Grades/Level: Lower Elementary (K–2)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts
Time Required: 3–5–Part Lesson
One 20-minute and two 45-minute class periods
Author: Sylvia Garcia, Kindergarten Teacher
Bassett Street Elementary School, Los Angeles Unified School District


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Lesson Plans

Lesson Overview

Students will discuss the sculpture Python Killing a Gnu by Antoine-Louis Barye. They will use their imagination to visualize a setting for the python depicted in sculpture. Then they will describe their setting, sculpt a clay snake, and create their setting using mixed media.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
• use their imagination to describe what they would see, hear, taste, touch, and smell if an animal sculpture came to life.
• write a sentence describing a setting in which they imagine the python and gnu.
• sculpt a clay snake with texture.
• create a setting for their sculpture using mixed media.


• Reproductions of Python Killing a Gnu by Antoine Louis Barye (one for every two students)
• Reproductions of a detail of Python Killing a Gnu (one for every two students)
The Greedy Python by Richard Buckley and Eric Carle
• White Crayola® Model Magic®
• Modeling tools (or recycled items, e.g., plastic forks, toothpicks, or coffee stirrers to create texture)
• Glue
• Assorted materials for settings (e.g., construction paper, tissue paper, sequins, foam stickers)
• Shadow boxes (e.g., shoe boxes or cut-out cereal boxes) painted a solid neutral color (optional)
• Crayons
• Student Handout: "Writing Template"

Lesson Steps

Part 1: Literature Connection (Day 1)

1. Read The Greedy Python by Richard Buckley and Eric Carle for language arts motivation. The story lends itself to discussing rhyme, pattern, and predictions.

2. Motivate students by activating prior knowledge with these questions:
• Has anyone ever seen a real snake?
• What do you think snakes eat?

3. Discuss the text and illustrations by asking these questions:
• What does the python look like in the story?
• Can you describe the pattern you see?
• Make a prediction: What will the python eat next?

Part 2: Art Inquiry (Day 2)

1. Display a reproduction of Python Killing a Gnu. Tell students to look at the animals in this work of art. Ask the students the following questions:
• Which animal did you see first? What did you notice about it?
• What else did you see?
• This is a python, like the one in our story The Greedy Python. How is this python the same? How is it different?

2. Show students a detail of Python Killing a Gnu that shows texture. Ask students the following questions:
• What do you see now?
• What kinds of lines do you see?
• If you could touch this, what would it feel like?
• How do you think the artist made those lines?

3. Tell students that they are looking at a sculpture. Explain that a sculpture is different than a painting because you can experience a sculpture from different sides—it is three-dimensional. Ask students to imagine walking around this sculpture. Have students use their imagination and senses to imagine the sculpture coming alive. Ask students the following questions:
• What do you see?
• What do you hear?
• What do you touch?
• What do you smell?

4. Guide students in imagining a setting. Pair students for a think-pair-share discussion to brainstorm settings for the snakes that they will make on day 3. Have students ask their partners: "What things might surround the python?"

For English-language learners, guide responses with a sentence starter such as "I imagine _____." Depending on student ability, the responses could range from simple to complex sentences, such as the following:
• "I imagine trees."
• "I imagine tall trees."
• "I imagine jungle vines and trees."

5. After the students think-pair-share about their imaginary setting, use a graphic organizer such as a circle map to chart their responses.

6. Pass out the student handout "Writing Template" and have each student write a short sentence about the sculpture on the ruled lines. Afterwards, have them draw the sculpture.

Part 3: Model Magic® Snakes and Shadow Box Setting (Day 3)

1. Using the graphic organizer you created on day 2 of the lesson, remind students about the many things they imagined in the snake's setting. Remind students of the textures on Python Killing a Gnu by displaying the detail again.

2. Provide students with the Model Magic® clay. Allow them to first play with the clay to explore its properties. Encourage them to roll balls, pinch off clay to create a smaller form, and then add it back to the clay to create a larger form.

3. Ask students what they notice about the material: What does the clay feel like? Show them an example of a finished clay snake. Ask them to describe what it feels like when it hardens. Explain to students that clay is an art material that is soft when first used. Tell them that when we are finished molding the clay and creating a sculpture, we leave it to dry, and it hardens. Point out that the sculpture of the python and the gnu is made out of plaster, which also hardens when it dries.

