Pickin’ an a’ Grinnin’: Shut Your Mouth, That Banjo Came from Africa!

Brandy Garrett, Gay Barnes, Andrea Barbieri, Denise Frenier, Alicia Smith

The learner will have a deeper understanding of how NC culture has been influenced by historical events using the arts.
The learner will compare and contrast a variety of texts using domain specific vocabulary.
The learner will analyze characters using a variety of texts (paintings, books) with an emphasis on how historical events have influenced change (socially, emotionally, intellectually etc).


Print of painting: Banjo Lesson by Henry Tanner
Print of painting: Mothers Day Wishes by Mary Cassatt

Picture of Henry Tanner’s “The Banjo Lesson (1894)” to be projected on the SMART board
Picture of Mary Cassatt’s “Mother’s Day Wishes” to be projected on the SMART board
World Map
Spanish vocabulary about colors, shapes, numbers, and sizes posted around the classroom
Dry markers
Sleeve protectors
Copies of the pictures of Henry Tanner’s “The Banjo Lesson” (1894) and Mary Cassatt’s “Mother’s Day Wishes”to be used in group activity
Word Walls in Spanish: “las emociones” (the feelings), “los números” (the numbers), “los colores” (the colors), “las formas” (the shapes)
Red pencil

Materials required:
CDs with Bluegrass music including “Cripple Creek”
Youtube of Earl Scruggs and young boy playing banjo
David Holt’s History of the Banjo
SMART board
Paintings of Tanner’s The Banjo Lesson and Mary Cassatt’s “Mother’s Day Wishes”


CLASSROOM (two weeks)
Week 1:
(introduction of art and music standards addressed in specials)
Day 1
Classroom teacher introduce print of painting: Banjo Lesson (Tanner). Students spend 5 minutes independently responding to painting. Students turn and talk about their initial responses to painting. Teacher then guides students through who, what, when, where, how, why stems having students engage in a deeper understanding of text.

Day 2
Students begin lesson by reflecting independently 5 minutes on discussion of painting from previous day. Students turn and talk about their journal responses. Teacher introduces background information of artist, and story behind the painting.

Day 3
Classroom teacher introduce print of painting: Mother’s Day Wishes (Cassatt). Students spend 5 minutes independently responding to painting. Students turn and talk about their initial responses to painting. Teacher then guides students through who, what, when, where, how, why stems having students engage in a deeper understanding of text.

Day 4
Students begin lesson by reflecting independently 5 minutes on discussion of painting from previous day. Students turn and talk about their journal responses. Teacher introduces background information of artist, and story behind the painting.

Day 5
Compare and contrast of two paintings. Students use the information they have gathered throughout the week on the two paintings, and will work in small groups to complete a Venn diagram.

Week 2:
(introduction of Spanish standards addressed in specials)
Day 1
History of Banjo (musicfolk.com) Focus today will be on how the banjo started in Africa influenced by Arab instruments, and how it was introduced to United States, and then settled into Appalachian Mountains. Pictures will be used to sequence with class. Pictures will be pulled off Internet based on information from listed website. Students will work in teams to put the pictures in order of what makes sense to them. Teacher will then present on a PowerPoint the history of banjo. Students will then compare their timelines to the teachers discussing as a group their order of pictures. Students will reflect on their learning by writing: 1 AHA, 1 thing they want to explore more, 2 facts they feel they need to know.

Day 2
Review 3 regions of North Carolina. Students will create a map of North Carolina by tearing a piece of paper in the shape of state. They will then use classroom recycled materials to glue onto their map physical features that show the geography of state. The purpose of this is to have the students see and feel the difference of the regions as they learn how the land impacted the movement of the banjo. Example of materials can be cotton, sand, toothpicks, transparency film.

Day 3
Using picture cards from day before, students will focus on how North Carolina regions were influenced by the banjo- starting at coast as a performance/comedy show to how African Americans moved west towards mountains fleeing from war, or becoming part of Native American tribes. Students will then make a foldable book and write down who, what, when, where, how, why to address the movement of the banjo.

