Creativity in the Classroom – Elementary Approaches

Elementary Approaches

The lessons in this section are geared to grades 4-6. Using your judgment as a teacher, you can of course tailor the lessons to fit the needs of your students. Among the things to consider are your students’ backgrounds, whether you come to them as a music or art specialist teacher or classroom teacher; whether you are addressing music composition, creative writing, or some other creative work; and the amount of similar instruction you already use in your school. In addition, please feel free adapt them for younger students if, in your professional judgment, the students are ready for these concepts. In addition to the lesson plans provided here, if your school has a code of conduct, set of student rights and responsibilities, or other similar document that is introduced to the students during the year, consider presenting the ideas of creative work, intellectual property, and also plagiarism in the context of that document. For example, if your school’s code for students includes a line such as, “All our students respect the property of others,” you have an opportunity to make the points that this respect should show up with regard to ideas as well as to backpacks and calculators. The code of conduct document in this section is one example of a simple document that you can use for this purpose. You will also find a draft letter to parents that you may wish to send home with students, informing parents of the way that their children’s school experience contains rich, creative activity and about the way the children are being taught about ethical practices. Finally, you will find answers to a number of Frequently Asked Questions regarding copyright and a set of links to other Web-based copyright resources. The essential thing that you need to do as a teacher is to take three simple steps with your students:

  1. Help them understand that they do valuable, creative work in school and in their lives.
  2. Encourage them to take pride in ownership of their creative work by putting the “c-in-a-circle,” the date, and their name on the work.
  3. Let them know that, as members of a creative community – one that exists within and beyond the school community — they need to behave according to the ethics of that community by respecting the intellectual property rights of others.

If you do that, you’ll be doing the students, the school, and society a great service. Elementary School

Code of Conduct

Click here for a PDF of the Elementary School Code of Conduct. If you experience problems viewing the PDF files, or a blank screen comes up, try right-clicking on the link and select “Save Target As…” to save the file to your hard drive before opening it. You may need to upgrade to the latest version of Acrobat.

Letter to Parents [sample]

Dear Parents: During the school year, your child will experience a curriculum that will help him or her grow in many ways. In addition to developing basic skills and knowledge in areas including reading and math, we will be doing schoolwork that includes creative work. This is an essential part of your child’s education because success in our society depends increasingly on the ability to think clearly and creatively – and our school plays an essential role in preparing children for that society. As your child completes this exciting act of creating work in school, we will be asking him or her to mark the work with the copyright symbol, name, and date. We hope that this simple act will help all our students take pride in their productivity and to understand that they and their friends are members of a creative community that takes in our school, our nation, and the world beyond. To reinforce this idea of a creative community and the ethical issues that go with respecting each others’ work, we will also be working with students to understand the basics of our nation’s system for protecting intellectual property. If you have any questions about this, please give us a call or visit the Web site of the “Creativity in the Classroom” project at This program has been developed by the National Association for Music Education with funds provided by the ASCAP foundation, working with input from the National School Boards Association, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the American Bar Association, and the United States Copyright Office. Thank you,

Elementary Lesson Module 1—When Is it Mine?


  • Students will be able to explain the basic idea of intellectual property
  • Students will be able to express their thoughts on the value of their own creative class work


  • Chalkboard
  • Pencils or pens
  • Student-created work, ready to hand in
  • Approximately 10 minutes of class time
  • “Congratulations for Being Creative” stickers (optional)


