ARTSEDGE Lessons for Elementary School

America, A Home for Every Culture

American culture reflects a mosaic of all the many cultures that make up the United States. How can you define American food, music, or language?


Key Staff

Classroom teacher; assistance of music teacher could be valuable.

Key Skills

Global Connections: Connecting to History and Culture
Life and Career Skills: Social and Cross-Cultural Skills
Developing Arts Literacies: Understanding Genres


Through teacher-guided discussion and hands-on activities, students will explore how various cultures have contributed to making the United States the unique and diverse country that it is today.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Identify words that became part of the English language as a result of immigrant groups settling in America.
  • Identify the origin of music and instruments from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.
  • Understand how foods differ from nation to nation by creating a class "Multicultural Family Recipe Book."
  • Express understanding of the value of diversity in a poem or drawing.

Teaching Approach

Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Brainstorming
  • Discussion
  • Multimedia Instruction
  • Research
  • Cooperative Learning

Assessment Type

Informal Assessment


What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Classroom
  • Projector
Technology Notes

You will need Internet Access. RealPlayer is a required plugin. You can download it from the RealPlayer site.

Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

  • Awareness of various immigrant populations of the U.S.
  • Basic knowledge about musical instruments brought to the U.S. by immigrant groups
  • Familiarity with cookbooks and customary ways of writing recipes

Prior Student Knowledge

Awareness of the U.S. as a nation of immigrants.


  • Small Group Instruction
  • Large Group Instruction


In preparation for this lesson, download the Teacher Reference Sheet 'A World of Words', available to you within the Resource Carousel, and write each word on a sticky note. Each small group of students will need 5-7 sticky notes; write words more than once if necessary. Use the reference sheet to check the answers during the game.

Accessibility Notes

Students with physical disabilities may need modified movements.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.

Build Knowledge


1. Present the world map and ask students to name some nations that have sent immigrants to the United States. There are no wrong answers to this question, but it might be an opportunity to review previous lessons or to recognize the heritage of class members.

2. Ask what languages the immigrants from those countries spoke, and point out that they brought their languages with them to the United States. There are more than 6,000 languages in the world, and over 300 languages are spoken in the United States, according to the 2000 Census. If the class includes people who can speak other languages, ask them to count to five in the other languages they know. Depending on the language represented, there may or may not be similarities among the words in sound and spelling.

3. Introduce the term “loanword,” which refers to words taken directly from one language and used in another. Some examples include “ballet” (French), “pajamas” (Hindi), and “karaoke” (Japanese). Point out that English speakers in the U.S. took up words brought to the U.S. by immigrants, as well as Native American words, and we now have words from all over the world in our American English dictionaries. Bear in mind that the vocabulary of the English language included large numbers of words of French, Germanic, Latin, and Greek origins when it first came to the United States, and that world conquest and trade on the part of English-speaking peoples is responsible for more loanwords than immigration. Still, immigrants certainly enriched American English with their languages, and continue to do so today.

4. Divide students into groups of about five and play 'A World of Words'. Give one member of each group 5 to 7 of the sticky notes you prepared earlier. The person holding the sticky notes will be responsible for providing clues to the rest of the group that will help them guess the word. When the word is guessed correctly, the group has to guess its place of origin and place the word on the world map in its place of origin. Repeat with all the words. A point will be awarded for each word that is guessed correctly and two points for each correct place of origin. You can get a printable version of the worksheet from the "Engage" tab by clicking the download button in the bottom right corner of the resource carousel.

5. Go over the results and declare a winner.

Build Knowledge

1. Listen to examples of music brought to the United States by immigrants. Clips can be found at web sites, links for which are available through the Resource Carousel.

2. Discuss the instruments students heard or saw used in the performances. Explain that different instruments are used in the music of different countries and continents. On a chart, write on the left-hand side "Musical Instruments" and on the right-hand side "Place of Origin." Discuss how, in the same way that languages were brought over to America, so were the musical sounds of various ethnic groups.

3. Discuss four American instruments brought by immigrants: the accordion, the fiddle (violin), the saxophone, and the banjo (believed to be based on the oud). You may choose to use the Smithsonian Institution's Instrument Encyclopedia web site, a link for which is available through the Resource Carousel, in combination with the music video clips listed above. Show the accordion, for example. Discuss what it looks like, its shape, how it is played, whether the sound is high or low, etc. Play the accordion sound again. Have a student read the caption at the bottom and identify the place of origin. Ask students whether they’ve heard the instrument played in the United States, or if they associate the instruments with any particular kind of music. Students may recognize the accordion as an instrument used in Cajun or Tejano music, or as an instrument used to play polkas.

4. Discuss the other instruments in the same manner as you did the first. After the discussion, go back to the chart and have the students give you the names of each of the instruments they heard and the place of origin.

5. Have students write the names of instruments on sticky notes and add them to the world map. This could be restricted to the instruments discussed, or students might know of other instruments. If possible, check the accuracy of students’ beliefs about the instruments’ origins before placing them on the map.