Day 4
Teacher will show video of child playing a banjo. Students will take notes on the mood they have, inspiration of music, how they would move to the music that they hear. Students will then stand and move to different banjo songs.

Café Activities:
Writing: Art gallery trying to decide which painting to purchase. Write a persuasive piece stating opinion with reason/facts as evidence.

SPANISH (one 45-minute lesson)
Identify a Spanish-speaking country in Africa
1. Pointing to the World map, ask the students: can you locate the African Continent on the map? [Sí], call a student to come to the World Map and point to the African Continent
2. Do you remember the name of a Spanish-speaking country in Africa? [Equatorial Guinea].
3. Can you locate that country on the map? [Student pointing to Equatorial Guinea on the World map].
4. Can you tell if the country is “pequeño” (small) or “grande” (big)? [Pequeño]
5. Ask now the students to stand up and without using words, to show how they would “say” if something is “pequeño” or “grande” (students might use different levels to express small and big opening their arms, hands, legs, etc.). Using the body, how you can tell that something is “mediano” (medium size)
6. Looking at the map of Equatorial Guinea on the SMART Board, ask students to name a shape that is similar to the shape of Equatorial Guinea. Ask a student to come up to the board and draw the shape he/she can see. What is the name of the shape in Spanish? [Possible answer: “cuadrado” or “rectángulo].
7. What do you think about the shape of the African Continent? Can you tell the name of a similar shape in Spanish? [“Triángulo”].

Connection with the Arts
1. On the SMART Board show the picture of Henry Tanner “The Banjo Lesson (1894)”
2. Ask students if they have seen the picture before. Where? Do you remember the name of the picture? Do you remember the name of the artist?
3. Turn and Talk Activity: Look at the picture and think how this painting may be connected with Africa and North Carolina? Think for about one minute and turn and talk with your partner.
4. Let students to share their thoughts to the class. [Answers may vary and some answers may be “people from Africa came to North Carolina”, “the banjo is an instrument created in Africa”, “we shared the African music in North Carolina”, or “banjo is an instrument used in bluegrass and/or country music”].
5. Ask students to look at the picture and try to see an element of art. Can you name one element of art? [Possible answers: Shape of the banjo makes a triangle, the figure of the men from head to toes makes a triangle, the banjo as an instrument makes a triangle]. Remind students that not always we can easily see the shapes in a piece of art, but we can “connect” different forms, textures, or shades of colors and visualize a shape.

Vocabulary Connection
1. Group Activity: Class will be separated in groups of four students (for a group of 20 students = 5 groups of 4 students). Shapes: “triángulo”, “óvalo”, “cuadrado”, “círculo”, “rectángulo”. Each group will receive a copy of the “The Banjo Lesson” picture inside a sleeve protector and a dry marker. Students need to identify as many as possible repetitions of a pre-assigned shape in the picture (example: if the group is “triángulo”, students of that group will need to carefully try to find as many triangles as possible in the picture). To draw the shapes, students will use the dry marker on the sleeve protector. Give students 5 minutes to complete the activity.
2. With the picture projected on the SMART Board, now call one student per group to come up to the board and draw on the picture the shape they have found (each group will draw their shape assigned in different color). Then, the student will say the number of shapes found using the expression “Hay {number} {shape assigned} en la foto.” “Hay tres (3) triángulos en la foto.” Write the expression on the white board and then ask all class to repeat the expression in Spanish.
3. On the SMART Board, show the picture of Mary Cassatt “The Banjo Lesson”
4. Ask the students to look at the picture: Can you identify the colors used by the artist in Spanish? [Amarillo, azul, blanco, anaranjado, amarillo, rosa, negro, café, azul claro, azul oscuro]
5. Look at “la cara” (the face) of “la señora” (the lady) and “la niña” (the girl), what can you say about their “emociones” (feelings)? [They are “feliz” (happy), “contentas” (happy), “tranquilas” (quiet)]. Why do you think they are “feliz”? [They are enjoying playing the banjo]

Individual Activity:
1. Show directions of the activity on the SMART Board:
2. In a piece of paper students will create at least 4 complete sentences about their feelings when they listen to a banjo. In their sentences they must write at least 4 words in Spanish using the vocabulary learned in class and posted around the classroom.

