Grades/Level: Upper Elementary (3–5)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts, History–Social Science
Time Required: Long–Term Unit
Approximately 10 40-minute sessions plus an optional field trip
Author: Carol Fischer, Teacher, Castlebay Lane Elementary School, Los Angeles Unified School District


Curriculum Home
Lesson Plans

Lesson Overview

Students explore the concept of a sacred place by looking at works of art representing sacred spaces, and studying the California missions. They explore perspective and point of view in both the visual and literary senses. Students create a project poster displaying photos, drawings, and journal writings that incorporate the major themes of California's missions, and use perspective and point of view both visually and in writing.

Learning Objectives

Students should be able to:
• identify perspective, the artist's point of view, and vanishing point in a work of art.
• use techniques of shading, overlapping, and single-point perspective to show depth in a drawing.
• create a point of view by using depth of field in a photograph.
• write clear, well-organized journal entries that reflect an understanding of the perspectives of both 18th-century California missionaries and natives.
• understand the history of the California missions and the multiple cultures that were involved in their development.


• cameras (one for every 4 students) and black-and-white film
• paper, poster board (railroad board), watercolor paper
• drawing tools (pencils, pens, charcoal, or pastels)
• video about the California missions that examines the various social, political, cultural, and economic aspects of mission life. (For example, The Missions, a Historical Heritage Across America, Get Smart Video.)
Sacred Places by Philemon Sturges, et. al. Putnam Publishing Group Juv, October 2000.
• selected Getty works of art listed below. Click on thumbnails for information and images.

Lesson Steps

1. Read the book Sacred Places by Philemon Sturges to the class to introduce the idea of a sacred place and show how artists depict sacred places.

2. Show students The Interior of St.Bavo, Haarlem by Pieter Jansz. Saenredam. Use it to discuss the terms perspective, vanishing point, and artist's point of view. You may want to use The Sacred Spaces of Pieter Saenredam exhibition presentation on the Getty Web site, which includes an interactive showing the vanishing point in St. Bavo.

3. Read about Saenredam and discuss the historical significance of his art. Make note of and review new vocabulary from this discussion.

4. Compare Saenredam's painting of St. Bavo with his drawing The Choir and North Ambulatory of the Church of Saint Bavo, Haarlem. Ask students how the artist's point of view is different in each image.

5. Show other works of art that represent various sacred spaces and discuss. Have students point out the vanishing point and the artist's point of view. Can photographs create the same sense of perspective or depth of field as a painting? How do the artists create a feeling of awe or sacredness? What do you see in this painting that makes you say this? How does an artist manipulate how you view their picture? How do the artists give a sense of height or distance? Use details from the painting to give evidence for your ideas.

6. Compare the photographs with the paintings. Discuss how photographers use lighting (back lighting vs. frontal or indirect lighting), choice of foreground or background objects, angle and height at which the camera is aimed, different lenses, types of film, and cropping.

7. Using art vocabulary and looking at Getty collection images, discuss how an artist can use overlapping, size, placement of objects on the page, detail, color, and lines to show perspective.

8. Students fold an 11-x-17-inch piece of paper to make six boxes and label each one for the techniques discussed in step #7. They then draw one design for each concept, based on examples they have already seen in other works of art, to illustrate each perspective technique. Discuss and show examples of one-, two-, and three-point perspective. Have students draw a simple one-point landscape using a line technique.

9. Engage students in a discussion about what constitutes a sacred place. Ask: What are some places you feel are sacred or give you the feeling Saenredam was trying to achieve in his painting, St. Bavo? If you were going to paint a picture or take a photograph that would show a sacred place what would you choose as your subject? What places in California could be subjects for your work of art?

10. Show a video that examines the points of view of 18th-century California missionaries and natives and explains the history of the California missions. Discuss the various social, political, cultural, and economic aspects of mission life. Discuss how perspective and point of view can refer to the way individuals perceive their social and physical surroundings. Discuss what the perspective/point of view of a missionary or native might have been about life in a California mission in the 18th century.

11. Have students write two journal entries that describe "a day in the life" of a California missionary and of a native Californian living at a mission, imagining their respective points of view. Journal entries should display an understanding of the points of view of the people who founded the missions—whose goals included expanding the influence of Spain as well as the Catholic Church—and those of the native people who comprised the work force for the missions, and whose way of life was changed forever.

