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

Grades/Level: Upper Elementary (3–5)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts
Time Required: 3–5–Part Lesson
Four 30–45-minute class periods
Author: Alda Pitt, Third Grade Teacher
Tulsa Street Elementary School, Los Angeles Unified School District

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Lesson Overview

Two Rich Princesses / Mazariego

Students will examine the details and color in an 1821 painting by Jacques-Louis David depicting two sisters who are exiled princesses. Students will read a tale about the Brothers Grimm, who were writing fairy tales during the same time period that these sisters were exiled. Students will then write and illustrate a fairy tale inspired by the painting.

Learning Objectives

Students should be able to:
• observe and describe the details depicted in a painting, including the setting and the clothing worn by the sitters.
• identify and describe colors used in a work of art.
• write an original fairy tale inspired by a painting.
• draw characters and a setting to illustrate their own fairy tales, using primary colors and one neutral color.


• Image of The Sisters Zénaïde and Charlotte Bonaparte by Jacques-Louis David
• SRA's Open Court Reading third grade anthology
• Writing paper
• Pencils
• White construction paper or drawing paper
• Red, yellow, blue, and white water-soluble paints (i.e., acrylic, watercolor, or tempera paints)
• Paint brushes
• Small paper cups for holding paint
• Paper plates for mixing paints

Lesson Steps

1. View and discuss Jacques-Louis David's painting The Sisters Zénaïde and Charlotte Bonaparte. Use the Thirty-Second Look activity to guide the discussion and encourage visual recall. After students have viewed the work for 30 seconds, take down the reproduction of the image (or turn off the projector) and ask students to describe one aspect of the painting that they remembered. Encourage students to describe this aspect in as many details as they can remember. Prompt them with specific questions, such as:
• What do you remember about the people in the painting?
• What do you remember about the sitters' clothing?
• What do you remember about the setting?
• What else did you see?

2. Chart students' responses on the board.

3. After discussing students' initial responses, revisit the painting. Tell students they will look at the artwork more closely for a longer period of time. Ask the following questions and add students' responses to the chart on the board:
• What can you add to your descriptions of the people in the picture?
• What else do you notice about their clothing and accessories? What can the clothing and accessories tell you about the people?
• How would you describe the setting? Where do you think the figures are sitting? How do you know?
• What are the figures doing? What do you think their relationship is? (Zénaïde, right, and her sister Charlotte, left, sit closely together on a sofa and read a letter.)
• Who do you think the letter is from?

4. Ask students to think about how much longer they spent looking at the artwork the second time. Did they spend enough time looking at the painting the first time? Ask students if discussing and comparing observations with their classmates helped them understand the artwork better.

5. Share the following background information about the painting:

The sisters Zénaïde and Charlotte were the nieces of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, who ruled France from 1799 to 1814. In the painting, the sisters are reading a letter from their father Joseph Bonaparte, who was living in exile in the United States after Napoleon's fall from power. When someone is living in exile, this means that he or she was expelled from their home country. In the painting, the exiled princesses were living in Brussels, Belgium. They are both wearing tiaras and are sitting on a red velvet couch embroidered with golden bees—the symbol of the Bonaparte family.

6. Explain to students that the sisters were exiled in the same time period when the Brothers Grimm were collecting and writing stories. Read "A Tale of the Brothers Grimm" from SRA's Open Court Reading third grade anthology.

7. Tell students that brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm wrote fairy tales. Explain some of the characteristics of most fairy tales:
• set in the past
• involve magical, supernatural, or make-believe elements and characters
• include both good and evil characters
• teach a lesson
• have happy endings, in which a conflict or problem is resolved

8. Instruct students to work with a partner to brainstorm several different ideas for an original fairy tale inspired by the painting. Have each student choose one idea that they will develop in their own original fairy tale. Instruct students to use the sisters in the painting as main characters in thier fairy tale. Tell them to use their imaginations to think of a problem that the sisters could face. They may wish to speculate about what is written in the letter as a jumping off point. Remind them that in fairy tales, the problem is resolved by the end of the story.

9. Allow time for each student to write his or her own version of a fairy tale inspired by the painting. Tell students that they should use details to describe the characters and setting in their stories. They should also include at least two of the characteristics of a fairy tale discussed in Step 7.

When students have completed drafts, have each show his or her draft to a partner. Tell students to check their partner's work to make sure he or she has described the characters and setting with details, and that the stories also have at least two characteristics of fairy tales. After receiving feedback from their partners, students should revise their drafts and complete a final draft.

10. Return to the David painting to discuss the art element of color. Use the following prompts:
• Look at the colors—which one did you see first?
• List all the colors you see in the painting. Which colors are brightest?
• Which colors are the darkest?
• Where do you see gold in the painting?
• Where do you see red in the painting? Blue?

11. Point out that David uses primary colors in his painting—red, yellow, and blue. He also uses a neutral earth color in the background of the painting. Because the main characters in the story are painted with primary colors, they stand out against the neutral color in the background. As a result, the viewer's eyes are drawn to the brightest parts of the painting, which tell the most important parts of the story. Also point out that David uses a range of reds on different parts of the painting. For example, red is used on the blanket, in Zénaïde's tiara and shawl, and on the sofa.

12. Pass out pencils and white paper to students. Instruct students to choose the most exciting scene from their own fairy tale and illustrate it.

13. After students have finished drawing their illustrations, pass out cups of paint, brushes, and paper plates. Instruct them to use their paper plates to mix equal parts of yellow and white with a little bit of red to create a neutral color. Tell them to include this neutral color in the background of their artwork and use primary colors on the areas of their illustration that tell the most important parts of the story (i.e., the main characters).

14. Divide students into small groups of four to five students. Each student will tell his or her own story to the small group. Students should practice using different voices for different characters by altering the pitch, diction, and tempo of their voice. Encourage students to have fun telling stories to their peers. After each student has rehearsed their stories in small groups, students can recite their stories to the whole class while holding up their illustrations.

The Sisters Zénaïde and Charlotte Bonaparte  / David
The Sisters Zénaïde and Charlotte
Jacques-Louis David, 1821


Assess students' drawings based on whether they have illustrated an exciting scene from their fairy tales using primary colors and one netural color.

Assess students' narratives based on whether they include a description of the characters and setting. Narratives should also have at least two characteristics of fairy tales.

Oral presentations should be assessed based on the students' use of different voices for different characters in their stories.

Standards Addressed

Visual Arts Standards for California Public Schools
Grade 3

1.0 Artistic Perception
Analyze Art Elements and Principles of Design
1.5 Identify and describe elements of art in works of art, emphasizing line, color, shape/form, texture, space, and value.

2.0 Creative Expression
Skills, Processes, Materials, and Tools
2.2 Mix and apply tempera paints to create tints, shades, and neutral colors.

5.0 Connections, Relationships, Applications
Visual Literacy
5.3 Look at images in figurative works of art and predict what might happen next, telling what clues in the work support their ideas.

Language Arts Standards for California Public Schools
Grade 3

1.1 Create a single paragraph—develop a topic sentence including simple supporting facts and details.

Writing Applications
2.1 Write a narrative. (Provide context within which action takes place and include well-chosen details to develop a plot.)
2.2 Write descriptions that use concrete sensory details to present and support unified impressions of people, places, things, or experiences.

Speaking Applications
2.2 Plan and present dramatic interpretations of experiences, stories, poems, or plays with clear diction, pitch, tempo, and tone.

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