Topic: American culture in the 1920s and 1930s

Mandy Havens
Topic: American culture in the 1920s and 1930s, including the Harlem Renaissance
Class: This is a 7th grade United States History class of around 20 students. The class period
lasts for around 45 minutes.
1. The student will be able to match individuals, including Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington,
Louis Armstrong, Jacob Lawrence, Langston Hughes, Georgia O’Keeffe, Aaron Copland,
George Gershwin, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and John Steinbeck, with their contributions to
American culture in the 1920s and 1930s.
2. The student will be able to explain the connections of cultural elements, including music,
art, and literature, to economic, political, and social issues in this era.
3. The student will be able to analyze, in the form of short answer, various primary sources
to understand the points of view of the different artists, musicians, and writers.
1. USII.6c: The student will demonstrate knowledge of the social, economic, and
technological changes of the early twentieth century by examining art, literature, and
music from the 1920s and 1930s, emphasizing Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington,
Georgia O’Keeffe, and the Harlem Renaissance.
2. USII.1a: The student will demonstrate skills for historical and geographical analysis, and
responsible citizenship, including the ability to analyze and interpret primary and
secondary source documents to increase understanding of events and life in United States
history from 1865 to the present.
NCSS Curriculum Themes/Standards
1. Culture
2. Time, continuity, and change
3. Individuals, groups, and institutions
Teaching Strategies
(5 minutes)
 The teacher will start the PowerPoint as students enter and open the Bessie Smith You
Tube video to start playing it. Students should get settled and listen to the song.
 After the song is finished, the teacher will ask the students what era they think the song is
from. Ask them what kind of music they think it is. Ask them why this particular singer,
Bessie Smith, would be an important figure.
Transition Statement:
Bessie Smith was a singer who began a successful career in the 1920s. She is important
because she was a black woman and considered to be a leader in the Harlem Renaissance. The
1920s were not that far removed from the times of slavery, and black people still did not have
full and equal rights in America. The teacher will proceed to slide number 2 on the PowerPoint.
(20 minutes)
The teacher will use the PowerPoint slides to explain the importance of individuals who
contributed to American culture in the 1920s and 1930s.
 The teacher will introduce the Harlem Renaissance as a movement within the New York
community of Harlem in the 1920s. Explain that blacks had begun to move from the
South to northern cities after the Great War. This nearly doubled the amount of blacks in
northern cities.
o Ask whether students think blacks settled separately and scattered or in groups.
Direct them to group settlement in ethnic enclaves, just like foreign immigrants.
Harlem was one example.
 So with the mass amount of new people in the city, African Americans began to express
themselves artistically to speak out about their struggle, since poverty flourished in these
areas. This was called the Harlem Renaissance.
o What does Renaissance mean? Direct students towards rebirth or awakening.
 Proceed to slide number 3. Bessie Smith was an extremely talented singer who sold 1
million copies of her hit “Downhearted Blues” that we heard earlier. She became
extremely successful and was known as the “Empress of the Blues”.
o Ask why it was amazing that she became so successful. Direct students to talking
about how Bessie was black and African Americans were still discriminated
against in the 1920s, and that is why it is amazing that she became so popular.
 Go to slide number 4. Duke Ellington was also a famous musician of the Harlem
Renaissance. He played jazz music at Harlem’s famous Cotton Club. He became widely
popular, and is still considered a classic in the jazz genre. Jazz music originated in New
Orleans from blacks who combined some traditional styles with blues about working. It
has deep origins with slave songs.
 Proceed to slide number 5. Louis Armstrong, much like Duke Ellington, was a popular
Harlem jazz musician. He contributed to jazz by emphasizing personal expression, which
became known as scatting. He was an extremely talented trumpet player.
 Proceed to slide number 6. Jacob Lawrence was a Harlem Renaissance painter who
expressed the great migration of blacks to northern cities through painting. His paintings
are brightly colored and bold.
