It’s the Beat

Lesson Plan


Students will be exposed to art, music, and literature of the Beat Generation. They will follow this style of writing by writing daily in journals about their thoughts. Students will participate in a “poetry café”, sharing poetry created from their journal writing.

Intended Age Group

Secondary (grades 6-12)

Length of Lesson

Two 60 minute lessons

Standards Area

Language Arts


Students will be able to:

  • Learn about the music, art, and writing styles of the Beat Generation;
  • Write in a journal every day for three weeks about their daily thoughts;
  • Use their journal entries to develop a personal poem; and
  • Participate in a “poetry café” performance.


  1. Introduce the art, music, and writings of the Beat Generation by showing Alton Kelley and Stanley Mouse's Skull and Roses/ Grateful Dead poster and YouTube videos "The Beat Generation-Footloose in Greenwich village" and "Greatful Dead - I Know You Rider".
  2. Introduce the writings of Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey, and Allen Ginsberg, who wrote about the promise and betrayal of American democracy.
  3. Homework: Ask students to write free verse about their everyday experiences for three weeks. Encourage them to think about the writing styles of the authors you introduced. This will help them explore new styles of writing and encourage them to experiment with how they express themselves.
  4. In class, encourage students to study the poster and challenge them to write about the characteristics and elements of the Skull and Roses/Grateful Dead poster and the feelings communicated by it. Instruct them to express in poetic verse or poetic words what they feel when they look at the poster. Discuss why they made the creative decisions they did as a result of what they saw.
  5. Play the YouTube videos of poetry readings to inspire students to turn their journal writings into poems. Allow time for students to practice poetry reading with a partner and prepare for a class performance.
  6. Allow volunteers to participate in a "poetry cafe" by sharing their poems with just the class or with parents as well. Try these websites for tips on how to organize a poetry cafe in your classroom: Scholastic: Open a Poetry Cafe or 2nd Grade Poetry Cafe.


  • One journal for each student
  • Examples of writing from Ken Kesey (Try One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, 1962), Allen Ginsberg (Try Howl and Other Poems, 1956) and Jack Kerouac (Try On The Road, 1951 or Dharma Burns, 1958)
  • YouTube video "The Beat Generation-Footloose in Greenwich village"
  • YouTube video "Greatful Dead - I Know You Rider."
  • Space for poetry cafe
  • One color copy of the image for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen


CO Standards

  • Visual Arts
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening
    • Research and Reasoning
    • Writing and Composition
    • Reading for All Purposes

21st Century Skills

  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction

About the Art

Skull and Roses/Grateful Dead, Oxford Circle, Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco

Skull and Roses/Grateful Dead, Oxford Circle, Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco


Alton Kelley and Stanley Mouse, United States

Who Made It?

This poster was made through the collaborative efforts of two artists—Stanley “Mouse” Miller and Alton Kelley. Mouse was raised in Detroit and got his start designing graphics for hot rods and motorcycles. He left Detroit in 1965, at the age of 25, and headed to California. He arrived in San Francisco on the evening of the Trips Festival, a three-day multimedia event that set the stage for later dance concerts. It was the handbill for this event that led to Mouse’s interest in poster art: “I was really turned on by that lettering and I found out later that Wes Wilson had done it. That’s what really inspired me to start doing posters.”

After arriving in California, Mouse met Alton Kelley and the two came together to form Mouse Studios. Kelley had begun his artistic career drawing posters and handbills for dance parties put on by the Family Dog commune, a group of hippies living in San Francisco. While Mouse was responsible for lettering and drawing, Kelley usually chose the image they would use and laid out the design. At their studio, Mouse and Kelley often hosted poster-making “jams” where groups of artists gathered together and worked on posters. “It was never about competition with the other artists so much as it was about incentive,” said Kelley. “When Mouse and I saw a poster we thought was really far out, we’d say, ‘Now we’ve gotta do one that good.’”

What Inspired It?

Psychedelic posters were originally created as advertisements for dance concerts that took place in San Francisco from 1965 to 1971. The term “psychedelic” comes from the Greek psyche (mind) and deloun (make visible or reveal), and refers to the mind-altering effects of LSD, a hallucinogenic drug that was frequently used at these events. Designs for concert posters were a visual reflection of the experiences one might have at a dance concert. Loud music, swaying crowds, and colorful light shows all contributed to a multi-sensory event.

Two main dance halls supported the development of the psychedelic poster—the Fillmore Auditorium, owned by concert producer Bill Graham, and the Avalon Ballroom, run by Chet Helms under the name Family Dog Productions. Over the course of five years, the two men commissioned around 500 posters. Mouse and Kelley started out designing a new poster every week for the Avalon, and by the end of their first year they had also created 26 posters for the Fillmore. “There was no time to think about what we were doing. It was a furious time, but I think most great art is created in a furious moment,” said Mouse.

The two artists often worked with contemporary images and themes that they found in advertisements and on product labels, like the wrapper from the popular Abba Zabba candy bar. They also searched for images in art books and other illustrated texts from the past. The skeleton and roses on this iconic poster came from a 19th century illustration in the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, a book of 11th century Persian poems the artists discovered in the public library. Mouse and Kelley liked all of their posters to be different: “I always tried to keep my style open,” said Mouse. “That way I could do whatever I wanted and not be pigeonholed.”


Skeleton Image
Skeleton Image

Mouse and Kelley found a black and white version of this skeleton and roses image while digging through library books. “We were fishing in the past, bringing up old stuff that should be seen again.” The artists added color and graphic lettering, and the image eventually became the emblem for the Grateful Dead. “Kelley had the unique ability to translate the music being played into these amazing images that capture the spirit of who we were and what the music was all about,” said Mickey Hart, drummer for the Grateful Dead.

Family Dog Logo
Family Dog Logo

Family Dog Productions was founded by Chet Helms and was used to promote concerts at the Avalon Ballroom. For their logo, Helms instructed poster-artist Wes Wilson to use an image of a Native American fur trader from the American Heritage Book of Indians. The hippies associated many ideas they admired, such as closeness to nature and communal living, with American Indian cultures. (Fun tip: try to decipher the word “THE” behind the logo.)


Mouse’s skill at lettering comes from his experience designing hot rod graphics. He spent time painting pinstripes, flames, and letters onto old cars.


Notice the way that the artists created movement by drawing a ribbon twisting around a pole. They layered on black ink to create folds in the fabric so that the ribbon appears to be three-dimensional.


Stanley Miller was given the nickname “Mouse” in high school after filling numerous sketchbook pages with drawings of cartoon mice. Look for Mouse’s characteristic signature at the bottom of the poster.

Funding for lesson plans provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.