Thursday, April 2, 2009

Let's Share Thursday

Since we have not shared in a couple of weeks, I felt it was time that we did a little more.

I am enamored with the website .
Read Write Think is sponsored by both NCTE and the International Reading Association and has an amazing plethora of resources for ELA teachers.

One simple visit will open up a world of activities and resources for any grade level K-12. This lesson for grades 3-5 was fascinating to me, and I do not even teach elementary.
And there are many, many more.

“America the Beautiful”: Using Music and Art to Develop Vocabulary


This lesson starts with an online activity to activate students’ prior knowledge about well-known sights and scenery throughout the United States. The activity is followed by a read-aloud and introduction to the song “America the Beautiful.” Next students engage in a vocabulary lesson in which they learn the meanings of the song’s words through shared reading and by reading and using words in a variety of ways. Students then use drawings, descriptive language, and photographs to create a mural shaped like the United States. Finally, through pictures and words, students reflect on what they have learned. This lesson is appropriate and adaptable for any patriotic event or holiday, and many of the vocabulary strategies are adaptable for other texts or word lists, as well.

From Theory to Practice

In her introduction to Lively Learning: Using the Arts to Teach the K–8 Curriculum, Linda Crawford describes her personal difficulty in learning geography when she was in elementary school, until one day her teacher gave the students the opportunity to present information in any way they chose. Crawford found that the active and tactile experience of creating a paper-mâché map of North America helped her learn and remember the topography of the United States. Also tapping creative learning strategies to teach content area knowledge, Michael Graves addresses the importance of teaching individual words using strategies such as giving students opportunities to use words more than once and in a variety of ways. In this lesson, students use visual art, music, and multiple vocabulary-related strategies to help them learn vocabulary words that describe many features of the United States. At the same time, they learn one of the most well-known patriotic songs in American culture.

Further ReadingCrawford, Linda. Lively Learning: Using the Arts to Teach the K-8 Curriculum. Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children, 2004.Graves, Michael F. The Vocabulary Book. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2006.

Student Objectives

Students will :

* discuss and identify places, features, and landforms throughout the United States.
* use pictures to help them describe places and scenery located throughout the United States.
* create multimodal vocabulary posters that describe, illustrate, and define targeted words from the song “America the Beautiful.”
* demonstrate understanding of the meanings of selected words from “America the Beautiful.”
* draw pictures and write words that exemplify and describe geographic features of the United
States, and use these resources to create a large mural of the United States.
* use pictures and words to demonstrate what they have learned about the United States.

Instructional Plan


America the Beautiful picture book (Scholastic)
a large sheet of butcher paper cut into the shape of the United States
assorted colored markers
Lyrics for “America the Beautiful”
magazines with colored scenic pictures of the United States (such as Sunset, National Geographic, Via, Smithsonian)
white construction paper, crayons, scissors, and glue
photographic essay book showing scenic features of the United States (e.g., America: A Celebration of the United States)
topographical map of the United States
“America the Beautiful” Extended Book List
“America the Beautiful” Reflection Sheet
Sample Paragraphs and Questions
CDs or appropriately accessed downloads of various versions of “America the Beautiful”
CD player, mp3 player, or computer that plays music downloads
ReadWriteThink Multigenre Mapper
Sample Multigenre vocabulary poster Preparation
Bookmark the
National Geographic United States Photo Gallery Web site on the computers students will use for this lesson.
Find several different versions of “America the Beautiful” on CD at the library or downloaded from the Internet.
Gather several magazines with scenic pictures of various locations and landforms throughout the United States.

Use white butcher paper to prepare a large mural shaped liked the United States. (Tip: Print this map, make an overhead and project it onto the butcher paper).

With a black or brown marker, write the words to “America the Beautiful” on chart paper and hang it on the wall. Have colored markers available to highlight and underline key words.

Review the Sample Paragraphs and Questions, which includes a paragraph and multiple-choice question for each word students study during this lesson, including spacious, amber, grain, majesties, plain, and brotherhood.

Prepare overheads of the Sample Paragraphs and Questions for display to students.

Arrange for students to have access to Internet-connected computers for the necessary sessions.

Test the Multigenre Mapper interactive on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tool and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the Technical Support page.

Instruction and Activities

Session One :

Begin the lesson by directing students to the National Geographic United States Photo Gallery to generate their prior knowledge about sights, sounds, and places in the United States. Have students identify and name features of the geography in the pictures they see. Encourage students to use descriptive words and phrases such as “a huge lake” or “a field of purple flowers.”

After some time exploring online, ask students to tell about places they may have visited and the kinds of things they have seen in their travels, as well as the geography of their local area. Chart students’ responses if desired, and keep the chart for later.

Using one word at a time selected from the first verse of “America the Beautiful,” ask students if anyone has ever heard or knows the meanings of the word (e.g., spacious, amber, grain, majesties, plain, and brotherhood). Accept all reasonable responses and tell students they will learn more about these words.

Read aloud the book America the Beautiful, showing the pictures while you read. After reading, do a repeat “picture walk,” and allow students to respond and make connections to the text or the photographs. When students have finished responding, tell them that the words in this book are actually the words to the song “America the Beautiful” which they will learn to sing.

Post and call students’ attention to a chart prepared with the words to “America the Beautiful.”

Play a version of the song for them, or if you are comfortable doing so, sing it. If students know the song, encourage them to sing along while you track the words on the chart.

After singing the song once or twice, ask students to identify any words they do not know.
Underline those words on the chart with a colored marker, and leave the chart posted on the wall. Tell students that they will learn the meanings of these words in the next session.

Session Two :

Gather students into a group where everyone can clearly see the chart with the words to “America the Beautiful.” Have students sing the song with you once or twice while you track the words on the chart.

