Toolbox: From the Field

Integrating Literacy into the Arts

Integrating Literacy into the Arts
A close-up of the mosaic. The individual tiles are each a work of their own. Coalition for Hispanic Family Services

The Coalition for Hispanic Family Services Arts and Literacy After School and Summer Program builds literacy in the widest sense through visual arts, music, theater, dance, photo/video, yoga, and martial arts projects. The goals of our literacy focus are to increase children and youth’s critical thinking as well as build new vocabulary and skills.

We use an intensive model in which elementary school students work on a project every day after school for 6 weeks. Older students meet twice a week for 10 weeks to complete their projects. Students may read and use literature for inspiration, write down ideas, write critiques of their work and prepare a brochure for final performances that are shared with the community.

Integrating Literacy into the Arts

Coalition for Hispanic Family Services

A mosaic of interweaving dragons made from the children’s tiles. Each tile in itself is a work of art, depicting an animal.

This is a permanent mosaic installed in 2003 at Maria Hernandez Park in Bushwick Brooklyn. It covers the base of the stage on which our children perform in our Annual Children’s Arts Festival. Staff members Sara Woolley, Monica Aranibar and I developed the project using tiles made from scratch by our children. The unifying composition is of two intertwining dragons whose scales are made from the children’s tiles. Each tile is a piece of work in itself — imaginary composite creatures that the children created by choosing elements from different animals. Before they made their tiles, the children researched different animals, wrote about them, and then drew their imaginary creature.

Integrating Literacy into the Arts

Coalition for Hispanic Family Services

A close-up of the mosaic. The individual tiles are each a work of their own.

Our teaching artists develop lesson plans for projects that initially inspire and interest them. When they are really successful, the students take the project in a new direction, and the teacher finds new meaning and inspiration. We try to keep it interesting for staff and students alike by developing new projects every session. While teaching artists have a lot of freedom to develop new ideas, they use a lesson plan structure that helps them think about how to incorporate critical thinking, vocabulary, and skills building into the arts activities.

Laura Paris co-founded the award winning Arts and Literacy Program for the Coalition for Hispanic Family Services in 1993 and is the Associate Executive Director of Youth Development for the agency.  She is a proponent of arts educators working in, and cross-pollinating, many fields. She models this as a sculptor, painter, projectionist, and installation artist.  For more information, contact


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