Home | About the Program | Unit/Lesson Archive | Current Units/Lessons | Reading Room | Gallery |
Art Partners Lesson©

Lesson Title:

Introduction to European Culture: The Middle Ages

Author: Lucy Andrus
Grade/Age Level: Elementary
Written here for:
Third grade Inclusion Class

Conceptual Basis For This Lesson:

Unit/Theme, Relation of Lesson to the Unit, Major Concepts to be Learned:

This lesson will continue our semester-long unit on world cultures and will introduce the series on European culture, specifically Medieval culture. This session will highlight customs and traditions associated with Medieval times, with a focus on the artistry of the era including religious painting, stained glass, heraldry and illuminated manuscripts. The students will learn something of the ancestry of our Euro-American students as we go back in time to Medieval Europe through discussion, visualization, artifacts and slides. Learning about some of the customs and traditions of this time will lay the groundwork for the subsequent learning experiences in this series. In addition, the students will continue to understand the idea that all artmakers across time and cultures have used/do use the same art elements and principles in their work; one common thread that helps weave diverse peoples together as members of the human race.

Relation to Life:

In addition to promoting cultural awareness and appreciation, this series is specifically meant to highlight the ancestry of the children in Art Partners whose heritage is European for the purposes of developing pride and self-esteem through cultural identification. Understanding one's own cultural background is the basis for developing an appreciation for others', and the arts are a universal language that helps bridge the gaps among us.

Learning Standards

Goals Specific to Lesson/Unit (reflecting NYS standards, & targeted learning areas. See Abbreviation Key at end):

The students will:

  1. Increase awareness of cultural diversity and cross-cultural connections (AH, Std. 4, S, E)
  2. Develop appreciation for diverse people and cultures (AH, Std. 4, S, E)
  3. Enhance self-concept through identification with cultural heritage (E)
  4. Increase awareness of European history: Middle Ages (AH, A/C)
  5. Increase awareness of the art and culture of Middle Ages (AH, AC, Std. 3 & 4)
  6. Enhance understanding of the universality of the use of art elements and principles in visual expression (AH, AC, AP, Std. 3 & 4, E, S)
  7. Improve attending skills and socialization skills (W/S, S)

Performance Objectives for Observational Assessment (reflecting goals):

The students will be able to:


  • Recall the meaning of the term, culture Goal 1
  • Describe the time period of the Middle Ages in relation to today Goals 4 & 5
  • Name/identify the terms: Middle Ages and Medieval Goals 4
  • Name/identify the continent of Europe and at least two of its countries Goal 2
  • Name and describe at least two aspects of Medieval life and culture Goals 3, 4 & 5


  • Attend to the slide presentation without disruption Goal 7
  • Raise hand first when asking a question Goal 7
  • Name/describe at least one use of the art elements and principles
    as seen in the slides of Medieval artworks (ex., pattern in stained glass) Goal 6
  • Follow the S/T's directions during use of props Goal 7
  • Refrain from impatient behavior like grabbing, pouting, talking out of turn, not waiting turn with props Goal 7


  • Name at least two art forms of this era (religious painting, stained glass, illuminated manuscripts, heraldry/coat of arms designs) Goal 5
  • Recall/correctly describe the term, illuminated manuscript (focus of next lesson)
    Goal 5

Tools Needed For Application

Vocabulary (defined in age-appropriate, student-friendly language):

  • Coat-of-arms: A special design that is a symbol of a person’s ancestry and family
  • Heraldry: The practice of designing the symbols that represent a person’s ancestry, and also the insignia (sign) or badge that a knight would wear into battle to show who he is, what family he is from, and who he is fighting for
  • Illuminated: to brighten, to lighten, to make something stand out
  • Manuscript: something written by hand, like a book (as opposed to printed)
  • Medieval: Referring to the Middle Ages, a period of time in history app. 500 to 1500 AD
  • Nobles: People of noble/high rank/class or birth; above the common person
  • Serfs: A person from the serving class, below the nobles/made to serve the nobles
    and farm the land

Materials and Preparation:

  • Make and organize slides
  • CD player and CD of Medieval
  • Slide projector and white paper for screen
  • Bodhran drum ("Bow-rawn")*
  • Recorder (musical instrument)

    * From http://www.ceolas.org/instruments/bodhran/

    The bodhrán is the heartbeat of Irish music. This ancient framedrum is traditionally made with a wooden body and a goat-skin head, and is played with a double-headed stick called a cipín, tipper, or beater. The modern Irish word bodhrán is properly pronounced bow-rawn, like Cow brawn, with a slight emphasis on the first syllable.

    The bodhrán is an old Celtic drum but a young musical instrument. Although it has existed in Ireland for centuries, it was introduced into traditional music performance only in the 1960s, and became common only in the 1970s.

    Some writers believe that the drum originated in Africa and came to Ireland by way of Spain. Other people believe that it originated in Central Asia, and was carried through Europe to Ireland by the Celtic migrations.