1. Brainstorm with the class all of the different local restaurants in your community that serve ethnic foods and list them on the board. Discuss how much fun it can be to have the opportunity for such a variety of foods right in our own neighborhood and country.

2. Share with students a favorite meal from your cultural heritage and give students the opportunity to share theirs. Tell the students that the class is going to create its own recipe book. Use an example cookbook to show students how a cookbook is organized. Notice that recipes are often divided by the type of ingredients (meats, vegetables, fruits) or the kind of dish (breakfast, desserts, drinks).

3. Provide students with a copy of the handout "My Recipe and My Family Member," a copy of which is available to you within the Resource Carousel. First refer to the “My Recipe” page of the handout. Explain that the students are going to choose a favorite family recipe that represents their cultural heritage. Compare the handout with the example cookbook.

4. Refer to the “My Family Member” page of the handout. Explain to students that they are going to take a picture, use a picture that they already have (with parental permission), or draw a picture of the family member who either usually cooks the particular meal or is the originator of the recipe. The student will then write a brief biography of the family member. Brainstorm some questions that can be asked of the family member:

  • Where the person was born
  • How they got the recipe
  • Whether the recipe has changed over time
  • When the particular dish is usually made and served
  • Whether the recipe belongs a particular holiday

5. Give the students two days to complete the assignment at home. When the students bring in the assignment, have them share the name of the recipe and the family member's biography. Post the pages around the map and connect the recipes with their country of origin using yarn and map pins.

6. Compile all the pages into book form after the unit is completed. Decide with the students what the title for your class cookbook should be. Refer to the organization of the example cookbook and decide how to sort and organize the recipes. Also decide how to design the cover, and choose a student to create it.

7. Consider making copies of the cookbook. Creating a digital copy of the cookbook can be a great computer lab project. Share it on the school website, or print out a copy for the class library.


1. Read the Anita E. Posey poem, "Face To Face" to the class. (This poem was originally printed in the following book: Alexander, Rosemary, ed. Poetry Place Anthology. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1999.)

2. After reading the poem, discuss with students the writer’s desire to learn about other cultures. Remind students that this unit has allowed the class to learn about different cultures represented in the United States. Refer to the map with its notes showing all the places represented by the foods, music, and words you’ve studied.

3. Challenge students to prepare a response to the poem, either in the form of a poem of their own, or in a drawing. Add student responses to the map display.


Assess the students' work using the "Recipe Assessment Rubric," available within the Resource Carousel.

Extending the Learning

1. Have students find out where their family members originated from and in what year they came to the United States. Students will share this information with the class. On a small world map, to be displayed in the classroom, students can write their family name on an index card and place it on the country of their cultural heritage.

2. Have students learn how to say hello in various languages by visiting one of these websites:

3. Have students work independently or in cooperative groups to research the history of an ethnic dance and music from the immigrant groups discussed. Have students present a brief history and perform the dance.

4. Have students create an imaginary multicultural restaurant. Create its name, its appearance, and its menu. Provide students with two sheets of drawing paper. One sheet is to be used for a drawing of their restaurant. The second sheet of drawing paper should be folded in half to look like a book and is to be used as a menu.

5. Have students work in cooperative groups to create a mural that depicts children from around the world, showing symbols of holidays, traditions, customs, and clothing.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education

Grade K-4 Music Standard 6: Listening to, analyzing, and describing music

Visual Arts

Grade K-4 Visual Arts Standard 1: Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes

Grade K-4 Visual Arts Standard 2: Using knowledge of structures and functions

Grade K-4 Visual Arts Standard 3: Choosing and evaluating a range of subject matter, symbols, and ideas

National Standards in Other Subjects

Geography Standard 9: Understands the nature, distribution and migration of human populations on Earth's surface

Geography Standard 10: Understands the nature and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics

Foreign Language

Foreign Language Standard 3: Presents information, concepts, and ideas to an audience of listeners or readers on a variety of topics

Foreign Language Standard 4: Understands traditional ideas and perspectives, institutions, professions, literary and artistic expressions, and other components of the target culture

Grades K-4 History

Grades K-4 History Standard 3: Understands the people, events, problems, and ideas that were significant in creating the history of their state

Grades K-4 History Standard 6: Understands the folklore and other cultural contributions from various regions of the United States and how they helped to form a national heritage



Rebecca Haden


  • Baer, Edith.This is the Way We Eat Our Lunch: A Book About Children Around the World. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1995.
  • Freedman, Russell. Immigrant Kids. New York: Puffin Books, 1995.
  • Maestro, Betsy. Coming to America: The Story of Immigration. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1996.

Works Cited

Alexander, Rosemary, ed. Poetry Place Anthology. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1999.

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Use this collection of resources and articles to devise an approach for supporting individual needs in the classroom: from English Language Learners or students with disabilities, to conflict resolution and giving feedback.



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