Grades/Level: Upper Elementary (3–5)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts, History–Social Science
Time Required: 3–5–Part Lesson
Four one-hour sessions
Author: Ana Infante, Teacher, 186th Street School, Los Angeles Unified School District


Curriculum Home
Lesson Plans

Lesson Overview

Students write descriptions and create portraits of characters from the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen using a variety of media.

Learning Objectives

Students should be able to:
• analyze and describe selected Getty portraits using the vocabulary of art.
• identify literary elements that authors use to define characters.
• create a work of art that communicates the characteristics of a literary character visually.


• paper, pencils, crayons, color pencils, pastels, tempera paint or watercolors, paper
Come Look with Me: Enjoying Art with Children by Gladys S. Blizzard. Lickle Publishing, Inc., 1992.
The Little Mermaid and Other Stories by Sarah Hines Stephen. Scholastic Junior Classics, 2002.
• various Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales
• selected Getty works of art listed below. Click on thumbnails for information and images.

Lesson Steps

1. Read aloud several fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen.

2. Discuss how authors and illustrators define their characters by what they look like, say, do, think, and feel. Cite examples from the books. Students find examples on their own.

3. Model how to compose a written character sketch using the worksheet. Describe each aspects of a character in the appropriate space. Students then select a character from an Andersen fairy tale and write their own character sketch.

4. Students use their character sketch to write a multi-paragraph composition describing a character.

5. Display various Getty portraits and guide a discussion, using various entry points.
•Visual Thinking Strategies: What's going on in this artwork? What can you say about this person? How can you tell? What do you see that makes you say that? Can you say more about that? What else can you find?
• Formal Properties of the Artwork: What lines, shapes, colors, and textures do you see in this artwork? What materials or tools do you think the artist used? What problems might the artist have faced along the way?
• Narrative Quest: What is the story that you see in this work of art? How do the colors help tell this story? What emotions seem to be expressed in this portrait? What makes you say so? What can you tell from this work of art about the story of the person or the time in which he or she lived?

6. Explain that artists can define people in portraits through the clothing, setting, pose of the body, objects, and symbols depicted. Refer back to Getty collection images for examples.

7. Students make a plan for a visual character sketch of the Andersen character they have selected. In written form they plan their choices for their character's clothing, setting, pose, objects, and dominant colors.

8. Students make a quick preliminary pencil sketch of their character. The teacher may need to model this, or assist students in solving problems like overlapping, perspective, relative sizes, how to draw hands holding objects, and how to show textures, colors, and moods.

9. Students create a visual character portrait using their choice of media (color pencils, pastels, crayons, or watercolors).

Maria Frederike / Liotard
Maria Frederike van Reede-Athlone at Seven, Jean-Etiénne Liotard, 1755

Standards Addressed

Common Core Standards for English Language Arts

Grades 3–5
3.1 Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.
3.3 Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events.
3.5 Refer to parts of stories, dramas, and poems when writing or speaking about a text, using terms such as chapter, scene, and stanza; describe how each successive part builds on earlier sections.
3.7 Explain how specific aspects of a text's illustrations contribute to what is conveyed by the words in a story (e.g., create mood, emphasize aspects of a character or setting).
4.1 Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
4.3 Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character's thoughts, words, or actions).
4.5 Explain major differences between poems, drama, and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems (e.g., verse, rhythm, meter) and drama (e.g., casts of characters, settings, descriptions, dialogue, stage directions) when writing or speaking about a text.
4.7 Make connections between the text of a story or drama and a visual or oral presentation of the text, identifying where each version reflects specific descriptions and directions in the text.
5.1 Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
5.3 Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., how characters interact).
5.5 Explain how a series of chapters, scenes, or stanzas fits together to provide the overall structure of a particular story, drama, or poem.
5.7 Analyze how visual and multimedia elements contribute to the meaning, tone, or beauty of a text (e.g., graphic novel, multimedia presentation of fiction, folktale, myth, poem).

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.
4.3 Identify the reasons and evidence a speaker or media source provides to support particular points.
4.6 Differentiate between contexts that call for formal English (e.g., presenting ideas) and situations where informal discourse is appropriate (e.g., small-group discussion); use formal English when appropriate to task and situation. (See grade 4 Language standards 1 and 3 for specific expectations.)
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.)

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/form, texture, space, and value.

Creative Expression
2.2 Mix and apply tempera paints to create tints, shades, and neutral colors.

Historical and Cultural Context
3.1 Compare and describe various works of art that have a similar theme and were created at different time periods.

Language Arts Standards for California Public Schools

Grade 3

Reading: Literary Response and Analysis
3.3 Determine what characters are like by what they say or do and by how the author or illustrator portrays them.

Writing: Writing Applications
2.2 Write descriptions that use concrete sensory details to present and support unified impressions of people, places, things, or experiences.

"I learned that guiding students to observe and analyze artwork empowers them to apply artistic elements and processes to their own artwork. I have also learned to use art as a means for developing literacy and building vocabulary. In working with English Language Learners and students at-risk (Title I), the arts are another language of expression that can provide a means to assess a student's intelligence in a way that cannot be measured by traditional assessment instruments."
—Anna Infante