Lesson Plans MMoCA Collects

Romare Bearden: Collage, Poetry and Music

Click images to enlarge | Jump to Content
Romare Bearden, Serenade, 1969, collage and paint on panel.
sample image
sample image
sample image


This lesson combines the creation of a collage with music, music history, and creative writing of either a poem or bit of prose. Students will be introduced to the collage art of Romare Bearden and the poetry of Langston Hughes, both African Americans of great creative distinction. In addition students will learn to identify pieces of music in genres dominated by African American composers: blues, jazz, gospel, and contemporary urban styles such as hip-hop and rap. Students will look at Serenade and then further their study of Romare Bearden with his illustrations for the book The Block (poetry by Langston Hughes, illustrations by Romare Bearden, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Viking, 1995). This book is available new and used through Amazon.com and is a common volume in many elementary school libraries. In addition, it is available through various art-education resource catalogs, and many art teachers have it in their collections. Students will learn about collage. They will compare and contrast neighborhood sights, sounds, and smells of their own neighborhoods with those portrayed in The Block (Bearden's neighborhood of Harlem). They will create writing that suggests the sensory environment of their own neighborhoods.


Students will analyze Bearden's distinctive style of collage, becoming aware of textures, contrast, composition, and novel use of size and scale. Students will listen to and analyze examples of Langston Hughes's poetry in the context of Bearden's illustrations for The Block.

Students will listen to recordings of blues, jazz, gospel, and contemporary urban (hip-hop and rap) and describe differences of mood, lyrics, and beat.

Students will consider what they know about their neighbors and neighborhoods using their senses for discovery.

Using Bearden's collage style, each student will create a small collage that reflects her or his neighborhood, using a variety of papers, and each student will produce a short piece of creative writing that expresses a mood or sensory portrait of the neighborhood.


Briefly introduce Romare Bearden and his collage work using Serenade as an example. (There is a good capsule biography in The Block. Students could also easily do a web search.) Bearden created collages that explored the urban African American life that he saw around him in his neighborhood of Harlem, New York. Bearden was a keen observer, peeking into windows, listening to sounds, noticing small details. Harlem was a center for the arts and a crowded, interesting place to be an observer. Bearden was also drawn to the musical styles that surrounded him, especially jazz, but also blues and gospel. Ask kids to think of what kinds of music they might hear on the streets of New York today. They will most likely mention hip-hop, rap, or perhaps Latin sounds. Mention to students that they will be listening to a variety of African American music forms as they work on their art and that you will help them understand the differences in these forms as they go along.


  1. Remind students that Bearden was like a human vacuum cleaner when he absorbed the ambiance of his neighborhood. Ask how many kids live in the country, a suburb or in a downtown or inner city. Ask students how much they know about their neighbors and how they know these things. What do they smell in their neighborhoods? (cut grass, BBQ grills, restaurant smells) What do they hear in their neighborhoods? (cars, voices, bits of music, horns, lawn mowers, farm machines) What do they see? Do they ever look in a neighbor's window when they walk by? What are the regular sights that they always notice? What activities happen often in their neighborhoods? Where do they most often see their neighbors?
  2. Share the book The Block with students. Read a couple of Langston Hughes's poems. You may want to choose a couple ahead of time that are appropriate and understandable for the age of your students. Some are fairly challenging or quite sad. Many of these poems express emotion as well as give information. Let students know that they will be doing a little creative writing about their neighborhoods and that it might be in haiku, poetry, or short-story form.
  3. Choose a two-page spread from The Block. Have students list everything that they see, including details and colors. Are the colors always realistic? What do kids notice about the sizes of objects and people? What makes each building interesting? What do they see in the windows? What kinds of papers did Bearden use? How would these pages have looked different if Bearden had lived in the country? Imagine what smells and sounds are present. How would they be different in the country?
  4. Go back to Serenade. How did Bearden piece together a face? Did all of the parts come from the same source? Or is each face like a puzzle constructed of pieces from many different types of paper? Look for body parts in this image that are not regular sizes. Bearden often made larger-than-life hands, sometimes from bits of several hands. Cut out a head shape from a piece of construction paper. Select facial features from several magazine photos and demonstrate how to piece together a face Bearden style. Reassure kids that this way of working may be new to them and that results will look different from straight realism. Bearden was a playful guy with his work, and he had fun experimenting with sizes and textures in his collages.
  5. Create an assignment appropriate for your kids and where they live. We started with a minimum of three buildings that completely filled the background before adding figures. We talked about architectural embellishment using The Block as a guide. Remind students that looking into windows is a great way to get more story and information into a small space. Students each create one, two, or three figures to add to the collage using Bearden's Serenade as a model. Students overlap figures over building backgrounds.

    Note: You may need to discuss the fact that collage artists are selective about the way they cut out shapes and that they edit out useless background information and that they cut their important shapes very carefully so as not to lose details. You may also need to do a gluing demonstration, reminding students that glue is an integral part of a collage but that it should be invisible.

