Standard Lesson

A Harlem Renaissance Retrospective: Connecting Art, Music, Dance, and Poetry

Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Five 50-minute sessions
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The Harlem Renaissance was a vibrant time that was characterized by innovations in art, literature, music, poetry, and dance. In this unit, students conduct Internet research, work with an interactive Venn diagram tool, and create a museum exhibit that highlights the work of selected artists, musicians, and poets. The goal of this unit is to help students understand the historical context of the Harlem Renaissance and what kind of impact it had on African Americans in the United States. Critical thinking, creativity, and interdisciplinary connections are emphasized.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Emphasizing connections across curriculum creates powerful learning opportunities that help students find relevance in the content and become more actively engaged in learning.
  • By focusing on the use of thematically based conceptual plans, students are better able to understand relationships and make connections across literary and content-specific discourses.
  • An interdisciplinary curriculum fosters the development of critical and creative thinking through integrated reading, writing, speaking, and listening activities.

Common Core Standards

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.

State Standards

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.
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Computers with Internet access
  • Art supplies
  • LCD projector (optional)




1. Preview the Harlem Renaissance Websites to learn about the Harlem Renaissance as well as conditions for black Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Select background information to share with students. You may also want to spend some time reviewing the history of African Americans in the United States prior to the Harlem Renaissance (see “Websites related to African American history” on the list).

If you do not have classroom computers with Internet access, reserve three sessions in your school’s computer lab (see Sessions 1, 2, and 4). Preview and add the following websites to the list of favorites on your classroom or lab computers:

You may also want to bookmark all of the websites listed under the heading “Websites related to the Harlem Renaissance” on the Harlem Renaissance Websites list. As you preview these sites, think about how your students will use them and how you might model their use. Also consider your students’ comfort level with the reading.
3. If possible, arrange to use an LCD projector during Sessions 1 and 4. If you do not have access to one, find copies of the paintings Street Life, Harlem and Jeunesse. Create a blank Venn diagram with three circles labeled Art, Music, and Poetry. Make transparencies to share with students. An alternative is to project the Venn Diagram online tool or mobile app.
4. Visit PBS Biographies: Duke Ellington and listen to the following songs by Duke Ellington:
  • “East St. Louis Toodle-oo”
  • “The Mooche”
  • “Mood Indigo”
Visit and listen to “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Langston Hughes. Add these sites to the favorites list on your classroom or lab computers. Make sure that all computers have software for listening to the audio files.
5. Students will be creating museum exhibits as part of this lesson; gather art materials for them to use including poster paper, construction paper, glue, scissors, and markers.
6. Make copies of the Harlem Renaissance Websites list, the Museum Exhibit Rubric, and Reflections on the Harlem Renaissance for each student in your class.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Research, evaluate, and synthesize information about the Harlem Renaissance from varied resources
  • Highlight their understanding of the Harlem Renaissance through the creation of an exhibit
  • Highlight connections across varied disciplines (i.e., art, music, and poetry) using a Venn diagram
  • Demonstrate an understanding, through oral presentations and reflective writing, of the effects of the Harlem Renaissance on African Americans

Sesssion 1

1. Begin by asking students to access prior knowledge about African American history between the end of the Civil War and early the early 20th century. Using the information you researched (see Preparation, Step 1), provide students with an overview of the Harlem Renaissance.
2. Open PBS Biographies: Duke Ellington and tell your students that they are going to hear three jazz tunes by Duke Ellington, a famed musician and composer of the Harlem Renaissance. Click on the audio sample next to each of the following songs:
  • “East St. Louis Toodle-oo”
  • “The Mooche”
  • “Mood Indigo”
Ask students to describe the mood that each of the musical selections evokes.
3. Ask students to listen for connections across varied disciplines as you read the fourth paragraph of Lindy Hop in Harlem: The Role of Social Dancing. Have students brainstorm examples from today's popular culture that show connections across music, dance, and art.
4. Show student the following paintings using an LCD projector (or transparencies): Ask students to share their responses to the paintings. These might include such things as the colors, mood, composition, and feelings the paintings express.
5. Listen to Langston Hughes’ poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” Ask students to share their responses to this poem.
6. As a class, visit the “Websites related to the Harlem Renaissance” that are listed on Harlem Renaissance Websites to explore different aspects of this time period. Ask students to respond in writing to the following questions:
  • What were you able to learn about the Harlem Renaissance by listening to jazz music?
  • ... by listening to an essay?
  • ... by looking at paintings?
  • ... by listening to a poem?
  • ... by browsing a website?
Ask for student volunteers to share their thoughts with the entire class. Record their responses on a sheet of chart paper to use during Session 5. Focus the discussion on how different disciplines can enrich our understanding of a topic in different ways.
7. Have students predict how the Harlem Renaissance may have influenced life for African Americans both during and after that time. How and why do they think the Harlem Renaissance was important for the identity of black Americans then and now? What kind of impact did it have in American history?

