Commemorations Across the Disciplines

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, August 30, 2006

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Architecture

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts
  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

Two fifty-minute class periods


In this lesson students will explore how cultures commemorate people and events. They will explore how commemorations are created through music, painting, sculpture, photography, architecture, and poetry. They will work in collaborative groups to create a commemoration celebrating a person or an event of their choice, and host a festival to share their work with others in the school and community.

National Standards

Standard 1. Level IV. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process 5. Uses strategies to address writing to different audiences (e.g., includes explanations and definitions according to the audience's background, age, or knowledge of the topic, adjusts formality of style, considers interests of potential readers)
Standard 7. Level IV. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts 1. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand a variety of informational texts (e.g., textbooks, biographical sketches, letters, diaries, directions, procedures, magazines, essays, primary source historical documents, editorials, news stories, periodicals, catalogs, job-related materials, schedules, speeches, memoranda, public documents, maps) Standard 4. Level IV. Gathers and uses information for research purposes 2. Uses a variety of print and electronic sources to gather information for research topics (e.g., news sources such as magazines, radio, television, newspapers; government publications; microfiche; telephone information services; databases; field studies; speeches; technical documents; periodicals; Internet)
Listening & Speaking
Standard 8. Level IV. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes 3. Uses a variety of strategies to enhance listening comprehension (e.g., focuses attention on message, monitors message for clarity and understanding, asks relevant questions, provides verbal and nonverbal feedback, notes cues such as change of pace or particular words that indicate a new point is about to be made; uses abbreviation system to record information quickly; selects and organizes essential information) 4. Adjusts message wording and delivery to particular audiences and for particular purposes (e.g., to defend a position, to entertain, to inform, to persuade) 5. Makes formal presentations to the class (e.g., includes definitions for clarity; supports main ideas using anecdotes, examples, statistics, analogies, and other evidence; uses visual aids or technology, such as transparencies, slides, electronic media; cites information sources) 8. Responds to questions and feedback about own presentations (e.g., clarifies and defends ideas, expands on a topic, uses logical arguments, modifies organization, evaluates effectiveness, sets goals for future presentations)
Standard 3. Knows the ways in which culture influences the perception of places and regions (e.g., religion and other belief systems, language and tradition; perceptions of "beautiful" or "valuable")
Standard 2. Level IV. Understands the historical perspective 10. Understands how the past affects our private lives and society in general
Arts Connections
Standard 1.  Understands connections among the various art forms and other disciplines
Visual Arts: Artistic Expression & Communication
Standard 1. Understands and applies media, techniques, and processes related to the visual arts Standard 4. Understands the visual arts in relation to history and culture
Working With Others
Standard 1. Contributes to the overall effort of a group
Thinking & Reasoning
Standard 5. Applies basic trouble-shooting and problem-solving techniques

Common Core Standards

Anchors for Reading:

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.3 Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening:

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.5 Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.


Students will do the following:
  • brainstorm ideas
  • conduct Internet research
  • work in collaborative groups
  • collect and analyze information from multiple sources
  • participate in small and large group discussion
  • evaluate group work
  • create a design plan
  • create a group presentation


  • "Design a Commemoration" handout
  • Internet websites


  • computer with Internet access


Building Background The Power of Expression

The purpose of this activity is to provide students with an example of how art is used to express one's emotions and one's reactions to an event. 1. Share with your students the following story, which describes how cellist Vedran Smailovic reacted to the tragedy of the Sarajevo Breadline Massacre in 1992 by playing his violin for twenty-two consecutive days to commemorate his friends and neighbors who were killed.

On May 27, 1992, a group of civilians were standing in a breadline waiting for food. Their country was in a state of conflict, and a mortar shell killed twenty-two innocent people who were simply waiting for food. The very next day, Vendran Smailovic, who was a cello player in the Sarajevo Opera Orchestra, went to the crater left by the blast and began to play his instrument. He was surrounded by sniper gunfire as he played. He played for twenty-two consecutive days, one for each person who was killed.

In 1997, a boy living in the United States named Jason Crowe read this story. He decided that Vendran Smailovic was a hero. He said, "I realized all of a sudden that the only reasonable answer to war is harmony."

Jason commissioned a sculptor to create a statue to honor Vendran Smailovic's bravery and spirit. The statue is called the Children's International Peace and Harmony Statue.

This story can be found at: Ask the students to share their responses to the story. You may wish to use the following questions to guide the discussion:
  • What was Vedran Smailovic trying to commemorate?
  • Why do you think Vedran Smailovic decided to do what he did?
  • What do you think of what he did?
  • Why do you think Jason Crowe reacted in the way that he did?

Steps for Learning Commemorations Across the Disciplines

The purpose of this activity is to help students explore the ways that society commemorates people and events. 1. Divide the class into small groups and tell the students that they are going to conduct Internet research on the ways society commemorates people and events. Have each group investigate the resources listed below. Group One: Events Group Two: Memorials Group Three: Museums Group Four: Monuments Group Five: Art/Murals   2. After they have completed their research, ask the students to share with their classmates what they learned.   3. Reorganize the class into new groups for the next activity. Tell the students that they are going to create a commemoration. Give each group a copy of the "Design a Commemoration" handout.  


Create a class rubric with your students that will help them understand the effectiveness of their design process. Use the following guidelines to help create the rubric.-How effective was your brainstorming in generating ideas? Excellent              Good         Adequate         Poor-Rate how effectively you analyzed the information you used to identify your problem. Excellent              Good         Adequate         Poor-Rate the effectiveness of your solution. Excellent              Good         Adequate         Poor-Rate how clearly you communicated the problem you wanted to solve. Excellent              Good         Adequate         Poor -Rate how clearly you communicated your solution. Excellent              Good         Adequate         Poor -Rate your effectiveness as problem solvers. Excellent              Good         Adequate         Poor -Rate your creativity. Excellent               Good             Adequate        Poor

Enrichment Extension Activities

Activity One: Photography
Ask your students to conduct Internet research and write a brief paragraph on the photograph of Sharbat Gula, a woman from Afghanistan who was photographed as a child, and is considered a symbol of the trials of the Afghan people.
  • Afghanistan: The photograph of Sharbat Gula
Activity Two: Poetry
Have your students read poems written about the Vietnam War by women who fought there and then write a commemoration poem about someone of their choice.

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