Grades/Level: Upper Elementary (3–5)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts
Time Required: 3–5–Part Lesson
Four to five 45-minutes class periods
Author: Nikki Longacre, Elementary School Teacher
Woodcrest Elementary School, Los Angeles Unified School District


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Lesson Plans

Lesson Overview

Students will form two groups, and each group will analyze a still life. Then each student will write a three-paragraph essay describing how to draw the work of art they are studying. Each student will exchange his or her essay with someone in the other group who will draw the still life based on the essay's description. Depending on the accuracy of their peers' drawings, students will add more details to their essays.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
• learn the definition of a still life.
• analyze the positive and negative space in a still life.
• write a three-paragraph essay describing the composition, media, and subject matter of a still life.
• draw a still life based on another student's written description.


• Reproduction of Still Life with Fish, Vegetables, Gougères, Pots, and Cruets on a Table by Jean-Siméon Chardin
• Reproduction of Still Life with Peaches, a Silver Goblet, Grapes, and Walnuts by Jean-Siméon Chardin
• Reproduction of Still Life with Fruit and Decanter by Roger Fenton
• Lined paper and pencils for the essays
• Large white construction paper
• Drawing pencils and erasers
• Pastels
• Assortment of real objects similar to the ones used in still life paintings (optional)

Lesson Steps

1. Display an image of Still Life with Fish, Vegetables, Gougères, Pots, and Cruets on a Table. Invite students to share what they see in the painting and write students' responses on a graphic organizer. What colors do they see? What details do they notice in the foreground and background? Explain that a still life is a work of art depicting a group of natural and man-made objects.

2. Lead a discussion about positive and negative space. Point out that the positive space is made up of the objects in the still life, and negative space consists of the background and the space between the objects. Illustrate the concept of negative space by either cutting out the negative space on a reproduction of the still life or by highlighting the shape created by the edges of the negative space with a marker.

3. Divide the class into two groups. Give one group an image of Still Life with Peaches, a Silver Goblet, Grapes, and Walnuts. Give the other group an image of Still Life with Fruit and Decanter.

4. Have each group create a graphic organizer (e.g., a circle, idea map) or word bank about the still life they were given. Tell them to list everything they see in the still life. (For English language learners, you may wish to provide a word bank already containing words that may describe the still life, or you might display real objects that are visible in the still life.)

5. Have each student write a three-paragraph essay that describes the still life in detail. The essay should provide enough information for someone to draw the still life based solely on the written description. The essay should include the following parts:
• 1st paragraph: Students write an introduction that explains what the work of art depicts, the orientation of the composition (landscape or portrait), and its medium (i.e., drawing, painting, or photograph).
• 2nd paragraph: Students create a detailed inventory of what is included in the composition, using adjectives to identify and describe the still life objects.
• 3rd paragraph: Students describe key details (e.g., colors in foreground and background, details about positive and negative space, size and placement of the objects in relation to each other).

6. After students complete their first drafts, have them proofread their essays and revise them as needed.

7. Tell each student to trade essays with a classmate in the other group. Then pass out white construction paper and drawing pencils. Have each student draw what is described in his or her classmate's essay. Give them the following instructions:
• Read the essay thoroughly.
• Begin sketching out the composition with pencil.
• Add color to the drawing using pastels.

8. Compare and contrast students' drawings with the works of art created by the original artists. Lead a discussion asking the following questions:
• How are the works of art similar?
• How are they different?
• What could you have written to help your classmate make a more accurate drawing?
• What could your classmate have written to help you make a more accurate drawing?

9. Have students revise their essays based on the class discussion and what is inaccurate in the drawings. Then tell students to complete their final drafts.

Still Life with Fish, Vegetables, Gourgères, Pots, and Cruets on a Table / Chardin
Still Life with Fish, Vegetables, Gourgères, Pots, and Cruets on a Table, Jean-Siméon Chardin, 1769


Students will be assessed on:
• feedback received on the detail in their essay based on another student's drawing.
• students' drawings based on whether they followed directions.
• three-paragraph essays based on whether they followed directions and incorporated details.


Lead a discussion about the three still lifes. Encourage students to compare and contrast each work of art. Ask students what clues tell us two of the artworks were created by the same artist.

Standards Addressed

Visual Arts Content Standards for California State Public Schools

Grade 3
2.0 Creative Expression
2.4 Create a work of art based on the observation of objects and scenes in daily life, emphasizing value changes.

4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
4.2 Identify successful and less successful compositional and expressive qualities of their own works of art and describe what might be done to improve them.

Grade 4
1.0 Artistic Perception
1.2 Describe how negative shapes/forms and positive shapes/forms are used in a chosen work of art.

2.0 Creative Expression
2.6 Use the interaction between positive and negative space expressively in a work of art.

Grade 5
4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
4.4 Assess their own works of art, using specific criteria, and describe what changes they would make for improvement.

English–Language Arts Standards for California Public Schools

Grade 3
1.0 Writing Strategies
1.1 Create a single paragraph:
a. Develop a topic sentence.
b. Include simple supporting facts and details.

Grade 4
1.0 Writing Strategies
1.2 Create multiple-paragraph compositions.
1.10 Edit and revise selected drafts to improve coherence and progression by adding, deleting, consolidating, and rearranging text.

Grade 5
1.0 Writing Strategies
1.1 Create a multiple-paragraph expository composition.
1.6 Edit and revise manuscripts to improve the meaning and focus of writing by adding, deleting, consolidating, clarifying and rearranging words and sentences.

"This was a great lesson that provided direct feedback to each student about his or her writing. Students were able to clearly see how their words were interpreted. They understood how details matter and what it actually means to include details in their work.

Students NEED materials to write about. This lesson was easy to create writing because everything they needed to write about was right in front of them. They had a word bank, picture, and paragraph frame to help steer them in the right direction. With that said, I also need to say that some students will still need help no matter how many resources I provide for them.

This lesson might be easier if I find another classroom to switch papers with. This way, I don't have to keep partitions up, and we could discuss what should go in their writing as a whole class, instead of trying to deal with two different groups in the classroom."
—Nikki Longacre