Ronan Nelson, former editor of Irish Music magazine, has posted a history of the bodhrán.


Procedural Steps: (details on procedures from beginning to end with ability-appropriate language scripted in as necessary):

Opening: Medieval music playing in background as we set up

1. Leader plays Bodhran drum ("Bow-rawn") to bring children together (carrying over concept of the djambe “come together” idea; see previous plans on African culture). All sing Hello Song, and leader explains the origins of this particular drum from Irish culture (see above Vocabulary). Does anyone know where the country of Ireland is in the world? It is on the continent of Europe.

2. Leader introduces our new series on world cultures, referring to map and asking the children who has European ancestry and from what country. Leader and any S/Ts name their ancestral countries in Europe.

3. Just as we have studied the people and culture of Africa, we will now find about European cultures. BUT, instead of exploring the culture of Europe as it is today, we will go back in time and see what European culture was like during Medieval times, also called "the Middle Ages", because it was a period of time between the ancient world and the modern world.

4. When do you suppose the Middle Ages occurred in the history of our world? Hundreds of years ago! Today it is 2003, but let's go back to the period of time around 1299 in Medieval Europe. That's 700 years ago! The time we will talk about is even before Columbus sailed to the New World.

5. To help children begin to visualize Europe 700 years ago, leader asks children what/how they would be doing things if they lived during this time period: what would your house look like? Would you sleep in your own room on a bed? (no, all slept together in one room for warmth on a pallet that was rolled up the next morning). Would you take a shower or bath in the morning? (no plumbing or electricity). What would you have for breakfast? (bread and maybe cheese, and beer to drink because water is dirty and not able to be purified) How would you eat your food at a feast? (with your fingers) What kinds of food would you be eating? (things you grew in your garden, and game you would catch in the woods like rabbits and squirrels).


6. Leader suggests we learn more about Medieval life by looking at slides
highlighting: people, clothing, the Church, knights, the Crusades, peasant life, work, food, feasting and entertainment, and concluding with slides focusing on Medieval art forms of religious painting, stained, glass, coats-of-arms and heraldry, and illuminated manuscripts.

7. Following the slides, the leader has children stretch out for a minute, and then resume by taking the children through exploration of the artifacts, including a coat-of-arms with family symbols.

8. This is followed by a focus on the reproductions of religious paintings, and ending with illuminated manuscripts (to set up the next lesson).

9. Leader then guides a discussion of some distinct characteristics of Medieval art that we noticed:

- that most of this art was made for religious purposes
- the use of brilliant colors of red, blue, green and gold
- that artmakers used the elements of color and shapes symbolically; to mean something/stand for something (like in coats-of-arms, heraldry)
- that artmakers used repetition and pattern to decorate things like books/manuscripts


10. Leader has children recall the continent we have been discussing (Europe) and the time period (Medieval).

11. Leader asks the children to name and describe one thing they enjoyed most or were most interested about in Medieval life and culture.

12. Leader suggests that for our next lesson, we combine ideas we learned about coats-of-arms (symbols of family), writing that tells a story, the use of brilliant colors in pictures and designs, the use of repetition and pattern in decorating art objects like the pages in the books, and the illumination or decoration of certain words and letters in a story to catch our eye.

We can make our own illuminated page that tells something about us as a member of our own family.

13. Close with Goodbye Song using Bodhran drum.


In addition to observation of the Performance Objectives described above for evaluating students, as well as noting what teachers may need to re-teach or do differently, questions to ask might include:

  • Did attendance to the slide lecture show improvement?
  • Did children participate productively in our small and large group activities? Did they show the kinds of respectful manners we have been reinforcing?
  • Did the children ask questions and make comments relevant to the topic?

Curriculum Connections:

The most obvious connections are to history and social studies, also language arts. The children can do library research on some aspect of the Middle Ages they enjoyed from the slides and write a report. They should also present their findings orally to the class. A comparison between African and Medieval culture could prove enlightening as well as the children examine what are similar aspects (self-expression through dance, music and song, use of drums, special rituals like feasts, royalty, etc.)

Abbreviation Key

NYS Standards for the Arts:
AH = Art History Std. 1 = creating, participating in art
AC = Art Criticism Std. 2 = knowing art materials and processes
AE = Aesthetics Std. 3 = responding to works of art/artists
AP = Art Production Std. 4 = knowing cultural dimensions of art

Needs Assessment Areas for Developing Skills and Abilities:
A/C    = academic/cognitive M/P = motor/perceptual  E = emotional
C        = communicative status W/S = work/study habits S = social
Pre-V = prevocational skills  L = living skills  

Back to Learning Standards

Back to Top

This is a non-commercial website and is to be used for educational or research purposes only. No commercial use is permitted without the consent of Art Partners. "Fair use" is claimed under U.S. copyright law, sections 107 and 108. For questions contact:Art Partners

2002 Art Partners Program | All Rights Reserved