Mini Lesson

Exploring Biography Through Art in The Great Migration

George Swanson Starling in Detroit, torn construction paper, glue, pencil, oil pastel, 8.5 x 11 in.



This activity is meant as an introduction to a unit on Immigration and Industrialization in an American history class for 9-12 graders.  It combines art and social studies in an inquiry-based lesson through creating a collage based on a person of the migration as well as the effects of their movements and experiences on the larger social, political and economic outcomes.

classmates’ examples

Langston Hughes, Louis Armstrong, Bill Russell, Toni Morrison, James Earl Jones and Rosa Parks


Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison

Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong


Examples of People to Choose From:

Art:                                                       Music:
Jacob Lawrence                              John Coltrane       Thelonius Monk
Romare Bearden                             Miles Davis             Louis Armstrong /  Chicago Blues

Bill Russell
Jesse Owens

Toni Morrison                                           Richard Wright
Langston Hughes                                    Zora Neal Hurston
James Baldwin

Dr. T.R.M. Howard

Arrington High – sent to an asylum in Mississippi illegally and ended up in Chicago smuggled out in a coffin (teacher has secondary source handout on paper).

Emmett Till (parents migrated but went back to the South to visit)

Eugene Williams and the Chicago Race Riots of 1919 (He was from Georgia.)

Everyday People: Philadelphia Oral Histories (transcripts included)

Harlem Renaissance People 1916-1930s
*Be sure to research if they were part of the Great Migration or were born in the North before beginning

Marcus Garvey, Cyril Briggs, and Walter Francis White; performers Josephine Baker and Paul Robeson; writers and poets Zora Neale Hurston, Effie Lee Newsome, Countee Cullen; visual artists Aaron Douglas and Augusta Savage; and an extraordinary list of legendary musicians, including Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Eubie Blake, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Ivie Anderson, Josephine Baker, Fats Waller, Jelly Roll Morton, and countless others.
(Might find some people on here)

Kenyon College Biographies

Maps, Photos & Overview Resources
NY Public Library


Lesson Plan

1) Title: Exploring Biography through Art in the Great Migration

2) Grade Level & Subject: 9-12th grade

3) Time Needed: 50 minutes (Note: this lesson is part of a larger unit on the Great Migration, designed as an introduction.)

4) Materials: Computer, Internet connection, paper, pencils, erasers, colored construction paper, glue or glue sticks, scissors, colored markers, other decorative papers, rulers, oil pastels., thumbtacks.

5) Description & Purpose: Using a research-based inquiry method to probe the compelling questions, students will choose a person to research, find and evaluate sources and compile information on a person affected by the Great Migration in the years 1910-1970. This lesson seeks a balance between independently discovered content through inquiry and the practice of historical skills including research and evidence for claims, as well arts integration. Understanding history on a micro-level first, students will share knowledge about their person in an artwork they created to the rest of the class and relate how this individual was part of a larger movement that affected U.S. culture, politics or economics.

5) Standards:
Iowa Core Social Studies Standards:
Geography: Analyze Human Population Movement and Patterns, SS-US.9-12.17. Analyze the effects of urbanization, segregation, and voluntary and forced migration within regions of the U.S. on social, political, and economic structures.
History: Compare Perspectives, SS-US.9-12.25. Analyze how regional, racial, ethnic and gender perspectives influenced American history and culture.
C3 Framework: D1.5.9-12. Determine the kinds of sources that will be helpful in answering compelling and supporting questions, taking into consideration multiple points of view represented in the sources, the types of sources available, and the potential uses of the sources.

National Arts Standards:
Creating, Anchor standard 2. Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.
Connecting, Anchor standard 11. Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural and historical context to deepen understanding.

6) Objectives:
TLW, either with a partner, small group or alone, investigate the effects of the Great Migration through the lens of biography, choosing one person to research how this individual has shaped American culture on a micro-level, creating an artwork about them and their experience, SS-US.9-12.25, National Arts Anchor standards 2 & 11.

