Art Expression Through Music

This activity uses music and the art of sketching and collage to investigate some of the emotions surrounding the experience of U.S. slavery.
Grade Level

History is often taught through books, but art can also unlock the past. Songs, for example, can reveal a lot about historical events by exploring the emotions they evoked in musicians, singers and songwriters.

This activity uses music, sketching and collage to study some emotions surrounding the experience of slavery in the United States.

Communicating, Talking and Listening

1. Begin with a classroom group discussion. First, remind students that all responses are valid and deserve respect. Then ask:

  • What is music?
  • Is music meant purely for our enjoyment?
  • What messages can music communicate?
  • Are some lyrics meant to protest wrongdoing?
  • What are the various genres of music?
  • What emotions do various songs elicit?

2. Ask students to close their eyes and listen to the song “No More Auction Block for Me,” sung by Paul Robeson, which can be purchased inexpensively online.

Art Expression

3. Let students choose from various sizes of recycled cardboard, and instruct them to sketch whatever they are feeling after listening to the song. You can replay the song as they are sketching. Then tell them they will be turning their sketches into collages; they may want to wait on the details, which can be added later using various recycled objects.

4. Provide magazines, newspapers, ribbons, foil, yarn, old books, buttons and glue for students to use to collage their drawings. As students work, read aloud short stories from Virginia Hamilton’s Many Thousand Gone: African Americans from Slavery to Freedom (or other relevant texts).

Coming Together

5. Have students sit in a circle and take turns displaying their creations, identifying which feelings the song elicited in each of them.

6. Close with a group discussion:

  • What did you learn from this song?
  • What did society gain from this song?

7. Finally, apply a clear spray to each collage, and display them by making one large classroom collage out of the smaller individual ones.

Gale Bournazian-Ybarra

This activity addresses the following standards using the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts.


Explore the role of protest music in the civil rights movement. Visit Music and the Movement lesson

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