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6 Strategies I Use for Integrating Art Into Social Studies

I love integrating art into my social studies lessons! Why is that? I think that when students view paintings, sculptures, pictures, etc. of historical events it helps them to learn not only the facts about the event but also the emotion surrounding it. 

Today I am sharing with you 6 strategies I use to integrate art into social studies so that you can love integrating art into social studies, too!

Blank painting on wall for Strategies I Use for Integrating Art Into Social Studies

Compare and Contrast Artwork

The first strategy I use for integrating art into my social studies lessons is analyzing artwork to compare and contrast interpretations of different artists of one event. I like to use different types of media to do this.

To do this, find a piece of art related to a historical event and a text about the same event. Show both to your students. I’ve done this a couple of different ways. The first is that I look at both together as a class and walk through them together. I do this especially towards the beginning of the school year to help students learn how to do it. Later on, after I have trained my students, I will divide them into small groups to work through the pieces in groups. 

You could also divide your class in half and give one half the piece of art and the other half the reading then compare what they understood about the event from just the one source. 

Use a graphic organizer to help your students analyze the pieces. Two of my favorite places to get graphic organizers for analyzing art (and lots of other types of documents and resources) are from the National Archives and the Library of Congress: 

For example, if you are talking about the American Revolutionary War you could use the poem, Paul Revere’s Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I’m sure you are familiar with at least the beginning of it, “Listen, my children and you shall hear Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere..” Then compare it to  the painting by Grant Wood titled, “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” 

Analyze political cartoons

This is my GO-TO for integrating art into social studies! Political cartoons are such a fun way to understand history. Kids can connect to them easily because of the pictures and humor. When given the right context and background to a political cartoon, they are easily accessible to students of all levels. 

Plus, they are so easy to find on the internet! A simple Google Image search for “name of the historical event political cartoon” can turn up some good results. Or websites like the National Archives or Library of Congress, again, have political cartoon collections already divided by historical events for you. 

Be a Part of the Picture

This is a good one to get your students up and moving around. In the front of the room, display a painting or picture. Tell your students that they are going to find a spot around the room and pose so that if you were to zoom out of the picture, they would be in it. Give your students some time to find a spot and decide how they would like to pose. Once everyone is in place, go around the room and ask them what they are doing in the picture and why they chose that pose. 

This activity leads to great conversations about historical events!

4 Square Photo Analysis

Give your students a copy of a photo & a piece of paper. Have them fold the paper into fourths and cut out ¼ so that when placed over the picture the paper covers ¾ of the picture. 

Then together, as a class, have students cover the photo with the picture and have them share what they see or ask questions.

Students really study and learn from the picture because they are looking closely at small parts of the picture at a time rather than trying to take in the whole picture all at once. They pull out a lot more details about what is happening.

Be the Artist

This one is so fun when you are studying the Renaissance! Study the great artists of the Renaissance, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Donatello, and their works of art. 

Then, have your kids try it out. Tape paper to the bottom of their desks and have your students paint like Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel. Or have them create their own Vitruvian Man- this is a great way to tie in math too, and talk about proportions.

Use Music

I still remember a US Government lesson from high school that my teacher taught using the song “Popular” and “Wonderful.” Every time I hear those songs I think of that lesson my teacher taught us about running for political office. 

In my college methods class, my friend shared an activity that used “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel. We listened to it together and talked about all the events that it mentions. Then she had us, team, up and write a new verse highlighting events from the past decade. 

Music makes things stick in our minds. Have kids write their own songs or use popular songs to share a message, your students won’t forget it!

Want more ideas for integrating art into social studies and science? Check out this post- Student Activities for Art Integration In Social Studies and Science!


JHAT Bag O’Tricks – Social Studies & History

JHAT Bag of Tricks: Annotated

Analyze Artwork | National Archives 

Teacher’s Guides and Analysis Tool | Getting Started with Primary Sources | Teachers | Programs

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