TLW connect their person with the larger patterns of the Great Migration, with emphasis on the factors that caused their individual to leave and the effects of the migration on the North or South in either social, political or economic ways through the eyes of this person, SS-US.9-12.17.

TLW explore the types of sources available and analyze which ones would be most useful for their person’s biography, linking them to the larger story of the Great Migration, and checking for credibility, D1.5.9-12.

7) Procedure: (Total: 50 min.)
Launch/Introduction: (5 min.)

1. Compelling questions: What economic, cultural and political factors might cause people to
move, voluntarily or involuntarily from place to place? During the Great Migration, what were
the reasons people left the South for the North?  How did this affect the culture, politics and
economics of the North or South? (1 min.)

2. Students will be asked to write on the board why someone in their family (or someone they
have known or read about) migrated from one place to another. Then, the teacher will ask
them to categorize these into social, economic or political arenas in order to clarify the
definitions of these terms, needed later in the lesson. (4 min.)

Main Body: (40 min.)
Background Information: (10 min.)

  1. Students view a slideshow presented by teacher on basics of the Great Migration, without giving too much away about the causes and effects, in order for them to find their own reasons through the lives of individuals.

Create: (30 min.)

  1. Teacher explains that students will be asked to create an artwork using the materials provided that relate to this person’s experience in the Great Migration including reasons they left and the effects of their departure, in some way of their choosing, but collage is recommended. It can be abstract or figurative, literal or symbolic.
  2. Teacher explains that they must include the following in their artwork (this is also shown on the slides as reminder): a) Visual representation (abstract or figurative) of an experience of your person related to the Great Migration, for example, a job in the North or a reason why they left the South. b) An image representing an effect of their lives on the larger culture, politics or economics, especially in the North. How does their experience tie into the larger movement?
  3. Teacher also explains they are to research these people using sources online or in the books provided, either alone, with a partner or small group and fill out the supporting worksheet.
  4. Teacher reviews in slides how to choose supporting sources, going over types and ways to check credibility with a paper handout. This includes audio files, images, written material, films or other types of primary and secondary sources.
  5. Students choose partners and have work time.

Conclusion: (5 min.)

  1.  Students will present their artwork to the class, pin to the bulletin board and explain
    who they chose, their experiences or stories and what they depicted in their artwork
    that relates to the larger, “big picture” effects of the migration.

8) Assessment:

Formative: Teacher will meet with small groups and see if they have collected relevant and credible sources and make sure they have started asking supporting questions to help guide further research. Teacher will ask each group to inform her of the person they have chosen and their strategy for creating the artwork product and determining sources.

Summative: Teacher will collect artifacts from students including art piece and worksheet and check for completion.

9) Visuals:
Teacher Example:

George Swanson Starling in Detroit, torn construction paper, glue, pencil, oil pastel, 8.5 x 11 in.

Slide Images

10) Books available in class

Reich, S. (Ed.). (2006). Encyclopedia of the Great Black Migration, Vol. 1, 2, 3. Westport, CT:
Greenwood Press.

Wilkerson, I. (2010). The warmth of other suns: The epic story of America’s Great Migration.
New York, NY: Random House.

*Excerpts from Wilkerson’s book on Arrington High, Jesse Owens and Eugene Williams will be available as a few paper copies for use in class. These are also attached in ICON and on the blog.

11) Worksheet and Handout

12) References

Beardon, R. (1967). Three folk musicians. Retrieved from

Civic online reasoning poster. (2019). Standford History Education Group. Retrieved from

Lawrence, J. (1941). The migration series. Phillips Collection. Retrieved from

Lawrence, J. (1941). The migration series. MoMA. Retrieved from

Marshall, J., & Donahue, D. (2014) Art-Centered Learning Across the Curriculum. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Migration resources. (2019). New York Public Library. Retrieved from

Newman, M. (2004). The civil rights movement. Edinburgh, U.K.: Edinburgh University Press.

Reich, S. (Ed.). (2006). Encyclopedia of the Great Black Migration, Vol. 1, 2, 3. Westport, CT:
Greenwood Press.