 Go to slide number 7. Langston Hughes was a famous poet during the Harlem
Renaissance. He wrote about the combined experiences of the roots of Africans and
Americans. He also wrote about the difficulties faced by African American workers. He
was one of the most important people of the Harlem Renaissance. Tell the students that
all of the people after this slide contributed to American culture, but were not part of the
Harlem Renaissance.
 Go to slide number 8. Ask if anyone has ever heard of Georgia O’Keeffe. Her paintings
of flowers are extremely well-known. She is also famous for paintings of New York and
the American Southwest. Her style was unique and bold.
 Proceed to slide number 9. Aaron Copland was a musician and composer who combined
traditional styles of music with modern (1920s modern) music, creating a uniquely
American genre.
o Ask if anyone can tell you what genre means. Direct it to style, type, category,
 Proceed to slide number 10. George Gershwin, like Copland, composed music that
became a uniquely American genre. He combined traditional music with jazz while
writing Broadway songs, popular songs, and classical songs.
o Ask why American genres of music, like those created by Gershwin and Copland
would have been popular at this time. Direct answers towards patriotism
remaining from the Great War and the Red Scare. Also, the prosperity that people
experienced in the Roaring Twenties helped to create a love of America.
 Go to slide number 11. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby. This novel captured
the culture of Long Island’s wealthy and elite, while exposing their bad deeds and
immoral nature. Fitzgerald made the point that while being wealthy and having a good
time may look attractive, but it is not necessarily desirable.
 Proceed to slide number 12. John Steinbeck wrote about the Great Depression’s horrible
nature in his novel, The Grapes of Wrath. He wrote of a migrant workers displaced by
the Dust Bowl, and emphasized their struggle.
Transition Statement:
Now we are going to get into groups and examine some primary sources from these
cultural icons. Please move to sit with your groups. The groups are as follows:
 Group 1: Brandon T., Emily, David, Kya, and Keegan
 Group 2: Mark, Faye, Andrew, Kara, and Kyler.
 Group 3: Austin H., Laura, Hans, Jonathan, and Lexi.
 Group 4: Jake, Michael, Grace, Flip, and Shelby
Group Work:
(18 minutes)
 Once everyone moves to sit with their groups, begin to explain the poster project. The
groups have been organized in a heterogeneous manner, with stronger students and
struggling students in each group.
 The teacher will say that each group will have a different task to complete. Once all the
groups have completed their mini-projects, we will put all of them together on a piece of
poster board and hang it in the classroom.
 The teacher will explain that once each group gets its packet, they may begin working.
However, they will not work together at first. For the first ten minutes, each person will
read the directions and look at the packet. Each person will then brainstorm to create a
list of important ideas or words that should be included in the group’s work. This is
individual brainstorming that should not include talking. Students should write their
brainstorming down on a clean sheet of paper because it will be turned in at the end of
 The teacher will pass out the packets to the groups and PowerPoint slide copies to each
student. It does not matter which group gets which packet. The directions are included
in each packet on the yellow cards. Allow the students to have the ten minutes to
brainstorm individually.
 After ten minutes, tell students to begin working together to complete their assignments.
They should discuss what they brainstormed with each other. At least one person should
be in charge of writing the final project down for presentation. However, every other
person should contribute to the group by giving input on the assignment and offering
their brainstorming ideas. Everyone should be contributing to the project. The directions
are as follows:
o Hughes/Lawrence: Read Langston Hughes’ poem and study Jacob Lawrence’s
painting. Write 2 paragraphs of 4-5 sentences explaining each piece’s
significance and meaning. Address the people each work focuses on, their
problems and obstacles, and connect the works to what was happening in America
in the 1920s. Write the paragraphs on another sheet of paper. More colorful,
neat, and creative writings will receive a higher grade. See Hughes/Lawrence
 The teacher will also encourage the students to draw pictures around the 2
paragraphs to help with explaining the significance, if they have time after
writing the paragraphs.
o Fitzgerald/Steinbeck: Read the excerpts from the novels The Grapes of Wrath and
The Great Gatsby. Fill out the Venn diagram and answer the questions that are at
the bottom. Compare the points that these authors are trying to make about
society and people during the 20s and 30s. Think about what these books say
about the two decades and note if they convey a theme for the eras. More
colorful, neat, and creative diagrams will receive a higher grade. See
Fitzgerald/Steinbeck packet.
