Commemorations Across the Disciplines

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

Grade Level

  • Middle 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 III. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process 5. Uses content, style, and structure (e.g., formal or informal language, genre, organization) appropriate for specific audiences (e.g., public, private) and purposes (e.g., to entertain, to influence, to inform)
Standard 7. Level III. 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of informational texts (e.g., electronic texts; textbooks; biographical sketches; directions; essays; primary source historical documents, including letters and diaries; print media, including editorials, news stories, periodicals, and magazines; consumer, workplace, and public documents, including catalogs, technical directions, procedures, and bus routes) 3. Summarizes and paraphrases information in texts (e.g., arranges information in chronological, logical, or sequential order; conveys main ideas, critical details, and underlying meaning; uses own words or quoted materials; preserves author's perspective and voice) 4. Uses new information to adjust and extend personal knowledge base Standard 4. Level III. Gathers and uses information for research purposes 3. Uses a variety of resource materials to gather information for research topics (e.g., magazines, newspapers, dictionaries, schedules, journals, phone directories, globes, atlases, almanacs, technological sources)
Listening & Speaking
Standard 8. Level III. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes 6. Makes oral presentations to the class (e.g., uses notes and outlines; uses organizational pattern that includes preview, introduction, body, transitions, conclusion; uses a clear point of view; uses evidence and arguments to support opinions; uses visual media)
Standard 2. Understands the historical perspective
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")
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 State Standards

English Language Arts Standards Writing 

Grade 6-8

Production and Distribution of Writing:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.5 With some guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on how well purpose and audience have been addressed.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas clearly and efficiently.
Production and Distribution of Writing:
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

English Language Arts Standards: Speaking and Listening

Grade 6-8

Comprehension and Collaboration:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade level topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.1.A Come to discussions prepared, having read or researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence on the topic, text, or issue to probe and reflect on ideas under discussion.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.2 Analyze the purpose of information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and evaluate the motives (e.g., social, commercial, political) behind its presentation.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.8.3 Delineate a speaker's argument and specific claims, evaluating the soundness of the reasoning and relevance and sufficiency of the evidence and identifying when irrelevant evidence is introduced.
Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.4 Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.5 Integrate multimedia and visual displays into presentations to clarify information, strengthen claims and evidence, and add interest.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate. (See grade 8 Language standards 1 and 3 here for specific expectations.)

English Language Arts Standards: Reading Informational Text

Grade 6-8    

Key Ideas and Details:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.1 Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.2 Determine two or more central ideas in a text and analyze their development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.3 Analyze the interactions between individuals, events, and ideas in a text (e.g., how ideas influence individuals or events, or how individuals influence ideas or events).
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.6 Determine an author's point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how the author distinguishes his or her position from that of others.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.7 Compare and contrast a text to an audio, video, or multimedia version of the text, analyzing each medium's portrayal of the subject (e.g., how the delivery of a speech affects the impact of the words).

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.10 By the end of the year, read and comprehend literary nonfiction in the grades 6-8 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.


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

    Peace Crane Project  There are several video clips on this site to watch.

    UN World Environment Day

Group Two: Memorials

    The Vietnam Women's Memorial

    Vietnam Veteran's Memorial: The Wall,

Group Three: Museums

    Museum of Tolerance

    Simon Wiesenthal Center

    The Apartheid Museum

Group Four: Monuments

    Color Me Egypt


    Great Wall of China

Group Five: Art/Murals

    SPARC: Social & Public Resource Center

    CNN The Art of Work

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 a 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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