Practice in Action
Building Skills in the Arts involves activities that develop students' skills across art forms, from reading notes in music and playing an instrument, to understanding color and mixing paint. Students also learn about what constitutes good skills in the arts by attending museums, musical or theatrical performances, or by watching examples on film.
Think about the art forms students are interested in—something they might enjoy making, or something they can perform. For example, creating a mural would develop drawing and painting skills; performing a musical would build singing, acting, and dancing skills. Once you have identified the art form and goal (a performance or a product), think about what skills students need to develop in order to be able to accomplish the goal. In the case of mural painting, students must be able to design an image that would be appropriate on a wall, use a brush, mix color, and work collaboratively to complete the mural.
Consider the resources in your community. Invite a local artist or performer to talk to students or help teach a particular skill. If you are teaching the skill yourself, start with simple concepts and build on what students already know—teaching them, for example, one step at a time, one dance at a time. Model the skill for students and give them time to practice. Show them examples by going to live performances or watching a video or DVD. Finally, give students an opportunity to perform or demonstrate their skills to others.
Doing anything well requires practice. As students learn and then practice the skills of an art form, they become more confident, capable, and better able to express themselves. They also learn about various art forms and may find that they have interests or talents that they were not previously aware of. Whether students are engaged in working with the arts for fun or to develop performance-based skills, building skills builds confidence. They more they know, the more they realize what they are capable of accomplishing.
Planning Your Lesson
Great afterschool lessons start with having a clear intention about who your students
are, what they are learning or need to work on, and crafting activities that engage students while supporting their academic growth. Great afterschool lessons also require planning and preparation, as there is a lot of work involved in successfully managing kids, materials, and time.
Below are suggested questions to consider while preparing your afterschool lessons.
The questions are grouped into topics that correspond to the Lesson Planning
Template. You can print out the template and use it as a worksheet to plan and
refine your afterschool lessons, to share lesson ideas with colleagues, or to help in professional development sessions with staff.
Lesson Planning Template (PDF)
Lesson Planning Template (Word document)
What grade level(s) is this lesson geared to?
How long will it take to complete the lesson? One hour? One and a half hours? Will
it be divided into two or more parts, over a week, or over several weeks?
What do you want students to learn or be able to do after completing this activity? What skills do you want students to develop or hone? What tasks do they need to accomplish?
List all of the materials needed that will be needed to complete the activity.
Include materials that each student will need, as well as materials that students
may need to share (such as books or a computer). Also include any materials that students or instructors will need for record keeping or evaluation. Will you need to store materials for future sessions? If so, how will you do this?
What do you need to do to prepare for this activity? Will you need to gather
materials? Will the materials need to be sorted for students or will you assign students to be "materials managers"? Are there any books or instructions that you need to read in order to prepare? Do you need a refresher in a content area? Are there questions you need to develop to help students explore or discuss the activity? Are there props that you need to have assembled in advance of the activity? Do you need to enlist another adult to help run the activity?
Think about how you might divide up groups―who works well together? Which students could assist other peers? What roles will you assign to different members of the group so that each student participates?
Now, think about the Practice that you are basing your lesson on. Reread the
Practice. Are there ways in which you need to amend your lesson plan to better
address the key goal(s) of the Practice? If this is your first time doing the activity, consider doing a "run through" with friends or colleagues to see what works and what you may need to change. Alternatively, you could ask a colleague to read over your lesson plan and give you feedback and suggestions for revisions.
What to Do
Think about the progression of the activity from start to finish. One model that
might be useful—and which was originally developed for science
education—is the 5E's instructional model. Each phrase of the learning
sequence can be described using five words that begin with "E": engage, explore, explain, extend, and evaluate. For more information, see
the 5E's Instructional Model.
Outcomes to Look For
How will you know that students learned what you intended them to learn through this
activity? What will be your signs or benchmarks of learning? What questions might you ask to assess their understanding? What, if any, product will they produce?
After you conduct the activity, take a few minutes to reflect on what took place.
How do you think the lesson went? Are there things that you wish you had done differently? What will you change next time? Would you do this activity again?
If your afterschool program has a computer and projector or whiteboard, consider adding a Mimio for small- and large-group collaboration in creating an original script or story.
Try NaturePainter Digital Canvas to create a class mural, or use interactive, multi-media Web sites such as those found at
NaturePainter Digital Canvas
Engaging Learners the SMARTboard Way. If you do not have access to a whiteboard, go to the hardware store
and purchase a sheet of shower board, which is much less expensive and works just as well.
San Francisco Symphony Kids
ArtsEdge Elements of Dance
Language of Dance
Research Summary: Being proficient in at least one art form means that a student has enough disciplined practice with it to be able to be successful in expressing themselves in that medium, whether it is music, visual arts, drama or dance (National Standards for Arts Education, No. 1, 2). The practice and the self-discipline transfer to other endeavors: "the skills learning through the arts are transferable to other areas of life" (NAEP, 1998); The effects of practice playing the piano are documented in a study conducted by Rauscher et al (1997) where mastering a musical instrument aids in developing mathematical understanding and special-temporal reasoning (Raucher and Shaw, 1998); also discussed by Catterall et al, 1999).
Print resources for this practice
- Rauscher, F. and G. Shaw, L. Levine, E. Wright, W. Dennis and R. Newcomb (1997). Music training causes long-term enhancement of preschool children's spatial-temporal reasoning. Neurological Research, 19, 2 - 8.
- Rauscher, F. and G. Shaw (1998). Key components of the Mozart effect. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 86, 835-841.
- Catterall, James S., Richard Chapleau and John Iwanaga (1999). Involvement in the Arts and Human Development: General Involvement and Intensive Involvement in Music and Theater Arts. In Champions of Change, E. B. Fiske, Editor. Arts Education Partnership and the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.
- National Standards for Arts Education (2003). Retrived from the web: