American Teacher Sparks Creativity in Fifth-Graders

Creative people are often asked, “What inspires you?” The answer can be something as mundane as a bumblebee’s flight or as profound as the questions that keep a person awake at night. Inspiration comes from every facet of our lives—experiences, beliefs, nature, technology, even dreams—and fuels our creative output. Some people write, others draw, some make music, take pictures, dance, or perform. There are countless ways humans express themselves creatively. Even cooking can be a creative outlet.

This year, the elementary school’s humanities curriculum for fifth-graders (planned and taught by American lector Benjamin Chandler) was redesigned to discuss the source of inspiration in a unit called “Great Creators.” Various writers, artists, and musicians were presented and linked by their sources of inspiration. For example, nature provided inspiration for artist John James Audubon, composer Antonio Vivaldi, and poet Robert Frost, so the three were studied together.

Sometimes the creator studied was a household name, like Johann Sebastian Bach. Other times it was more obscure, such as Spanish surrealist painter Remedios Varo. Although familiar names can grab attention, sometimes it’s the unknown or forgotten name whose work piques people’s interest or touches their heart. As Mr. Chandler remarked, “Part of the pleasure in teaching the class was seeing which artists, writers, and musicians resonated with which student. A touching moment I won’t forget was when one student was so taken by the artist we studied, that she hugged me in thanks as she went out the door.”

Lessons focused on the creators’ work, covering brief biographies before diving into images of paintings, original and abridged texts, and samples of music, always considering the source of the work’s inspiration.

Then it was the students’ turn to create. They described the seasons according to Vivaldi’s music, drew the sea monster from Ray Bradbury’s “The Fog Horn,” argued for or against some of Andy Warhol’s droll quotes, and did a reading of the famed Robert Frost poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” before their classmates.

One lesson centered on Dutch master painter Rembrandt, who was inspired by his Christian faith for many of his works of art. Students learned a bit about the artist, looking at and discussing some of his more famous paintings, such as The Night Watch or The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (the latter of which students were excited to recognize from their history book). Then they dived into Rembrandt’s religious works, featuring Christ raising Lazarus, the words written on the wall at Belshazzar’s feast, the prophet Jeremiah in deep thought, and the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Next, it was the students’ turn to make the art, but they wouldn’t use paint and pencils. Instead, they performed tableaus of the paintings they saw. Posing as the figures in Rembrandt’s paintings, the students had to study the piece to make sure their pose matched. They essentially became the art. They didn’t just see the picture with their eyes, but recreated it with their bodies, their limbs and faces becoming the canvas. As each image came to life—usually with a fair amount of giggles—the students not in the scene whipped out their phones to take pictures of their posing classmates. The moment was captured to be shared later with family and friends, letting the lesson move beyond the classroom, and perhaps inspiring someone new along the way.


About Benjamin Chandler
Benjamin Chandler is an American who has been living in Slovakia since 2011, working at the Center for Christian Education in Martin, teaching English and visual arts. He has an MFA from Columbia College Chicago.

…see also His Book The Way You Call Into the Mountains

Native-English speakers with teaching experience in Christian schools—like Benjamin Chandler, who taught at Grace Lutheran School in River Forest, Ill., before joining the Lutheran Academy faculty in 2011—offer an added dimension to our students’ learning experience as well as to the Lutheran Academy staff. Please consider a gift to the English-Speaking Teachers Fund to assure the continued support of talented individuals like Benjamin. For more information or to make a gift, contact CCE’s Director of Development Blythe Barreto at
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One Response to American Teacher Sparks Creativity in Fifth-Graders

  1. Dawn Shipman says:

    Wonderful! I wish I’d had the opportunity to experience such an amazing class when I was in 5th grade–or any grade, actually! Great job, Mr. Chandler!

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