The African Americans: Many rivers to cross. (2013). PBS. Retrieved from

The Great Migration. (2017). Sound Smart. Retrieved from

Wilkerson, I. (2016, September). The long-lasting legacy of the Great Migration. Smithsonian.
Retrieved from

Wilkerson, I. (2010). The warmth of other suns: The epic story of America’s Great Migration.
New York, NY: Random House.

Wills, M. (2019, February 6). JSTOR Daily. Racial violence as impetus for the Great Migration.
Retrieved from

Art Education Integration Resources Helpful for Social Studies

Midterm Part II: Lesson Plan

1) Title: Investigating Mass Immigrations in U.S. History
2) Grade Level & Subject: 7 through 12th grade
3) Time Needed: 4 class periods of 50 min. each
4) Materials: Computer, internet connection, paper, pencils
5) Description & Purpose: Using a research based inquiry method to probe the compelling questions as listed in the objectives below, students will experientially ask questions, find and evaluate sources, synthesize and compile information into a presentation of their choice in a mass immigration to the U.S. from 1850-2019.  This lesson seeks a balance between independently discovered content through inquiry and the practice of historical skills including research and evidence for claims.

5) Standards:
Geography: SS.7.21, Analyze human population movements and patterns in Contemporary Global Studies. Evaluate the push and pull factors involved in human population movement and patterns.
History: SS-US.9-12.17, Analyze human population movements and patterns in U.S. History.​ Explain the patterns of and responses to immigration on the development of American culture and law.
Inquiry Standard: SS.7.8, Independently construct responses to compelling questions supported by reasoning and evidence.
C3 Framework: D1.5.9-12, Determine the kinds of sources that will be helpful in answering compelling and supporting questions, taking into consideration multiple points of view represented in the sources, the types of sources available, and the potential uses of the sources.

6) Objectives:
TLW use a jigsaw approach and be asked to identify, research and investigate a mass immigration to the U.S. either with a partner or alone, determining which sources are most relevant and the push pull factors involved, SS.7.21, D1.5.9-12.

TLW create a 5-minute presentation, podcast or 2 page written essay, which includes information on their chosen immigration and relation to U.S laws, SS.7.8.

TLW create a push/pull factor worksheet on the results of their immigration subject connected to the response in American laws on immigration, SS-US.9-12.17.

7) Procedure:
Day 1
Launch/Introduction: (5 min.)
1. Compelling Questions: Do you think American laws on immigration have been too harsh or too lax on immigration of people to the U.S throughout history? Is there a relationship between mass immigration and changes in those laws? What could these involve? (1 min.)
2. Based on prior knowledge, students will turn and talk to a partner and discuss their opinions on this question, then share with the class. (4 min.)

Main Body: (45 min.)
3. Students will be introduced to the assignment where they will research a mass immigration into the U.S. of their choice from 1850-2019, either with a partner, in a small group or alone.
4. Teacher will scaffold and provide a list of possible, but not exhaustive choices from U.S. History, in a PowerPoint with links that they can access on their computers through Pear Deck.

5. Students will be encouraged to choose one that interests them on a personal level. Using a jigsaw approach, students will be asked to identify, research and investigate a mass immigration to the U.S. either with a partner or alone.
6. Teacher will then review how to choose a credible source online with the students, including questions such as: Who is the author? What is its purpose? Who is the publisher? Are there other online sources that can validate the authenticity of the source?
7. Students will have work time. (25 min.)

Day 2: (50 min.)
8. Students continue to research and meet with their groups.  Teacher meets individually with groups to check their sources and ask questions to further their research.
9. Teacher makes sure students are filling out worksheets provided.

Day 3: (50 min.)
10. Students continue work time

Day 4: (50 min. – but depends on how many groups there are)
11. Students present their findings to the class.
12. Teacher and peers provide positive feedback verbally and fill out self-assessment individually and return to teacher.

Students will present their podcast, read their essay or present their findings in a slide presentation (they can send to teacher in advance to show to everyone). Teacher will ask if they see any patterns between immigration and U.S. laws that are consistent.

