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Museum Home Education Search Lesson Plans All Curricula Art & Language Arts: Ideas for the Classroom Lesson Plans Puzzle Mystery
Puzzle Mystery

Grades/Level: Upper Elementary (3–5)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts
Time Required: 2–Part Lesson
2 one-hour sessions
Author: Dawn Kelly, 4th and 5th Grade Teacher, Bret Harte Elementary School, Burbank Unified School District

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Lesson Overview

Your students will have fun trying to solve a mystery in this lesson. Students are given a small detail of a painting, which they sketch and give a title. Students share their titles and try to determine the theme and subject of the full painting based on these clues. At the end of class the students put their details together like a puzzle to create a reproduction of the painting.

Learning Objectives

Students should be able to:
• describe in writing the art elements they see in a painting (line, color, shape, mood, imagery).
• sketch and color a small detail from a painting.
• write a title that describes the mood and imagery in a sketch.
• determine the character and theme of a work from written and verbal descriptions.


• Small poster (11 x 14 in.) of The Entry of the Animals into Noah's Ark cut into 30 rectangles
Large poster of The Entry of the Animals into Noah's Ark, available online from the Getty bookstore
• Image of The Return from War
• Art paper cut into rectangles proportionate to small rectangles of the poster
On Noah's Ark by Jan Brett, Putnam Juvenile, 2003
Information about Jan Brueghel
• Pencils, colored pencils, and writing paper

Lesson Steps

1. Show students only a small corner of the image of The Return from War and elicit descriptions from them about the image, including comments on color, line, shape, mood, as well as imagery. Use prompting questions, such as: What colors do you see? Are they repeated? Where? Are they warm or cool colors? Do the colors affect the mood of the painting? What lines or kinds of line do you see? Where do they start and stop? Are they thick, thin, horizontal, vertical, straight, wavy, curved? What kind of shapes do you see? Do you see positive and negative space? Where? Can you recognize anything in the picture? Is this painting realistic or abstract? Chart the adjectives that come from the discussion.

2. Tell students that they will work independently and then as a class to solve a mystery. Tell them that in the beginning they absolutely must not look at or discuss the pieces of the puzzle that they or their neighbors have. Hand out the small cut-up poster pieces.

3. Ask students to write a description of what they see in their puzzle piece, referring them to the discussion of The Return from War: Mars Disarmed by Venus to get ideas for vocabulary words. Encourage descriptive writing skills and the use of adjectives.

4. Ask students to use a pencil to sketch the lines and shapes they see on their puzzle piece. After they sketch the basic outline with pencil, have them use colored pencils to complete their artwork.

5. Have each student give his or her picture a brief title. Students then share their titles with the class one at a time. When all titles have been read, students try to determine what the larger "mystery" painting is. What might be the theme or subject? Give students the title of the painting at the end of this discussion. Ask a volunteer to explain the story of Noah's Ark.

6. Show students the large poster of The Entry of the Animals into Noah's Ark and discuss the image in the same manner that The Return from War was discussed. Begin by asking students what they notice first in the painting. What colors do they see? What lines or kinds of line do you see? What kind of shapes do you see? Where do you see positive and negative space? What objects do you recognize in the picture? Are there any you don't recognize? Is this painting realistic or abstract?
Discuss the story of Noah's Ark and its symbolism within Christian cultures. Where do they see the use of symbolism? Explain that the artist came from a Christian culture and would have been very familiar with this story. Ask students whether the story of Noah's Ark is familiar to the class.

7. Read On Noah's Ark by Jan Brett. Activate students' background knowledge by asking what they think it would be like to be on board the ark with all the animals. In what time period do they think the story takes place? Ask students to look at the girl on the cover of the book. Would they like to be in her place? Why or why not? After reading the story, ask students if this story matches the images in the painting. How does the story affect the way they look at the painting? Ask students to identify what point in the story the scene in the painting takes place.

8. Put students' completed sketches together like a puzzle, referring to the painting, and hang the completed puzzle in the classroom. Ask them to give a title to their artwork. If desired, create a wall label with the title, date, and medium (graphite and colored pencil on paper) of the artwork.

Noah's Ark / Brueghel
The Entry of the Animals into Noah's Ark, Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1613

Standards Addressed

Visual Arts Standards for California Public Schools
Grade 3

Artistic Perception
1.5 Identify and describe elements of art in works of art emphasizing line, color, shape, texture, space, and value.

Creative Expression
2.3 Paint or draw a landscape, seascape, or cityscape that shows the illusion of space.

Grade 4
Artistic Perception
1.2 Describe how negative and positive shapes are used in a chosen artwork.
1.5 Describe and analyze the elements of art (color, shape, line, texture, space, and value) emphasizing form, as they are used in works of art and found in the environment.

Historical and Cultural Context
3.2 Identify and discuss the content of artworks of the past and present, focusing on the different cultures that have contributed to Californias history and art heritage.

Grade 5
Aesthetic Valuing
4.1 Identify how selected principles of design are used in a work of art and how they contribute to their personal responses to the work and its evaluation.

Language Arts Standards for California Public Schools
Grade 3

Listening and Speaking
1.3 Respond to questions with appropriate elaboration.
1.7 Use clear and specific vocabulary to communicate ideas and establish tone.

Grade 4
Reading Comprehension
2.3 Make and confirm predictions about text by using prior knowledge and ideas presented in the text itself, including illustrations, titles, topic sentences, important words, and foreshadowing clues.

Listening and Speaking
1.1 Ask thoughtful questions and respond to relevant questions with appropriate elaboration in oral settings.
1.8 Use details, examples, anecdotes, or experiences to explain or clarify information.

Grade 5
Reading Comprehension
2.5 Distinguish facts, supported inferences, and opinions in text.

Literary Response and Analysis
3.4 Understand that theme refers to the meaning or moral of a selection and recognize themes in sample works.
3.6 Evaluate the meaning of archetypal patterns and symbols that are found in myth and tradition by using literature from different eras and cultures.

Listening and Speaking
1.1 Ask questions that seek information not already discussed.
1.2 Make inferences or draw conclusions based on oral report.
1.5 Clarify and support spoken ideas with evidence and examples.

"This lesson was met with a lot of enthusiasm by students, who loved 'solving the mystery.' And when the work is complete, the students have a great deal of ownership and a real relationship with the painting The Entry of the Animals into Noah's Ark. It was also a great lesson for honing the use of art elements vocabulary and the use of descriptive language. This was fun!" —Dawn Kelly

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