American Folk Art Lesson Plan

Instructor: Heather Jenkins

Heather has a bachelor's degree in elementary education and a master's degree in special education. She was a public school teacher and administrator for 11 years.

This lesson introduces students to the history of American folk art. An art and writing activity is included for students to create found object folk art to show their perspective of American life.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of the lesson, students will be able to:

  • identify and describe the characteristics of American folk art
  • identify different types of American folk art and the materials used to make them
  • summarize the debate over the definition of folk art


1.5-2 hours


  • Quilt
  • Art supplies (scissors, glue, colored pencils, paint, markers, etc.)
  • Various objects (cereal boxes, postcards, newspaper, fabric scraps, plastic utensils, yarn, etc.)
  • Index cards

Curriculum Standards


Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.


Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.


  • Hold up a quilt and ask the class to identify it and its purpose. Tell the class that in some circumstances, everyday items, like quilts, can be considered works of art.
  • Review the lesson American Folk Art History, pausing at the 'Debates over the term folk art' section.
  • Have students discuss the following questions:
    • What makes something American folk art?
    • How are American folk artists different from artists who may create other types of fine art?
  • Divide the class into small groups, and assign each group one of the examples of folk art found in the lesson--Plantation Dance, Master Burnham, and Bird of Paradise. Have each group discuss the art work and describe why it is considered folk art. Have groups share their reasoning with the class.
  • Finish reviewing the lesson, and have students discuss the following questions:
    • Why is there disagreement over the definition of folk art?
    • How is 'outsider' or 'visionary' art viewed as different from folk art?
    • Which is a better term to encompass the art we discussed today: 'folk art' or 'self-taught?' Why do you feel this way?
  • Have students complete the lesson quiz.

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