 The teacher should encourage the students to color in the Venn diagram to
distinguish the two sides and the alike section if they have time after
writing all of their information down.
o O’Keeffe/Copland/Gershwin: Examine Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings and explain
what the subjects of the paintings are. On another sheet of paper, using
information from the PowerPoint, explain how O’Keeffe’s art was like Aaron
Copland and George Gershwin’s musical compositions. Also, draw a picture of a
flower, skull, or building in the style of O’Keeffe. Hint: she used bright, vibrant
colors, bold lines, and striking shapes. More colorful, neat, and creative writings
and pictures will receive a higher grade. See O’Keeffe/Copland/Gershwin packet.
 The teacher should tell the students that while it will be okay for one
person to do the drawing, more than one, or even everyone can turn in a
Georgia O’Keeffe mock drawing to be placed on the poster board.
o Ellington/Armstrong/Smith: Use the information given in the PowerPoint and the
songs we listened to and create a word drawing about Duke Ellington, Louis
Armstrong, and Bessie Smith. You will write a summary in complete sentences
of their accomplishments and significance around the outside of one of the
instruments. Write small and if you need extra room feel free to be creative and
continue writing to create more shapes (music notes, etc). Address what they did
and why it was important. More colorful, neat, and creative word drawings will
receive a higher grade. See Ellington/Armstrong/Smith packet.
 The teacher will also encourage students to color in the instrument once
they have written their word drawing around it. They may also create a
colorful background for the instrument, maybe in the likeness of the
Cotton Club, but this is just a suggestion.
 The teacher should move around the room while students are working to guide them in
the right direction and help out whenever they have questions.
(2 minutes)
Have students begin cleaning up with about 2 minutes left in class. Take up brainstorming
papers. Tell them they will complete the assignments tomorrow and present to the rest of the
(5 minutes)
Open PowerPoint and play Duke Ellington You Tube video while students get settled in
class. Pass back brainstorming sheets after they have been awarded points for participation.
 Ask who they think this musician is. Ask what movement he was part of. Ask what time
period this occurred in. Direct them towards Duke Ellington during the Harlem
Renaissance of the 1920s.
Transition Statement:
Get back into your groups from yesterday and continue working on your assignments for
about 20 minutes to get them ready to present to the class.
Group Work:
(15 minutes)
 The teacher should move from group to group to make sure that everyone is on the right
track and to make sure everyone is staying on task.
 The teacher should help with any questions the students have and should be informally
evaluating their participation and primary source analysis skills.
Transition Statement:
Quickly finish up your project. We are now going to present them to the rest of the class.
Each group should be experts of their own project topics, so you should be conscious that you
are in charge of teaching the rest of the class while presenting.
(23 minutes)
 As each group presents, the teacher will use glue to adhere the projects to a poster board
with the words “Culture of the 1920s and 1930s” written in the middle.
 Call the group in charge of Hughes and Lawrence up to the front of the room. Tell them
to present their paragraph about the poem and the painting.
o Ask them who the “I” in Hughes’ poem is. Direct them towards an African
o Ask them why the black people are going through doors with Chicago, New
York, and St. Louis signs above them. Why those places? Direct them towards
talking about ethnic enclaves and job opportunities in cities.
 Call the group in charge of Fitzgerald and Steinbeck to the front of the room. Tell them
to present their Venn diagram using the overhead projector.
o Ask them what the main difference between the two novels is. Direct them
towards talking about how Gatsby is about wealthy elite people, while Grapes is
about poor migrant workers.
o Ask them why these two authors chose to write about these groups of people at
that time. Direct them towards talking about the economic situations in America
during the 1920s and 1930s.