12. Prepare students to take photos during a field trip to one of the California missions. Go outside in the schoolyard and have students practice looking through the camera viewfinder to see how a picture would change depending on where the photographer stands in relation to the subject. Practice looking at a subject from different perspectives (different heights, angles, and behind or through other things—plants, buildings, etc.). Have them try to take pictures that represent the respective points of view of a missionary and an Indian.

13. Visit a California mission. Divide the class into groups of four. Each group shares a camera and one roll of black-and-white film. An adult should accompany each group. Students explore the mission grounds in their groups and take pictures using techniques of point of view discussed and practiced in class. Each student should take six photos. Adults should keep a list of who took each shot.

14. After developing the film, students look at the pictures they took and evaluate whether or not they achieved the effect they were trying to get. Students pick two or three photographs for their final project. They can also experiment with cropping the pictures at this time. At least one photo should express a unique point of view of the mission. Another should have linear perspective in it. Photos should display an attempt to incorporate techniques discussed regarding perspective and effective use of depth of field, lighting, angles, height, foreground, etc.

15. Have students sketch one of their photographs in pencil, pastel, or charcoal. Drawings should incorporate techniques of perspective as learned in class.

16. Students assemble their finished projects, individually or with partners, on poster or railroad board.

Each finished project should have two finished copies of their journal (one each from a native and a missionary), two to three photos that show an attempt to incorporate techniques and subject matter discussed, and one drawing of a photograph that shows linear perspective. All items should be mounted neatly and arranged in an attractive manner.

St. Bavo / Saenredam
The Interior of St. Bavo, Haarlem, Pieter Jansz. Saenredam, 1628

Standards Addressed

Common Core Standards for English Language Arts

Grades 3–5

3.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 3 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
3.4 Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly at an understandable pace.
4.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 4 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
4.3 Identify the reasons and evidence a speaker or media source provides to support particular points.
5.3 Summarize the points a speaker or media source makes and explain how each claim is supported by reasons and evidence, and identify and analyze any logical fallacies.
5.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, using formal English when appropriate to task and situation. (See grade 5 Language standards 1 and 3 for specific expectations.)

3.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.
3.4 With guidance and support from adults, produce writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task and purpose.
4.4 Produce clear and coherent writing (including multiple-paragraph texts) in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
4.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.
5.4 Produce clear and coherent writing (including multiple-paragraph texts) in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

Visual Arts Standards for California Public Schools

Grade 4

Artistic Perception
1.0 Students perceive and respond to works of art. They use the vocabulary of the visual arts to express their observations.
1.5 Students describe and analyze the elements of art.

Creative Expression
2.0 Students apply artistic processes and skills, using a variety of media to communicate meaning and intent in original artworks.

Aesthetic Valuing
1.0 Students analyze, assess, and derive meaning from works of art, including their own, according to elements of art, principles of design, and aesthetic qualities.

Visual Arts Standards for California Public Schools

Grade 5

Creative Expression
2.1 Use one-point perspective to create the illusion of space.

Language Arts Standards for California Public Schools

Grade 4

Writing: Writing Strategies
1.0 Students write clear, coherent sentences and paragraphs that develop a central idea. Their writing shows they consider the audience and purpose. Students progress through the stages of writing process.
1.1 Select a focus, an organizational structure, and a point of view based upon purpose, audience, length, and format requirements.

Writing Applications (Genres and their Characteristics)
2.1a Relate ideas, observations, or collections of an event or experience.
2.1b Provide a context to enable the reader to imagine the world of the event or experience.

Social Science Standards for California Public Schools
Grade 4

4.2 Students describe the social, political, cultural, and economic life and interactions among people of California from the pre-Columbian societies to the Spanish mission and Mexican rancho periods.
4.2.5 Describe the daily lives of the people, native and nonnative, who occupied the presidios, missions, ranchos, and pueblos.

"The logistics to do a photography project can be difficult and requires considerable organization as well as cooperation from parents. Parents need to be trained in the objectives of the project in order for the students to succeed. It can be costly as well. The project could still be accomplished without the children actually doing any photography or even visiting a mission. Drawings could be accomplished in class by having the student use commercial photos or photos taken by the teacher as models."
—Carol Fisher