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Get Your Blues On

School: Conservatory Lab Charter School

Grade(s): 4

Format(s): Poetry

Subject(s): English Language Arts, Visual Arts

Project Overview

Fourth grade students at Conservatory Lab Charter School in Brighton, MA created this book of poems, collages and blues songs as part of an expedition on the Great Migration. 

Throughout this expedition the students made emotional connections to the theme by looking at and studying artwork in various forms focusing on the Great Migration. They started by looking at paintings in “The Great Migration Series” by Jacob Lawrence, reading poems about the migration by Langston Hughes and Eloise Greenfield and by listening to the blues in the classroom.

Each student created two poems in this book. The first, inspired by color and the second is inspired by strong feelings.  The second poems follow the AAB pattern traditional to blues songs in which the first and second lines of the poem are the same and the last word of each line rhymes. The students worked with partners to edit their poems and to add similes.

Working in groups, the students translated their poems into music.  The groups are based on the overarching themes present in their work: big world issues, the down and out, personal loss and school.  Each student selected a line from their poem to feature in their group song and they performed the final versions at a concert at The House of Blues attended by over 200 students and teachers. 

Finally, working with artist Ekua Homes, the students created collages inspired by their songs. They returned to their focus on using color to express emotions by painting paper to match the mood of their blues songs. They also incorporated photos, images from magazines and tissue paper. Each collage is a self-portrait with his or her musical instrument.

The students’ work is featured in this professionally designed and printed book. Similar books can be purchased on the Conservatory Lab website.  To learn more about the Great Migration expedition and to watch a video of the student’s performance at the House of Blues, visit:

How This Project Can Be Useful

  • Intertwining African American history with visual, literary and musical art-forms is engaging and motivating for students
  • Producing a professionally designed and printed book, as well as student performances at the House of Blue demonstrates the high value placed on student work
  • Demonstrates collaboration between groups of students
  • Demonstrates critique and revision of text

Relevant Resources

Common Core State Standards

Standard Long Term Learning Target
  • I can produce writing that is appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • With support from peers and adults, I can use the writing process to produce clear and coherent writing.
  • I can use conventions to send a clear message to my reader.
  • I use formal English when appropriate.
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