8) Assessment:
Formative: Teacher will meet with small groups and see if they have collected relevant and credible sources and make sure they have started asking supporting questions to help guide their further research.

Summative: Teacher will collect artifacts from students including their choice of presentation, podcast or short essay and grade these on a rubric.  Students must complete a 5-minute podcast, 2 page essay or 5-minute presentation including a timeline to receive full points.

Rubric for Self-Assessment


Bennett, C. (2018, April 2). Six skills students need to succeed in social
studies class. Thought Co. Retrieved from

Bruger, K., & Whitlock, A.  (2018, January 17). Social studies skills or
something else? An analysis of how the “Essential Social Studies Skills
and Strategies” reflects social studies instruction. The Clearing House:
A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 91:3, 111-117.

College, career and civic life (C3) framework for social studies state
standards. (2019). National Council for the Social Studies. Retrieved

Didau, D. (2011, November 11). Should we be teaching knowledge or skills?
Guardian. Retrieved from

Elliot, E. (2018, August 20).  Why read why learn history (when it’s already
summarized in this article)? American Historical Association.
Retrieved from

Essential social studies skills and strategies. (2017, July 12.) National Council on the Social Studies. Retrieved from

Gedeon, J. (2019). What is project-based learning? Arch for Kids, LLC. Retrieved from

McGrew, S., Ortega, T., Breakstone, J., & Wineburg, S. (2017, Fall). The
challenge that’s bigger than fake news: Civic reasoning in a social
media environment. American Federation of Teachers. Retrieved from

Lander, J. (2018, January 17).  Digital literacy for digital natives. Harvard
Graduate School of Education. Retrieved from h

Thornton, S. (1994). The social studies near century’s end: Reconsidering
patterns of curriculum and instruction. Review of Research in
Education, 20, 223-254. Retrieved from

Voet, M., & De Wever, B. (2016). History teachers’ conceptions of
inquiry-based learning, beliefs about the nature of history, and their
relation to the classroom context. Teacher and Teacher Education, 55,
57-67. Retrieved from

Wexler, N. (2015, August 28). How common core can help in the battle of skills vs. knowledge. New York Times. Retrieved from

Wineburg, S. (2003, April 11). Teaching the mind good habits. Chronicle of
Higher Education. Retrieved from Nexis Uni.


Part I. Combined Topic: Content vs. Skills, Inquiry and the C3 Framework

The topic I have chosen integrates the debate between content versus skills, inquiry-based learning and the C3 Framework inquiry arc, since these are all interconnected.  The C3 Framework provides an inquiry and child-centered structure for social studies to fill in gaps where content-heavy state standards are lacking.  Inquiry-based learning enables students to engage in social studies by connecting their personal interests and daily lives to current events, and by asking questions and investigating sources for evidence, through collaboration.  The state standards, as applied with the C3 Framework, are more balanced between content and skills than with the standards alone, which have traditionally been tipped in favor of content, meaning knowledge of facts and dates.  Emphasizing skills such as reading and evaluating primary and secondary sources, as well as encouraging debate and discussion provides students a space to practice civics and democracy within the classroom itself–aspects which they will need as informed, literate and critically-minded citizens.

A. Content vs. Skills

In the traditional social studies curriculum, memorization and recitation formed a large part of the content knowledge and discipline methodology, however, with the increased emphasis on testing for reading, literacy skills have been emphasized, yet this does not mean that content should fall by the wayside entirely (Wexler, 2015).  According to Wexler (2015), “For students to understand what they’re reading, they need relevant background knowledge and vocabulary,” so you cannot just teach students how to research, find the main ideas or summarize; there has to be something for them to summarize about.  The authors of the Common Core standards intended them to guide content through the curriculum, with states specifying more of it. 

A balance between skills and content in nearly equal measures seems practical and sensible in application, proven by research, given that the C3 Framework links literacy skills to the social studies as needed for college, civics and future careers as part of understanding what the humanities entail for domain transfer (Voet & De Wever, 2018).  David Didau (2011) relates that students need both in balance to gain knowledge and then apply it in new ways.  For example, students can learn about the history of child labor and economics and use what they know to critique its presence in today’s world.