Then, one at a time, focus on each word you’ve underlined on the chart (i.e., spacious, amber, grain, majesties, plain, and brotherhood). Show students the prepared overhead of each paragraph (from Sample Paragraphs and Questions) for each word, and then read the paragraph aloud.

Next, read aloud to students the prepared multiple-choice question and answer options from the Sample Paragraphs and Questions. Allow enough time for students to consider their answers to the question before giving them the correct answer.

Then discuss the word and any questions students might have about the incorrect answers to the multiple-choice question.

Finally, discuss other ways in which the word might be used, ask a combination of these sample questions and other similar questions.

Repeat steps two through five for each vocabulary word.
Session Three

Review the words students learned in Session Two by writing the words on the board, or have student volunteers write them. Then ask students to read the words and give informal definitions for each word.

Then, have students work in small groups to choose one or two of the words. Alternatively, the teacher can assign words to the groups so that each group will work with a different word, or the teacher can choose just one or two words for all students to work with.

Share with students the Sample Multigenre vocabulary poster, direct students to the Multigenre Mapper, and give the following directions:

Type your word in the space that says “Title of your multigenre text.”
Entitle Space A “Definition” and put the definition of the word there.
Entitle Space B “Sentence 1” and write your first sentence there.
Entitle Space C “Sentence 2” and write your second sentence there.
Draw a picture that shows the meaning of the word in the remaining box.
Check your work and print.

Note: While small groups are working independently, the teacher can ask questions further thinking questions such as these to the student groups orally.
When all students are finished, have them share their vocabulary posters with the entire class. Then display them on the wall.
Add all the words to an existing classroom word wall, or create a thematic word wall just for this lesson’s words. Then encourage students to use the words in their writing and conversations.

Session Four

Before beginning this session, collect magazines with pictures of topographical features or direct students to images available from National Geographic United States Photo Gallery. Also have drawing materials available for students.

Post the cut-out paper for the United States mural on the wall at a height that students can reach.

Review the highlighted words from the song chart and their definitions with students. Ask students to tell you what they might draw to show what the words mean.

Do a picture walk through a photographic essay book of the United States (such as America: A Celebration of the United States) and invite students to comment about the pictures. Be sure to point out any specific photographs that are of places in your own state or places like those mentioned in “America the Beautiful.”

Show students a topographical map of the United States, and point out your own region.
Through questioning and direct instruction, identify the mountains, valleys, plains, lakes, and oceans. Compare this map to the blank United States mural, and, with students observing, show them where these areas would be on the blank mural paper. Post the topographical map near the blank mural paper for reference. If desired, with students observing, lightly draw in lines to show where mountains are located.

Explain to students that they will draw and cut out pictures of places in the United States to place on the blank paper shaped like the United States.

Have students volunteer ideas for drawings. Make sure students understand that the pictures they draw need to be large and colorful.

Distribute drawing paper and allow students enough time to draw whatever features they choose. Alternatively, provide words on slips of paper (such as vast, cliffs, ocean, shore, rocky, river, waterfall) that students can select from a basket, and have them draw an illustration for the word they pick. As drawings are finished, have students label their drawings with descriptive words, especially words that are present in the song “America the Beautiful.” Have students cut their drawings into interesting shapes, keeping the word labels intact. Then have students glue their drawings onto the mural in appropriate places.

Give students plenty of time to fill the mural with drawings and/or pictures, adding an additional session if necessary.


Have students work with partners to create “America the Beautiful” crossword puzzles using ReadWriteThink Crossword Puzzlemaker.
Allow students to work with partners to create “America the Beautiful” postcards using the ReadWriteThink Postcard Creator.
Have students do a red, white, and blue collage with stripes, stars, and scenic pictures on a white construction paper background. Display these around the mural.
Encourage students to continue to use the words in their writing and conversations in and out of school.
During the duration of the lesson, play different versions of “America the Beautiful,” encouraging them to listen and also to sing along.
Have students offer additional words that describe or name places in the United States, and make a word list for the wall.
Read aloud additional related books from the “America the Beautiful” Extended Book List to supplement and extend students’ learning about American symbols, songs, and traditions.
Have students “act out” the different vocabulary words: spacious, waves of grain, plain, brotherhood, etc.
Challenge students by moving into an exploration of additional verses of the song.Web Resources
National Geographic United States Photo Gallery
This page provides images of the United States categorized by state and city.
Maps of the United States
This site offers printable topographic and other maps of the continental United States; these maps could be used for reference for placement of pictures on the mural.
Student Assessment/Reflections
Have students complete an “America the Beautiful” Reflection Sheet. Assess the quality of work, considering the following as you discuss the reflections:
Did students use words and pictures to show what they have learned?
How appropriate were the words and pictures?
Observe each student’s participation in discussions. Assess how well students demonstrate their understanding of the vocabulary words from “America the Beautiful” as well as their understanding of the geography of the United States.
Evaluate students’ vocabulary posters.
How well were students able to use the new words in sentences?
Were the pictures they included appropriate in relation to the words’ meanings?
How well did they respond to the questions they were given?
Evaluate students’ drawings and labels for the United States mural.
Did their drawings reflect an understanding of places and features of the United States?
How effective were the descriptions in the students’ labels?
Were their descriptions appropriate in relation to their drawings?

NCTE/IRA Standards
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.3 - Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).6 - Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts. 10 - Students whose first language is not English make use of their first language to develop competency in the English language arts and to develop understanding of content across the curriculum. 11 - Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.


  1. This looks like a FUN lesson! I've always enjoyed the beautiful descriptive words used in "America the Beautiful". I'll have to keep this in mind.