  1. After the students have completed a project that involves creative work, such as composing music, writing a poem or prose selection, developing artwork, or some other similar project, lead them in a brief discussion before they hand in the work. The discussion should follow this outline:
    1. Did everyone find that making something up like this was a challenge? Children will probably express that they had various levels of difficulty with the assignment, but almost all should agree that some work went into their productions.
    2. Did anyone use elements from other things they had heard (or seen, or experienced) in making up their project? a. The students may not recognize that they almost necessarily worked with some pre-existing elements. Ask for a volunteer to share work with the class and point out the great way that a given student work relates to important artworks. This way, the students can be brought to recognize and value their work as an extension of a cultural context.
    3. Does anyone think that at least a part of their project is really original? a. Students will quickly recognize new elements, but may need some help recognize that the novel arrangement of elements in a project is itself new thing worthy of value.
    4. According to the laws of our nation and laws around the world, when someone makes something that includes new things, they own it. So you each own the new elements of your projects. You can let everybody know that your work really is yours by putting a special sign on it: the “c-in-a-circle,” the year, and your name. Please do that now, just make certain that the sign is somewhere obvious. a. Students should be able to do this, especially if you write a sample of the “sign” on the chalkboard.
  2. Ask the students to hand in their work, and grade it as you normally would.
    1. As appropriate, add the following notation to your comments for each student: “Congratulations for Being Creative!” Stickers you can use for this purpose are available.
    2. When you hand back the work, tell the students that this kind of intellectual property is so important that the federal government keeps a huge register of copyrighted work. They really don’t have to register every creative thing they do in class or by themselves, but someday, students may have a composition or other work that they want to register with the government – because their creative work has real value. They can ask about what’s involved in registering copyright if they are interested. Answers for common copyright questions are in the Frequently Asked Questions file.
  3. Repeat this procedure (or elements of the procedure) each time your students hand in creative class work.

rs of Success

  • Students correctly supply the copyright symbol, date, and name on their work.
  • In a question added to a later oral or written quiz in the class, students are able to satisfactorily complete the statement, “So far in our class, I have created things including ___________________.”

Home Extension

  • Ask each student to take the creative work home, share it with their parents, and ask their parents to tell them about similar creative work they may have done in school. Have the students report, either orally or in writing, on what their parents said.

Elementary Lesson Module 2—How do creators make a living?


  • Students will describe how composers and other creative artists make a living


  • Songbooks, sheet music, recordings, or other published material listing the creator as the copyright holder (Note: Choose a work for which the composer, visual artist, screenwriter, or other creator is listed as the copyright holder.)
  • Chalkboard

Previous Knowledge and Experiences

  • Students have created original musical compositions, or other artistic work, either individually or in small groups. They have marked their works with the copyright symbol, the year, and the creator’s name, as previously learned.


  1. Ask students to find the name of the composer or other creator of a particular song or other artistic work that you display or distribute (see Materials). Help them find the copyright holder for the work. Explain that in books including works by more than one creator, often the names of the copyright holders (with their copyright notices) are grouped together in the front or back of the book; in some books, the copyright holder will be listed on the page with each individual song, visual representation, or other creative work.
  2. Ask students to suggest how the creator is paid for his or her work. Discuss with students why it is important for a composer or other creator to let others know that the work belongs to him or her by using the copyright symbol. Explain that the composer, for example, receives money from the publisher (party that issues a printed edition of a work) in return for permission to distribute the music to others; the composer or other creator may also be the publisher and distributor for the work.
  3. Have students brainstorm about other ways that composers or fine artists make a living. List their ideas on the chalkboard. For example: composers may also be arrangers, performers, conductors, or teachers; visual artists may work in different media (sculpting, painting, etc.) or in areas such as art therapy or teaching.

Indicators of Success

  • Students identify several ways in which a composer or other artist may make a living
  • Students describe the importance of using the copyright symbol

Classroom Extension

  • Using a song or other creative work for which a publishing company is listed as the copyright holder, discuss with students why the publisher, rather than the creator of the work, is the designated copyright holder. Explain that the creator may have designated the publisher as the copyright holder, in addition to having granted the publisher the publication rights. Have students notice that the composer or other creator’s name is listed with the work, even if the creator does not hold the copyright. Also, explain that usually the creator will receive additional money (royalties) from the publication of the work, even though the creator has transferred copyright to the publisher; this depending on the agreement that has been made between the creator and publisher.

Home extension

  • Ask students to have their parents help them look at copyright notices on sheet music, in books, or in other published works that they have in their home. Tell them to determine, in each case, whether the publisher or the creator holds the copyright for the work as a whole (for example, a complete book or songbook) and whether individual copyright notices are listed for materials within the work (for example, individual songs in a songbook, individual poems in a poetry collection, or individual paintings in an art book, or articles in newspapers or magazines).