4. Ask students to flatten the ball into a pancake shape and use the modeling tools to create various textures. Show the reproduction or book again, if necessary. Have students pinch, poke, and press the clay for various effects. Ask students which textures would be good textures for a snake?

5. Guide students to take their clay pancake and roll it into a ball. Then tell them to use both hands to gently roll the clay into a long snake-like form. Model for students various ways to pose the snake (e.g., coiled, slithering, eating). Ask them to think about what position they want their snake to be in and what textures they want to add.

6. Once students have made their snake, they can work independently or collaborate to make the three-dimensional setting. Distribute glue and assorted materials, such as construction paper, tissue paper, sequins, and foam stickers. Have students build their setting in the shadow box with any materials they wish. Assist as needed, encouraging them to create through trial and error. There is no wrong way to make this setting. If they do not like what they have created, encourage them to try again!

7. When students have finished their setting, have them place their snakes in the shadow boxes. Conclude the lesson with an "art walk" so students can see what their peers made. Remind them to be respectful and to not touch any art works.

Python Killing a Gnu / Barye
Python Killing a Gnu, Antoine-Louis Barye, 1834–1835


Students will be assessed on:
• participation in group discussion.
• verbal descriptions of the sculpture.
• written description of their imagined setting.
• completion of clay snake and mixed-media art activities.

Standards Addressed

Visual Arts Content Standards for California State Public Schools

1.0 Artistic Perception
1.1 Recognize and describe simple patterns found in the environment and works of art.
1.2 Name art materials (e.g. clay, paint, and crayons) introduced in lessons.

2.0 Creative Expression
2.2 Demonstrate beginning skills in the use of tools and processes, such as the use of scissors, glue, and paper in creating a three-dimensional construction.
2.7 Create a three-dimensional form, such as a real or imaginary animal.

Grade 1
1.0 Artistic Perception
1.2 Distinguish among various media when looking at works of art (e.g. clay, paints, drawing materials).
1.3 Identify the elements of art in objects in nature, in the environment, and in works of art, emphasizing line, color, shape/form, and texture.

2.0 Creative Expression
2.1 Use texture in two-dimensional and three-dimensional works of art.
2.3 Demonstrate beginning skill in the manipulation and use of sculptural materials to create form and texture in works of art.
2.4 Plan and use variations in line, shape/form, color, and texture to communicate ideas or feelings in works of art.
2.5 Create a representational sculpture based on people, animals, or buildings.
2.7 Use visual and actual texture in original works of art.
2.8 Create artwork based on observations of actual objects and everyday scenes.

Grade 2
1.0 Artistic Perception
1.3 Identify the elements of art in objects in nature, in the environment, and in works of art, emphasizing line, color, shape/form, and texture.

English–Language Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools

Listening and Speaking
1.0 Listening and Speaking Strategies
1.1 Understand and follow one- and two-step oral directions.
1.2 Share information and ideas, speaking audibly in complete, coherent sentences.

2.0 Speaking Applications (Genres and Their Characteristics)
2.1 Describe people, places, things (e.g., size, color, shape), locations, and actions.

Written and Oral English Language Conventions
1.0 Written and Oral English Language Conventions
1.1 Recognize and use clear coherent sentences when speaking.
1.2 Spell independently by using pre-phonetic knowledge, sounds of the alphabet, and knowledge of letter names.

2.0 Reading Comprehension
2.3 Connect to life experiences the information and events in the text.
2.5 Ask and answer questions about essential elements of a text.

Grade 1
2.0 Writing Applications
2.2 Write brief expository descriptions of a real object, person, place or event, using sensory details.

Writing and Oral English Language Conventions
1.0 Written and Oral English Language Conventions
1.1 Write and speak in complete, coherent sentences.

Listening and Speaking
1.0 Listening and Speaking Strategies
1.5 Use descriptive words when speaking about people, places, things, and events.

2.0 Speaking Applications (Genres and Their Characteristics)
2.4 Provide descriptions with careful attention to sensory detail.