Note: Advanced Spanish students may add more words and expressions in Spanish using the Spanish/English dictionary

3. Imagine that you are listening to a banjo. Answer the following questions in complete sentences:
a. How do you feel? [When I listen to a banjo “me siento feliz”, “me siento nervioso”, “me siento enojado” (angry), “me siento triste” (sad)];
b. What colors do you imagine? [I can imagine the music notes in “azul y verde” when I listen to the banjo];
c. Where do you picture yourself? [I picture myself in “las montañas” of North Carolina when I listen to the banjo];
d. How do you imagine “el tiempo” (the weather) when you are listening to the banjo? [When I am listening to the banjo I imagine “el tiempo” with “mucho calor” (very hot)].

4. Once they finish their writing, students must circle in “rojo” (red) the words in Spanish.

Turn and Talk: Now, students will read their sentences to a partner. They will need to pay special attention to the words and expressions written in Spanish.

Student may also Compare and Contrast their feelings with their partners.

Exit Ticket
Before leaving the classroom, each student must share one thing he/she has learned during the Spanish class.

History: The Southern Mountains has long held the image of a place very slow to change. The mountains create a natural isolation and the people there are notoriously conservative, eager to hold on to tradition. Likewise, when people think of traditional mountain folksongs, they naturally think of an unchanging, static music with few outside influences. But all the major influences that effected other music in America also effected the styles of traditional mountain music. In most parts of America songs of the Civil War, the minstrel and medicine shows, and early vaudeville have long since disappeared. In the Southern Mountains these and other now obscure musical genres are still thriving in the traditional folk music of the region. The Southern Mountains is a microcosm of the musical influences that have occurred throughout the United States in the last two hundred years, but have long since disappeared in other areas of the nation. All the songs we sing here today are versions of songs I have collected within the last 25 years in the Appalachian Mountains and all reflect some aspect of earlier American music.

Procedure and Activities:
Day 1
1. Look at the paintings and review what the students talked about in the classroom.
2. Introduce the history of the banjo. Talk about its influence on mountain music and bluegrass.
3. Listen to Earl Scruggs and young boy on YouTube. What does this music make you feel like doing?
4. Discuss and watch a square dance and ask about how they see the people moving. How many counts in each movement?
5. Try some of these moves. (Teach bow to your partner, do si do, swing your partner)

Day 2
Continue teaching square dance and add promenade, etc.

Days 3-5
Make a Banjo

Differentiation Approaches

1. Circulate around the classroom providing help to the students that need more time to understand the activity and directions.
2. Students that finish the activity quickly and successfully may mentor other students that need more time.
3. English language learners will be provided more pictures and teacher talking time to process the material. Front loading of content may be necessary, and Spanish teacher will be utilized when needed.
4. Students who need explicit instruction will work in small group with teacher to research,brainstorm, and present information. They will be presented content in small chunks before and after lessons so that modifications can be made to plans.
5. Autistic students will be provided independent activities aligned with projects to research on computer, and will be buddied up with peers they are comfortable with for presentations.
6. Rubrics will be created by class to establish expectations for projects, group work so that students complete assignments.
7. Additional PROBE activities will be provided for students that complete work early. PROBE activities could be researching banjo players, creating a map to show how banjo moved to NC, other instruments that may have world connections to NC highlands (Scotland county).


1. Classroom created rubrics
2. Bloom’s Taxonomy Questions
3. Multiple Intelligence tool kit
4. Banjo pickin’ presentation: opinion pieces will be shared with parents, staff, and 2nd grade ARTS buddy. Square dance performance with guest banjo player.

Follow Up and Extension Ideas

1. We can explore other North Carolina artists (music, visual, dance) and the origin of their style.
2. Paintings can be used as a starting point for biographies of positive male/female influences in our lives.
3. Students can explore other artwork by Tanner and Cassatt to look for patterns and trends in their work.

Additional Details

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