 Call the group in charge of O’Keeffe/Copland/Gershwin to the front of the room. Have
them present their writing and drawing(s).
o Ask them how O’Keeffe is similar to Copland and Gershwin. Direct them
towards discussing how O’Keeffe painted different and essential parts of
America, such as New York and the Southwest while Copland and Gershwin
composed music that was uniquely American. They all had unique American
elements to their works.
o Ask what O’Keeffe’s style of painting was like. Direct them towards bold, bright
and sharp.
o Ask why these people focused on America for their work. Direct them towards
talking about patriotism after the Great War and love for America during the Red
Scare and prosperity of the 1920s.
 Call the group in charge of Ellington/Armstrong/Smith up to the front to present their
word drawing. Have them use the overhead projector so everyone can see their words
around the image.
o Ask why I chose the images I did to write around. Direct them towards
discussing Ellington/Armstrong/Smith being influential and important musicians
of the Harlem Renaissance.
o Ask why it was so important that they were successful. Direct them towards
discussing black discrimination of the early twentieth century.
(2 minutes)
Tell students to make sure that all materials are put away and all garbage has been placed
in the trash can. Post the finished poster in the room where everyone can see it as students leave
Materials used in the lesson:
Computer, projector, PowerPoint, PowerPoint printouts, group work packets, poster
board, glue, markers or colored pencils, and overhead projector.
The teacher will be able to informally assess the students’ primary source analysis skills
by listening in on their group work and looking at their brainstorming papers. The teacher will
also be able to informally evaluate their primary source analysis and knowledge of the content by
examining their mini projects. The teacher will informally assess their understanding of the
content when they answer the questions the teacher has prepared for their presentations. The
following questions could be used on the formal assessment:
 Which of the following was not a major figure of the Harlem Renaissance?
a) Duke Ellington
b) Jacob Lawrence
c) John Steinbeck
d) Langston Hughes
 In 3-5 sentences, explain what the Harlem Renaissance addressed about black life. Talk
about what factors led to the Harlem Renaissance and conditions in Harlem and other
black communities. Was the Harlem Renaissance an expression of these conditions and
 Compare F. Scott Fitzgerald/The Great Gatsby and John Steinbeck/The Grapes of Wrath
using a Venn diagram. Note the main subjects of the novels and their obstacles. Talk
about how their novels reflected issues going on in America at the time.
 Matching:
a) Duke Ellington
1. Harlem Renaissance high selling singer
b) Georgia O’Keeffe
2. Wrote about the Great Depression
c) Aaron Copeland
3. Composer of uniquely American music
d) Bessie Smith
4. Harlem Renaissance poet
e) Langston Hughes
5. Famed Harlem Renaissance trumpeter
f) George Gershwin
6. Harlem Renaissance painter
g) F. Scott Fitzgerald
7. Painter of urban, and southwest scenes
h) Jacob Lawrence
8. Wrote about wealthy people
i) Louis Armstrong
9. Composer of uniquely American music
j) John Steinbeck
10. Cotton Club jazz musician
11. Wrote about Germans in World War I
12. Painted the Pentagon and White House
Accommodations for Special Needs
Brainstorming before doing group work will help those who need extra time to develop
their thoughts and ideas. All the students will have a copy of the PowerPoint slides, so the
students will not have to copy down notes, but will already have them, which benefits those with
special needs. The heterogeneous grouping will allow students with special needs to work with
advanced students who can be positive role models in the learning process. Because the poster
will be displayed in the classroom, special needs students will have the benefit of looking at the
project on a regular basis before the test. Student who need to can take the formal assessment
outside of the classroom and have it read to them. Also, students who need to may be able to
look at primary sources for the test, just as a review of what we looked at in class.