Grades/Level: Upper Elementary (3–5)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts
Time Required: 3–5–Part Lesson
Three 50-minute sessions
Author: Karen Gibson, 3rd Grade Teacher, Bret Harte Elementary School, Burbank Unified School District


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Lesson Plans

Lesson Overview

Students gain awareness of shapes in architecture by creating a painting of their school and writing a reflective summary of their study of architecture.

Learning Objectives

Students should be able to:
• identify and describe geometric and organic shapes.
• use math, art, and architecture vocabulary accurately in discussion and writing.
• create a painted likeness of their school showing an awareness of shape, tint, shade, and neutral colors.
• write an organized paragraph describing and reflecting on their study of architecture.


Art Connections (Level 3), SRA/McGraw-Hill
• Clipboards or cardboard and chairs for outdoor sketching
• Art paper, pencils, black crayons, and watercolors or tempera paints

Lesson Steps

1. Introduce students to architecture and the job of an architect. Explain that architecture is the art of designing spaces, such as buildings, to fit human needs. Discuss what an architect does and how architects use math, science, and art to create their designs. During the discussion, introduce new architectural terms such as column, dome, and arch, and identify their component shapes. Brainstorm with students about what materials buildings can be made of—such as adobe (clay), wood, bricks, stone, concrete, metal, and so on.

2. Use the textbook Art Connections to differentiate between geometric and organic, or free-form, shapes. Display images of the works from the Getty Museum as prints or on the overhead projector. Ask students to identify shapes and to determine if they are geometric or organic. Students should also identify architectural elements discussed in step 1.

3. Before going outside with students, ask them to describe what their school building looks like. What forms (arches, etc.) does the building have? What color(s) is it? (Students may realize that they have never really looked at the building that they use every day.) Go outside with students, chairs, and sketching materials (boards, paper, and pencils) to observe and discuss the materials, architectural elements, and shapes of the school building. Discuss the use of color in the building and how the color changes with light and shadows. Explain to students that color mixed with black and white creates lighter or darker values, or tints. Have students sketch the school for 10–20 minutes.

4. Back in the classroom, have students use black crayon to trace the shapes of the building and to create a wax resist which will repel any paint that is applied over the crayon. Instruct students to use a range of colors before they paint. Have them experiment with mixing complementary colors (color opposites on the color wheel, such as yellow with purple or blue with orange) and colors that are adjacent on the color wheel. For instance, to create various greens, students can mix in small amounts of red to create a brownish color or small amounts of yellow to create a light green.

5. Recap the steps students have taken on the project so far. Review related vocabulary such as organic/geometric shapes, tints, shades, neutral colors, etc. Ask students to use this new vocabulary to write a paragraph describing and reflecting on their study of architecture. Students may describe what they have learned about shapes and how they are used in buildings. They may also describe how they created their painting of the school. Have students use a word-processing program to type their writings, then have them share their writings with the class and display them alongside their sketches.

Carriages / Talbot
Carriages and Parisian Townhouses, William Henry Fox Talbot, May 1843

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/form, texture, space, and value.

Creative Expression
2.2 Mix and apply tempera paints to create tints, shades, and neutral colors.
2.3 Create a work of art based on the observation of objects and scenes in daily life, emphasizing value changes.

Language Arts Standards for California Public Schools
Grade 3

Writing Applications (Genres and Their Characteristics)
2.0 Students write compositions that describe and explain familiar objects, events, and experiences. Student writing demonstrates a command of standard American English and the drafting, researching, and organizational strategies outlined in Writing Standard 1.0.

"Students were eager to study the artworks presented, and their awareness of their surroundings was heightened. Most had not thought of buildings as art before and were not familiar with architecture as a field of study. Next time, I will teach this later in the year after more experience with three-dimensional figures." —Karen Gibson