss what they have learned about the sights, sounds, and places in the United States. Revisit the chart created in the first session and add new information to the list.
- Allow students to work with partners to create "America the Beautiful" postcards using the ReadWriteThink Postcard Creator.
- Have students do a red, white, and blue collage with stripes, stars, and scenic pictures on a white construction paper background. Display these around the mural.
- Encourage students to continue to use the words in their writing and conversations in and out of school.
- During the duration of the lesson, play different versions of "America the Beautiful," encouraging students to listen and also to sing along.
- Have students offer additional words that describe or name places in the United States, and make a word list for the wall.
- Read aloud additional related books from the "America the Beautiful" Extended Book List to supplement and extend students' learning about American symbols, songs, and traditions.
- Have students "act out" the different vocabulary words: spacious, waves of grain, plain, brotherhood, etc.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- Assess students’ “America the Beautiful” Reflection Sheets and teacher conferences, considering the following:
- Did students use words and pictures to show what they have learned?
- How appropriate were the words and pictures?
- Observe each student’s participation in discussions. Assess how well students demonstrate their understanding of the vocabulary words from “America the Beautiful” as well as their understanding of the geography of the United States.
- Evaluate students’ vocabulary posters.
- How well were students able to use the new words in sentences?
- Were the pictures they included appropriate in relation to the words’ meanings?
- How well did they respond to the questions they were given?
- Evaluate students’ drawings and labels for the United States mural.
- Did their drawings reflect an understanding of places and features of the United States?
- How effective were the descriptions in the students’ labels?
- Were their descriptions appropriate in relation to their drawings?