This cross curricular unit started with a question: How can I incorporate printmaking in my art class without a printing press and without the budget to buy linoleum or carving tools?
Printmaking has always been my weak area in my teaching game. I’ve always felt like it’s a lot of extra work for unpredictable results. Forgive me, printmakers!!!! As an artist, I prefer to draw or paint my ideas. I am obsessive by nature and printmaking didn’t make sense to my personal style.
In my former life when I taught high school, I developed a solid linoleum printmaking lesson. Have you ever seen a student gauge their skin with a linoleum cutter? Blood everywhere. I was in need of a printmaking lesson that wouldn’t involve ambulance rides for my all-over-the-place ten year olds. These are the kids who rocket puke without warning and crash to the floor from their chairs at any given moment.
YouTube searches reminded me about collagraph printmaking. (BTW if you aren’t searching YouTube for all of your artistic questions, START NOW!). I remember doing a collagraph print in college, but it was just a random collage of textured objects. (Collage, college.) I thought how can I make this technique more meaningful and connected?
Our music teacher is awesome. She has these gigantic vocal ensembles that sound like a chorus of children on a television special. She recently wrote a grant to get a class set of ukuleles for her classroom. I don’t know about you, but we didn’t even get recorders in 5th grade music class! I was inspired by students coming to class carrying drawings of ukuleles with all the parts correctly labeled.
My vision was born. A music and art collaboration.
The printing plate will be students’ biggest stress during this unit, hands down. Like me, they have a hard time wrapping their head around how a printing plate will transfer an inked image. I finally made a video tutorial of each technique for this unit and it HELPED SO MUCH. Showing the actual steps of the finished project really helped “click” the steps of this artwork. “Ohhhh, that’s why we have to do things in reverse!” was a common reaction.
I had students select musical instruments of their choice. I told them pick an instrument that inspires you, but also one you feel comfortable drawing and cutting out of cardboard. “I will help you, but you will be the one doing the work.”
I was very lucky with my timing this go around, because students had just finished meeting with band teachers to pick their instruments for their 6th grade year. This along with the ukulele connection made students really excited to pick an instrument they might actually learn to play!
We worked on our background collage simultaneously with our printing plate. Students loved ripping into old sheet music. I had some sheet music donated to me and the rest I simply printed from a google search. I gave each student one piece and I have an endless explosion of tissue paper.
Students need to be coached to tear SMALL pieces (I gave them a guideline of smaller than the width of your hand, unless you are doing a longer and skinnier piece).
Students also need to be coached to go all the way to each edge and corner and to GLUE DOWN EACH PIECE FLAT. I had to re-teach how to generously use a glue stick to go around all of the edges.
Luckily glue sticks is on our school supply list and I have a really large supply on hand. Classroom teachers have always been willing to share if I get low at the very end of the year!
This was part of the unit I wanted to make amazing. I’m very comfortable teaching art, it’s what I do all day every day. But writing? I love to write, but I have no training on how to teach it. The first time I incorporated writing I gave them one day and a four line requirement. I let them work with a partner and I didn’t give much instruction or examples. I had a wiiiiddddeee variety of levels, and at the end of the day I was just happy I could say at least I tried integrating writing.
This time, I talked out my ideas with 5th grade ELA teachers. They suggested using Flocabulary (which our fabulous PTA purchased a subscription for our school) to help guide their rhyming patterns and topic. I hit the jackpot when Flocabulary had a whole section on the Harlem Renaissance, which was the art era we had been discussing. Students really connected to the audio and visuals of the video and they asked some great, but difficult, questions.
“Why are all of the musicians in Romare Bearden’s art African American?”
“When did segregation end?”
“Could black people and white people go to the same jazz clubs?”
I found it inspiring and challenging at the same time. This time the song lyrics were much more in depth and although I didn’t require their topic to be the Harlem Renaissance, many students choose to explore what it might feel like to be a person during this time in American history.
We also read Dreams by Langston Hughes and many students choose to explore a dreams from reality or fantasy. Just like with anything else, the lyrics were a wide range of abilities. One thing I found humerous was that multiple students rhymed “New York” with “pork”. Flocabulary has a rhyme generator and that one just kept catching students’ eye. It made for some unintentionally hilarious lyrics.
Printmaking is so much fun in the classroom! I try to allow three days for printmaking so that 5-8 kids print each day. I have learned that slow and careful is much better than trying to rush the students through the process so that it takes up less class time. I have the early finishers printing first and then as students finish their printing plate they’re next in line.
Once finished, students are sent back to their seats to finish their backgrounds. The timing works out really well, especially if you get the early finishers to man the printing station. They love scooping ink, guiding the newbies and helping manage the organized chaos. It makes my job so much easier and fun. I snap pictures with my phone and say encouraging words while my students do the heavy lifting.
Putting it All Together:
Once everyone has printed, it’s time to bring all of the cross-curricular concepts together. The video above shows students how to pick their best print (or prints!) and how to arrange their song lyrics for the finishing touch.
A cross curricular unit plan that incorporates American and art history, printmaking, writing, and music concepts.
Want to see my rubric and daily art history warm-ups and discussion prompts? Comment below!