B. What is Inquiry-Based Learning?

Inquiry-based learning is primarily the act of questioning, gathering sources and evaluating these in research.  It aligns with John Dewey’s conception of the term.  As Sam Wineburg states: “We need to show students that the self-assured figure lecturing from the podium is not what a historian looks like in his or her office, puzzling through difficult texts” (Wineburg, 2003, p. 3).  During the Progressive Movement, John Dewey developed inquiry-based learning in a general sense, and interestingly, in times of war and political conflict, the “citizenship-transmission” model overshadows inquiry leanings to find what unites Americans as opposed to the “citizenship transformation model,” which encouraged more community and school participation, more in line with Dewey (Bruger & Whitlock, 2018, p. 112).  In the 1960s and early 1970s, Jerome Bruner promoted the rise of inquiry in social studies through the New Social Studies Project (NSS) and curriculum experiment called MACOS (Man: A Course of Study).  During the time of this project’s implementation, it caused an uproar and was suppressed by some teachers and administrators who did not want their children to be transforming the status quo.  Parents and administrators didn’t want kids questioning society’s values using the inquiry method, which is one of its strengths.  So, the political and social climate of the time does affect the debate between skills vs. content, with it now leaning towards skills to de-marginalize the discipline (C3 Framework; Thornton, 1994).

C. Inquiry Skills

The skills of inquiry include asking and formulating questions under the umbrella question tied to the standards given by the teacher, or even brought up by the students themselves, researching deeply through investigation while evaluating sources and finding possible solutions while considering their consequences, as well as acting on understanding (Bennett, 2018; Gedeon, 2019).  Collaboration and problem solving are key elements that provide students choice and individual voice, as well as self-reflection.  Students who are not normally high achievers can also excel in inquiry learning.  Main categories include: literacy skills, critical thinking skills, research-based literacy strategies, learning strategies, and collaborative and civic engagement strategies (Bruger & Whitlock, 2018).  One challenge for the teacher is to provide enough structure in the lesson so kids can share the workload equally, focus in on the questions and receive helpful feedback.   

Other skills supported by the inquiry process include using timelines, map skills, compare and contrast, cause and effect thinking, evaluating primary and secondary sources, and looking into the relevancy of audio and visual sources.         

D. Examples

An example of using inquiry skills in the classroom, as put forth by the C3 Framework, is asking an engaging question at the beginning of class that students can respond to on a personal level, that might be be opinion based.  One possible question could be: historically, do you think immigration in the U.S. has been too restrictive or too lax in terms of its culture and laws?  Should it be more open or more closed at the current moment and why?  Allowing students to research a topic in groups or on their own provides them with more motivation to address the question and piques curiosity (Bruger & Whitlock, 2018).  This also places the teacher in the role of facilitator rather than one who only transmits knowledge and asks students to take copious notes on facts and dates.  By synthesizing information through posing and answering questions, students develop deeper literacy skills.    

Another example using the research skills in inquiry could have students investigating the Great Depression through Dorothea Lange’s photographic portraits of the people in that era, to further explore the relationship between the impacts of that time period on biography (Bennett, 2018).

Additionally, a pertinent example is teaching kids skills to use websites and evaluate sources.  According to research by Sam Wineburg in a 2016 study, 82% of students can’t tell the difference between an ad and a real news story.  An important skill that teachers can impart is digital literacy, which includes asking who wrote the article, evaluating sources for validity as well as bias, and checking out what other websites say (Lander, 2018; Elliot, 2018; McGrew, Ortega, Breakstone, & Wineburg, 2017).  So, the skills of social studies can be applied to digital sources, using inquiry to find out what is real information when doing research in a project.

In conclusion, inquiry-based learning is tipping the balance scale of traditional social studies content slightly more to the skills side of the curriculum while continuing to carry content like a snail shell on its back.  This links social studies learning to literacy standards as well, thus helping to bring it back to the central focus in schools and legitimize its position.