  6. Encourage visual enhancements and details such as clouds, signage, plants, vehicles, and sidewalks. Revisit the idea of figures in windows and the fact that Bearden put some funny and surprising things in his backgrounds.
  7. Students re-think the sights and sounds of their neighborhoods, then each will write a brief (or long) narrative or poem to accompany their collages. We started our story with the idea of taking a walk around the block. Sometimes LD/EEL or classroom teachers will work with kids on these art writings.
  8. Students type their writings on a computer and trim paper to an appropriate size before mounting the writing at the bottom of their collages.


Serenade by Romare Bearden

Hughes, Langston, illustrated with works by Romare Bearden. The Block. New York: Viking, 1995.

Bearden, Romare and Harry Henderson. A History of African American Artists. New York: Pantheon Books, 1993.

Brown, Kevin. Romare Bearden, Artist. Broomall: Chelsea House, 1994.

Collier, James Lincoln. Jazz: An American Saga. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1997.

Hughes, Langston. First Book of Jazz. New York: F. Watts, 1982.

Hughes, Langston. A Pictorial History of Black Americans, 5th rev. ed. New York: Crown Publishers, 1983.

Johnson, Herschel. A Visit to the Country. New York: Harper Collins Children's Books, 1989.

Monceaux, Morgan. Jazz: My Music, My People. New York: Knopf, 1994.

Myers, Christopher. Black Cat. Scholastic Press, 1999.

Raschka, Chris. Charlie Parker Played Be Bop. Orchard Books, 1992.

Shange, Ntozake. I Live in Music. New York: Welcome Enterprises, 1994.

Wood, Michele and Toyomi Igus. i see the rhythm. Children's Book Press, 1998.

Pinkney, Brian. Max Found Two Sticks. Simon and Schuster, 1994.

Children's books about African American artists and photographers, such as Romare Bearden, Gordon Parks, and Minnie Evans: "African American Painters and Photographers," Book Links, January 2003, p. 20.

Estes, Glenn, "The Harlem Renaissance and After," Book Links, January 1995, pp. 17-24.

Renwick, Lucille, "Learning With Jazz," Scholastic Instructor, January/February 2002.

SchoolsMuseumsART Project, a collaboration of Madison Metropolitan School District, Elvehjem (now Chazen) Museum of Art, and Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, 2002.

Variety of music by African American performers, including blues, jazz, gospel, and contemporary urban.

Click here for an outstanding bibliography of books related to jazz for students K-12.

Romare Bearden Revealed, music performed by Branford Marsalis (2003), CD issued in conjunction with The Art of Romare Bearden, a retrospective organized by the National Gallery of Art.

The Discovery Channel
Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz
PBS Jazz Series Web site
The Smithsonian Institution
Origins of Jazz

Lesson plans for i see the rhythm

"To Make an African American Black, and Bid Him to Sing: African American Poetry for Children


The book titled The Block
Image of Romare Bearden's Serenade

CD's of music styles listed above. Your school's music teacher or librarian can help if needed.

A variety of patterned and textured papers and light weight fabrics (magazines, newspapers, wrapping paper, grocery bags)

White glue and glue sticks

Construction paper for background


Art: art history, collage, composition
Music: jazz, blues, gospel, contemporary urban
Language Arts: creative writing, prose or poetry, Langston Hughes


Appropriate for any level, piloted with 4th grade


a deliberately planned arrangement meant to create a pleasing whole. Can be an arrangement of musical notes, artistically placed shapes or things.

a composition made of pasting or gluing various materials onto a flat surface

a partially planned/partly spontaneous musical dialogue between musicians. Jazz evolved out of a variety of musical styles in the African American South around 1900 and has continued to evolve in style and tone to the present. (Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong).

a musical form that evolved from a variety of African American styles, some perhaps originating in Africa. The blues is often associated with the Mississippi River Delta and is often based on life stories such as love relationships or times of hardship. (B.B. King, Bobby Blue Bland).

a musical form that originally developed in African American churches but may have roots in Africa. Gospel celebrates religious faith and devotion and may be sung a cappella or accompanied by guitars, piano, or organ and other instruments (Mahalia Jackson, early Aretha Franklin).

contemporary often urban-based music style in which lyrics are similar to poetry and are spoken to a strong beat. Hip-hop and rap make use of electronic synthesizers as well as conventional instruments and sometimes sample (or borrow) lyrics or musical fragments from previously recoded material.


This lesson meets the following Wisconsin Model Academic Standards:

Art: A.4.3, B.4.3, C.4.1, D.4.1, D.4.3, D.4.5, D.4.6, E.4.1, E.4.2, E.4.5, F.4.6, G.4.1, G.4.2, G.4.3, G.4.4, I.4.3, I.4.5, K.4.1, K.4.6, L.4.6

Language Arts: A.4.2, A.4.3, B.4.1

Romare Bearden, Serenade, 1969. collage and paint on panel, 45 3/4 x 32 1/2. Collection of Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Purchase, through National Endowment for the Arts grant with matching funds from Madison Art Center members. 73.0.24 © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Reproduction of this image, including downloading, is prohibited without written authorization from VAGA, 350 Fifth Avenue, Suite 2820, New York, NY 10118. Tel: 212-736-6666; Fax: 212-736-6767; e-mail: info@vagarights.com.

Any level; piloted for 4th grade

Art, music, language arts