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The Arts In Every Classroom: A Workshop for Elementary School Teachers

What Is Art?

The Learner Teams and students explore the nature of theatre, music, dance, and visual art as they consider their own definitions for each art form. They watch an excerpt from Quidam, a surrealistic performance piece that combines the four art forms in unusual ways, and begin to explore connections between fantasy and reality.

Start Your Journey Here

Take this survey to assess your current knowledge and ideas about art.

Are there universal elements that distinguish what we call “art” from other objects or experiences? How can we recognize art when we see it?

In the first four lessons of Program 1, you will explore the nature of art by examining each of four art forms — theatre, music, dance, and visual art. You will begin to develop a definition for each of the art forms and consider how you might determine whether a particular item is art. In the fifth lesson, you will investigate how these art forms work together in a multi-arts performance piece.


What Is Theatre?
What we call theatre can take many forms — everything from a Shakespearean drama staged before an audience of thousands to a group improvisation in an elementary school classroom. All forms of theatre, however, include three essential elements: an actor, a story with a conflict, and an audience.

Theatre Terms

  • Acting: the process of creating roles and characters in dramatic context
  • Audience: one or more persons who observe actors in a scene or play
  • Conflict: when the desires of two or more characters are opposed to each other
  • Costume: an actor’s stage clothing
  • Dialogue: words spoken by the characters in a play to communicate their thoughts, feelings, and actions
  • Elements of drama: plot, character, theme, dialogue, music, and spectacle, according to Aristotle
  • Plot: the structure of the action of a play
  • Script: the written dialogue, description, and directions provided by the playwright
  • Setting: the time and place in which the dramatic action occurs
  • Theatre: the imitation or representation of life, performed for other people; the performance of dramatic literature


What Is Music?

Music is organized sound created to communicate an idea, feeling, or process.

Music Terms

  • Articulation: how individual notes are attacked
  • Design: the arrangement of musical parts; the form of the music
  • Duration: music in time; the length of the sounds
  • Dynamics: loudness and softness in music
  • Expressive qualities: variables within performance parameters
  • Melody: a planned succession of pitches; the tune
  • Music: organized sound
  • Pitch: the high and low qualities of music
  • Rhythm: the patterns of sounds in relation to the steady beat
  • Steady beat: the regular pulse of the music
  • Tempo: the speed of the music
  • Timbre: tone color; the distinctive quality of a given instrument, voice, or sound source
  • Tonality: the combination of pitches as they function together


What Is Dance?

All dance — whether it is about a story, a culture, a specific style, a feeling, or movement for movement’s sake — involves a body in motion. All styles of dance communicate using the basic elements of time, space, and shape.

Dance Terms

  • Chant: singing or speaking that repeats itself
  • Choreographer: person who creates the dance
  • Choreography: the dance movements
  • Cue: a signal
  • Freeze: stopping all movement
  • Shape: using the body to create lines
  • Space: the locations occupied by the body; for example, low, middle, and high levels or negative and positive space
  • Time: the cadence or meter that determines the motion, which can be slow, medium, or fast
  • Transition: the passage among ideas, places, thoughts, and stages


What Is Visual Art?

Definitions of visual art vary depending on cultural context and personal viewpoints. As students develop a personal understanding of art, it is important that they support their opinions with evidence.

The fourth lesson in Program 1 models an approach to art called aesthetics. As the Learner Teams and students created definitions of art, they were, in essence, engaging in philosophical inquiry.

Visual Art Terms

  • Art: the conscious production or arrangement of sounds, colors, forms, movements, or other elements in a manner that affects the sense of beauty
  • Composition: design manipulation — balance, repetition, movement, unity, and center of interest
  • Craftsmanship: quality of design and technique
  • Elements of art: components artists often manipulate — line, color, shape/form, value, texture, and space
  • Intent: the mood, message, or meaning desired by the artist
  • Performance art: a form of theatrical art in which thematically related works in a variety of media are presented simultaneously or successively to an audience
  • Technique: materials and working methods used by artists

Teacher Notes

Following are some ideas and observations to help you apply these workshop program lessons in the classroom.

Teaching Theatre
“Hunter and Hunted” is a theatre game that can be used to help students experience the elements of theatre. The hunt creates a dramatic conflict with an antagonist and protagonist. Their objectives are to hunt and to remain free. How the characters behave is the dramatic action. Tension is created as they approach each other, and release comes if they pass each other without making contact. The climax is reached at the moment of contact. It is through their engaged participation that students build relevant understanding and new vocabulary becomes meaningful.

Kathy Blum is modeling active involvement with the students during “Hunter and Hunted.” She is creating with the students, rather than directing them to create.

Theatre education in the classroom is more about the process of learning through theatrical experiences than rehearsing to polish a final performance.

Teaching Music
It is important that students listen to musical excerpts silently — for their own listening acuity as well as for the others around them. Students who are able can make notes for themselves as they listen in order to share their thinking in later discussion. For very young students, music can be paused whenever hands go up so that those great ideas aren’t lost because they couldn’t be held inside for long.

This lesson is about careful listening and thoughtful responses. It can be a diagnostic tool as you become familiar with your students’ musical knowledge. Depending on their background, your students may incorrectly identify some of the musical instruments they hear, or terms may be incorrectly used. Take note of these errors and give your students more listening opportunities.

Teaching Dance
Kathy DeJean works in the midst of the students, creating a positive climate for creative ideas and establishing a presence that provides both parameters and freedom.

Kathy’s drum phrases are long enough for students to “think on their feet.” She bases the length of each phrase on the work the students are doing. Watch students as you play for them, and adjust your musical support based on their needs.

“Snapshot” and “freeze” are code words for “Stop where you are and hold your position.”

Kathy’s students think and move without talking. Establish a working climate that engages students in discussion after movement exercises rather than while they are moving.

Teaching Visual Art
Hazel Lucas accepts all student opinions when they are supported with evidence.

Students are encouraged to listen to one another and offer their opinions in response to the statements of others. Hazel encourages students to use specific terminology and art vocabulary as they defend their choices.


Homework Assignment

For a full understanding of Quidam and its role in this workshop, it is strongly recommended that you view the show in its entirety on video, either individually or in a group. The movie Quidam is widely available to purchase or borrow and share.

As you view the full Quidam video, look for examples of fantasy and reality and the interaction of theatre, music, dance, and visual art.

Based on the lesson plans and handouts for Program 1, think about how you might adapt these lessons in your own teaching and write some notes in your journal.



The following required readings will support your understanding of Program 1 for the for-credit workshop:

To prepare for Program 2, read the following additional articles:

Ongoing Activities

Here are some other activities that can boost learning between workshop sessions.

Watch some or all of these programs from The Arts in Every Classroom: A Video Library, K-5:

Learn more about Cirque du Soleil and its many productions:

  • Visit Cirque du Soleil’s Web site at
  • Research reviews, feature articles, or other material on Quidam at your public library or on the Web.

Time permitting, you might share the results of your homework with other participants informally before or after your next workshop session.