Grades/Level: Upper Elementary (3–5)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts
Time Required: Long–Term Unit
3 to 4 weeks
Author: Kimberly Garcia, 4th Grade Teacher, San Jose Street Elementary, Los Angeles Unified School District


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Lesson Plans

Lesson Overview

Students will discuss a narrative work of art in order to interpret and understand the theme from the Open Court unit on "Risks and Consequences." Students imagine the events occurring before and after a narrative scene, sketch their ideas, then write a story describing the action and publish their story and illustrations in a book. The works of art and sketches provide a focus to practice writing three-part stories with dialogue and using adjectives and prepositions.

Learning Objectives

Students should be able to:
• relate a narrative story to a narrative work of art by identifying the main character, setting, conflict and resolution in both formats.
• create a three-paragraph story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
• write dialogue using correct punctuation.
• use adjectives and prepositional phrases correctly.


Open Court Reader textbooks
• Image of Perseus Confronting Phineus with the Head of Medusa by Sebastiano Ricci
• Postcards of various Getty artworks that include characters, settings, and actions (preferably narrative works of art)
• Supplies to construct books. Each book requires two pieces of cardboard, two pieces of colored construction paper, two pieces of white construction paper, pencils, crayons, glue sticks, scissors, large erasers, glitter glue (optional)
• Optional: Supplies to construct easels. Two cardboard pencil boxes, six brads, colored construction paper, glue sticks, tape, one large manila envelope, one small clip

Lesson Steps

1. After exploring the unit theme of "Risks and Consequences" in the Open Court Reader, explain to students that not all stories are written with words, but that stories can be told through a variety of mediums such as photographs, paintings, drawings, and sculptures. Artists have used art to tell stories for many years. These types of artworks are called narrative works of art. Often the artist chooses important scenes from well-known stories of his or her culture to teach lessons and communicate important ideas to the public. These illustrated scenes include settings, characters, actions, as well as conflicts and resolutions.

2. Display an image of Ricci's Perseus Confronting Phineus with the Head of Medusa. Have students identify story elements in the painting such as setting, main characters, and actions.

Explain to students that this is a scene from a story—like a scene from a movie. Ask them to describe the setting. Where does the scene take place? Is it outside or indoors? Does the scene take place in the present, past, or future? How do you know? In what part of the world do you think the scene takes place? What makes you say this? What do you see that tells you so? The people in the painting are like the main characters in a story. Can you point them out and describe them? Which one do you think is the main character? How do you know? What is the relationship between him or her and the other characters? What is your evidence? Ask students to describe what the characters are doing in the painting. What would they say if they could talk?

3. Ask students to guess how the character got into the particular situation depicted.
Explain to them that artists include visual clues to let us know what the main conflict is in the story. Ask students to guess what conflict the main character(s) face and to identify where they see evidence of this conflict. Ask them to identify what the artist includes in the work of art to tell us what the outcome of the conflict is or how the conflict is resolved. Write student responses on a chart displayed throughout unit. Discuss how the artist uses artistic elements and principles to emphasize the components of the story, such as color and line to create mood and space and shape to define the setting.

4. Distribute images of different works of art from the Getty Museum collection. Ideally, each student should have a different piece to work with. (I had my students construct an easel out of two cardboard pencil boxes so that the artwork could be viewed easily. They taped the postcard to the front and attached an envelope to the back to hold all of their prewriting exercises.) Narrative artworks work best for this activity. Ideally, the artwork should represent a scene from a story and have at least two figures (characters) represented in a setting.

5. Prepare students to write a story about their work of art and tell them that their stories will be published along with illustrations that they will create.
To prepare for writing, assign prewriting activities focusing on the fourth grade writing standards. Focus on adjectives, prepositional phrases, and dialogue. Adapt your prewriting lessons to your grade-level writing standards.
• Have students make lists of nouns and adjectives that describe what they see in the piece.
• Have students make charts to outline the elements of their story such as where, when, and how events transpired in the piece.
• Have students write sentences using prepositions to describe the locations of objects and characters in the painting.
• Have students write phrases their character would say, practicing proper punctuation with quotation marks.

6. Remind students that stories have a beginning (introduction), a middle (climax), and an end (conclusion). Tell them that their work of art is the middle scene, or climax, of a story that they will create. To get them thinking about their story, have them imagine the event that they think happened before the event in their middle scene and create a drawing illustrating that scene. Then have them imagine the event that will happen after the event in their middle scene and create another drawing of that scene. Ask students to imagine what the risks and consequences could be in this story.

7. Students will use their illustrations to guide the writing of a three-paragraph story. Paragraph one should describe the events in the drawing that shows the first scene (the introduction). Paragraph two describes the event in the work of art from the Getty Museum (the climax). Paragraph three describes the scene they drew that happens after the scene in the work of art (the conclusion). Students should share their first draft with another student who will read and edit the story. Revisions will be made the story based on the peer edits.

8. After students have finished their stories, "publish" them in a simple book that incorporates their text with their sketches. Have students create a cover, title page, and table of contents. They should glue their illustrations, postcards, and text into the book after typing it on the computer.

Perseus & Phineus / S. Ricci
Perseus Confronting Phineus with the Head of Medusa, Sebastiano Ricci, 1705–1710


Students can research the artist who created the work of art they wrote about. Have them write a short biography that they can include at the end of their book.

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.
3.6 Speak in complete sentences when appropriate to task and situation in order to provide requested detail or clarification. (See grade 3 Language standards 1 and 3 for specific expectations.)
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.)
5.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 5 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
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.

3.4 With guidance and support from adults, produce writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task and purpose.
4.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.
5.4 Produce clear and coherent writing (including multiple-paragraph texts) in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
5.10 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.

Visual Arts Standards for California Public Schools

Grade 4

Artistic Perception
1.5 Describe and analyze the elements of art (color, shape/form, line, texture, space and value), emphasizing form, as they are used in works of art and found in the environment.

Language Arts Standards for California Public Schools

Grade 4

Writing Strategies
1.2 Create multiple-paragraph compositions.
1.9 Demonstrate basic keyboarding skills and familiarity with computer terminology (e.g., cursor, software, memory, disk drive, hard drive).
1.10 Edit and revise selected drafts to improve coherence and progression by adding, deleting, consolidating, and rearranging text.

Writing Applications (Genres and Their Characteristics)
2.1 Write narratives:
c. Use concrete sensory details.

Written and Oral English Language Conventions
1.2 Combine short, related sentences with appositives, participial phrases, adjectives, adverbs, and prepositional phrases.
1.4 Use parentheses, commas in direct quotations, and apostrophes in the possessive case of nouns and in contractions.

"Publishing is one of the most important steps in the writing process. When students know that their work is to be published in a unique and interesting way, rather than merely copied onto a white sheet of plain paper, they strive to do their best work. Each step of the writing process becomes an integral part of creating the final publication. Thus, students will internalize more from each lesson prior to the final publication. Students feel empowered and important when they know that their writing will be experienced, valued, and appreciated by others, not just read and graded by their teacher."
—Kimberly Garcia