Lesson: A Day in the Life

  • Grades: K–8
  • Subjects: English Language Arts, Social Studies

In this lesson, students will be observing and discussing the visual details such as color and action found in Pittsburgh Memories (1984) by Romare Bearden. Students will then write a “day in the life” story about one of the characters in the collage.

Objectives

  • Students will explain their own ideas and understandings in discussion and in writing.
  • Students will use context clues to make interpretations.
  • Students will write a “day in the life” story based on their observations and knowledge of the historical context in which the piece was produced.

Vocabulary: collage, social worker

Steps

Collage depicting abstract city scape with figures and smoke stacks
Romare Bearden, Pittsburgh Memories 1894, collage on board, Carnegie Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ronald R. Davenport and Mr. and Mrs. Milton A. Washington, © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
  1. Begin by showing students Pittsburgh Memories by Romare Bearden. Based on the age and abilities of your students, you may want to explain to them that the artist is showing them both the outside and inside of the building. You may want to also give a little background on Romare Bearden and/or a pre-lesson on Pittsburgh history (especially labor history) since the piece is entitled Pittsburgh Memories.

    Brief Background

    Romare moved to Pittsburgh from New York City with his grandparents and lived here for only a few years. This is where he got his first drawing lessons from a neighbor and completed high school before eventually going off to college. He returned to New York City to attend NYU, later becoming a social worker and working artist. (Other supplemental material: The Quilt of Romare Bearden’s Life, The Nation, and from the Bearden Foundation).

    Lead a discussion with students by asking the following questions, following-up each one with “What do you see that makes you say that?”:

    • Where do you think these people are?
    • What is each individual doing?
    • This piece is entitled Pittsburgh Memories. (Based on your knowledge of Pittsburgh history…) What time period do you think this is?
    • What or who are the two heads in the top floor? What or who do they represent?

  2. Now have students focus on the man seemingly walking out the door holding something silver. Students will be writing their “day in the life” story about this character. You could get them started by asking:

    • Where do you think this person is going?
    • How old is this person?
    • What are they holding in their hand?
    • What do you think their day is going to be like?

  3. Now have students start writing their “day in the life” story. The length of their writing should be based on students’ abilities. Make sure they give this character a name. Ask them to give as much details as possible based on what they see in the collage and their knowledge of Pittsburgh labor history. When students finish have them share out their answers.