Session 2

1. Divide the class into six groups to conduct research on selected artists, musicians, and poets of the Harlem Renaissance. Tell students that they will use the information they collect to create a class museum exhibit.
2. Ask students to share their thoughts on what constitutes a good exhibit. For example, some students might like exhibits that use images; others may prefer to read text. Encourage diverse responses and remind students to think about different perspectives as they create their group exhibits.
3. Distribute the Museum Exhibit Rubric and discuss each item. Tell students that each exhibit should include (but is not limited to) the following elements:
  • Examples of the artist’s, musician’s, or poet’s work
  • Background information on the artist’s, musician’s, or poet’s life
  • A visually interesting backdrop for the exhibit that captures the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance
  • A written or recorded guide to viewing the exhibit
Note: Students should design the guide to enhance the viewer’s experience and summarize key elements. Tell them to think of the guide as a road map to guide viewers as they move through the exhibit. For example, students may choose to select a group member to act as a tour guide for their classmates or create an audiotape that highlights salient features of the exhibit.
4. Distribute the Harlem Renaissance Websites list and specify the assigned artist, musician, or poet for each group.
  • Group One: artist Jacob Lawrence
  • Group Two: artist William H. Johnson
  • Group Three: musician Duke Ellington
  • Group Four: musician Bessie Smith
  • Group Five: poet Langston Hughes
  • Group Six: poet Countee Cullen
Remind students that in addition to the resources for specific artists, they should look at the general websites included at the beginning of the list—many of these contain information about the artists as well.
5. Have students use the remainder of the session to conduct their online research. Tell them to look for information that they think might be helpful in creating their museum exhibits and to print off any images they think they might want to use. They should also download relevant audio or video files or write down the URLs if this is not possible.

Note: Students may need more than one session to complete this work. You can choose to allow them more class time or have them complete their research for homework.

Session 3

Session 3

1. Review the Museum Exhibit Rubric. Remind students that their goal is to synthesize what they have learned from their research into an exhibit.
2. Students should work in their groups on their exhibits. Circulate and offer support while they are working.

Note: It may take students more than one session to complete their work on the group exhibits.

Session 4

1. Allow students to spend time browsing the varied sections of the class museum exhibit. Tell them to focus on the connections that they notice among the artists, musicians, and poets and their respective disciplines.
2. Tell students that they are going to work in groups of three to create a Venn diagram that represents the connections across the art, music, and poetry of the Harlem Renaissance. They can do this using the Venn Diagram online tool. The groups should consist of students who have worked in different disciplines. They should look at where the artists’ work intersects and where it is different and think about why this is so.
3. Have students use the remainder of the session to complete their Venn diagrams. Circulate around the room while students are working to assist those who are struggling with the technology or having trouble identifying connections across the disciplines.

Session 5

1. Ask each group of students to present and explain to the class the Venn diagram they created.
2. After the presentations are finished, ask students to discuss the connections across art, music, and poetry during the Harlem Renaissance. Ask students if they see any difference in the connections they are making at this point in the lesson compared to the initial class discussion during Session 1 (You may want to add to the initial list during this discussion.)
3. Ask students to complete the Reflections on the Harlem Renaissance handout. Tell them that reflecting on their learning is an important part of the lesson. If students have difficulty, consider holding individual conferences as they complete the reflection questions.


“Harlem was not so much a place as a state of mind, the cultural metaphor for black America itself.”
—Langston Hughes
  • Ask groups to create a mock interview with the artist, musician, or poet that they researched.
  • Ask students to choose one of the artists from the lesson, and respond in writing to the following questions:
    • How can I find personal relevance in this artist’s work?
    • Are there any current artists that remind me of the work of this Harlem Renaissance artist?

Student Assessment / Reflections