Singing a Song of Community

3, 4, 5
The book When Marian Sang inspires listeners about Marian Anderson's historic performance at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 and  her struggles as an African American artist. They learn through experience how the concept of serial reciprocity influences the common good.
PrintOne Thirty to Forty-Five Minute Class Period

The learner will:

  • identify the relationship between the community and the artist.
  • identify the value of art, music and drama to the common good.
  • explain why arts in the community are often supported by philanthropy.
  • identify instances of serial reciprocity in When Marian Sang and in their own experiences.

Reflection plays a very important role in promoting student learning. The following suggested activities are ways to help students reflect on their learning after they have participated in a service event.  Choose one or more of the activities most appropriate to the service event and your students.

ACTIVITY ONE: Have each student write a paragraph about his or her personal experience using one of these prompt analogies:

This service project was:
Like baking a cake, because…
Like hugging a friend, because…a
Like reading a good book, because…
Like running a race, because
Like planting a flower, because

ACTIVITY TWO: Holding one end of the yarn, toss the yarn ball to a student and have that student use one word or phrase, describe/summarize his or her personal experience.  After the student has responded, have that student hold the end of the yarn and toss the yarn ball to another student--continuing to unravel the yarn ball-- repeating the process until everyone is part of the web created by the yarn.  Passing is permissible. (Note: Point out to the students that the web represents the interconnectedness of people and their experiences.)  If time permits, have the students “retrace” the yarn ball tosses.  This time the student with the yarn ball rewinds the yarn onto the ball while sharing what he or she feels might be the effects of the event or what more they would like to do before tossing it back to the student who originally tossed it to him/her. Continue this process until the yarn ball is back in your hands.

ACTIVITY THREE: Collect a bag of inexpensive small toys.  (These could be borrowed from a Kindergarten classroom.)  Place these toys in a large brown bag.  Assign students to groups of four or five.  Have a member of each group select from the bag, without looking at any of the toys.  Have each group explain to the other groups how this toy might represent what they did, how they felt, or suggest in some way what impact they might have had as a result of the project. Allow the groups time to meet and brainstorm together for a few minutes before making their presentation.

ACTIVITY FOUR: Have the class determine how much money they “saved” others by offering their volunteer service(s) or donations during this event. To calculate the volunteer services amount, have each student identify the number of hours they were involved in the activity and multiply this number by the minimum wage for your State. (The Federal minimum wage can also be used which is approximately $7.00 per hour.) To calculate the donations amount, have the students count the total amount of money raised during the fundraiser. Celebrate the grand total savings to others that the students have provided during this event.

  • International Child Art Foundation. accessed 1.21.2011

  • When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan, Scholastic Press, ISBN 0439269679.


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Ask students to count how many people are in the classroom. Estimate how many people it would take to completely fill the classroom. How many classrooms would it take to have one hundred people? How many classrooms for one thousand people? How many classrooms would it take to have a crowd of 75,000 people? (As a point of reference, Giants Stadium seats 76,000 people.) Have students reflect on what it would feel like to stand in front of a crowd of 75,000 people. Then imagine having to sing in front of such a crowd. Ask students how they might prepare themselves to sing in front of a crowd of that size. What would they do? How would they prepare themselves? Where would you go if that many people wanted to hear you sing?

  2. Tell students to listen while you read When Marian Sang. Ask them specifically to listen to find out how she prepared to sing in front of 75,000 people, who helped her, where she was when she sang for so many people and what happened because of her performance.

  3. After reading the story, ask students where Marian Anderson was when she sang for 75,000 people. (She sang in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1930.) Why did she sing there? (The people at Howard University, who had invited her to sing, couldn’t find a venue that would allow her to perform because of policies that only permitted white performers.) What was the name of the place that wouldn’t allow her to perform? (Constitution Hall in Washington D.C.) How many people could Constitution Hall hold? (4,000)

  4. Ask students how she prepared for her performance. (She began by singing in her church choir and then in other choirs in the community. She began taking singing lessons when she was eighteen, but wasn’t able to enroll in the music school she wanted to attend because of prejudice. She kept performing and finally was able to take lessons with a master teacher. Finally she went to Europe so that she could have the opportunities she needed to grow as a singer.)

  5. Ask students who helped her prepare for her performance. (Her parents encouraged her, the members of her church helped pay for her singing lessons, choir directors and teachers helped her learn how to sing.)

  6. Who else helped make it possible for Marian to sing at the Lincoln Memorial? (Her manager, Sol Hurok, Eleanor Roosevelt, the first lady of the United States, fans wrote letters to protest, teachers marched in front of the Washington, D.C. Board of Education, President Roosevelt approved having a concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.)

  7. Ask students to infer what may have happened because Marian Anderson sang at the Lincoln Memorial. (Answers may include the following: She continued to grow as a musician and had greater opportunities to perform. Other black musicians had improved opportunities to improve as musicians, perform and earn a living through their art. People of all races knew more about different kinds of music. The United States became a fairer, freer, and more just place to live.)

  8. Introduce the term serial reciprocity, if students are unfamiliar with the term. (Serial reciprocity is the process that happens when one person gives time, talent or treasure to another, and thus causes a continual chain of giving to occur in a linear - rather than circular - pattern.)

  9. Ask students to identify instances of serial reciprocity in their lives. (Possible answers might include “I lent Sarah my crayons. She made a card to send to the patients in the Veterans Administration Hospital. I’ll bet the person who received the card was really happy to know that someone was thinking of him.” or “Uncle Ron bought a candy bar from me during the school candy sale. He gave me the candy bar, but I decided to give it to the new student in our class as a welcome gift. She shared it with three other kids at lunch.”)

  10. Divide the class into small groups. As a group they are to think of a chain of events that demonstrate serial reciprocity and develop a skit that demonstrates their understanding of the concept. (Teachers need to consider the amount of guidance and restriction that their class may require in thinking of the kinds of events they may include in their skits.) Provide a limited amount of time for the task (10 – 15 minutes). At the end of the time, have groups share their work by performing their skits for the rest of the class or perhaps another classroom.

  11. After all groups have shared, ask for volunteers to define serial reciprocity.

  12. Ask students to identify one action they could take during the next day that might result in serial reciprocity.

Cross Curriculum 

Art from the heart: Celebrate students artistic talents and find a way to share these talents with others. Follow your students’ voices to find an organization or group of people who would appreciate a poem, greeting card, or homemade piece of art to brighten their day or let them know someone cares. This may be soldiers, veterans, elderly people in a retirement home, or a local child with a serious illness.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.1 Define philanthropy as the giving and sharing of time, talent, or treasure intended for the common good.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark E.2 Discuss the importance of respect for others.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.1 Describe one reason why a person might give or volunteer.
      2. Benchmark E.4 Give an example of how citizens act for the common good.