Grades/Level: Upper Elementary (3–5)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts
Time Required: 3–5–Part Lesson
Four 1-hour class periods
Author: Julie Halton, Elementary School Teacher
Woodcrest Elementary School, Los Angeles Unified School District


Curriculum Home
Lesson Plans

Lesson Overview

Students will observe emotions depicted in an 18th-century bust and two 19th-century paintings. They will learn about and create similes based on paintings that depict people waiting and receiving a court verdict, respectively. They will write their own narratives about a time they had to wait, and they will use similes to describe characters' emotions. Students will then create two original works of art that illustrate their narratives.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
• discuss narratives depicted in works of art with a group and partner.
• write similes based on works of art.
• create narratives inspired by the theme of waiting.
• draw gestures and facial expressions based on their writings.


• Reproduction of The Vexed Man by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt
• Reproduction of Waiting for the Verdict by Abraham Solomon
• Reproduction of Not Guilty by Abraham Solomon
• Writing journals or writing paper
• Chart paper
• Sentence strips
• Pastels or colored pencils
• Paper
• Art Activity: "Create a Quick Gesture Sketch" (PDF, 254KB, 1 p.) (optional)
• Student Handout: "Emotion Cards" (PDF, 97KB, 1 p.) (optional)

Lesson Steps

Part 1: Similes and Sculpture

1. Begin by generating a discussion about emotion and expression. Ask for volunteers to show their best frustrated/exasperated/excited/surprised look. Describe their expressions by using similes, without revealing the linguistic pattern that builds a simile (the words "like" and "as").

2. Show students a reproduction of the sculpture The Vexed Man and tell them to look closely at the work of art. Ask students the following questions and chart student responses:
• What do you notice first?
• What kinds of lines do you see?

Point out the curved lines used to show a frown and the tension in the figure's neck. Also point out the short diagonal lines between the figure's eyes that make him look upset.

3. Chart separately and in color student responses to the following question:
• What are some words we can use to describe how he’s feeling?

4. Take turns brainstorming things/events that also might make you feel this way (e.g., losing a soccer game, your little sister bothering you, etc.). Chart these phrases in another color in a separate list.

5. Define a simile for students: A simile is figurative language used to compare two different things. Show students a sentence strip with the linguistic pattern (sentence frame) for a simile. You can use the color coding from the charts to correspond to the matching blank in the sentence frame.

     The __________ is as __________ as a __________.

6. Invite students to use the linguistic pattern and the two charts to create a simile about The Vexed Man. You may want to color code the charts and the blanks in the sentence frame.

Here are some samples of sentences derived from using charted responses and inserting words into the sentence frame:

     The man is as angry as an elephant in a stampede.
     The teacher is as frustrated as a kid who lost his homework.
     The little kid is as frustrated as a dog that lost its bone.

The samples can be scaffolded for English-language learners by providing characters or emotions to part (or parts) of the sentence frame. For example:

     The man is as __________ as a __________.
     The man is as __________ excited as a __________.
     The man is as __________ as a kid on Christmas morning.

These samples can also be adapted for more advanced speakers by adding "when" to the end of the sentence. For example:

     The student is as angry as an elephant in a stampede when
     her friend cut in front of her in line.

Part 2: Similes and Painting

1. Show students the reproduction of Waiting for a Verdict. Generate discussion by asking the following questions:
• What do you notice about this family?
• What do their gestures communicate about how they feel?
• What do their facial expressions communicate?
• Where do you think the family is? What do you see in the background that makes you think that?
• What do you think they are doing?
• Have you ever had to wait for something?
• How did you feel?

2. Refer to the chart created in part 1 step 2 and add these feelings to the chart. Tell students to use the linguistic pattern to orally create similes about the characters in the painting. If students struggle with creating similes based on emotion, look instead at the colors in the painting. Invite students to derive similes based on the colors they see, such as: “Her coat is as gray as a cloudy day.”

3. Refer students back to the reproduction of the painting Waiting for a Verdict and ask students to make a prediction:
• What do you think will happen next?
• What do you see that makes you think that?

4. Tell students that Solomon created a painting depicting the outcome of the trial. Show the reproduction of the second painting Not Guilty without disclosing the title. Ask students to discuss in pairs the following questions:
• What emotions are expressed?
• What do you think the verdict is? What do you see that makes you think that?
• Were your predictions right? What happened next?

5. Show students reproductions of Waiting for a Verdict and Not Guilty together. Ask each pair of students to pick a painting and write similes for four of the figures in the painting.

6. Bring the whole class back together to share.

Part 3: Waiting Narratives

1. Show students the reproductions of Waiting for a Verdict and Not Guilty again. Ask students to brainstorm with a partner a story based on the two paintings. Direct their discussion with the following questions:
• Who are the characters in this story?
• What are their characteristics?
• What is the setting of the story?

2. Remind students that Not Guilty is the sequel to Waiting for a Verdict. One painting illustrates the moments before the verdict; the other one depicts the moments after the verdict. Ask students to think again of a time when they have waited (e.g., in line at an amusement park ride, waiting to open presents, sitting in the waiting room at the doctor's office.)

3. Have each student write about the time they waited. Tell students to think carefully about the characters and setting of their narratives, and encourage them to recall the emotions they felt while waiting and after the waiting was over. Students will use similes to describe the emotions each character felt in the personal story they will write.

4. Have each student write a two-paragraph narrative. One paragraph will describe what it is like to wait, and the other one will describe how they felt when the waiting was over. Students will use at least two similes in each paragraph.

Part 4: Illustrating the Narrative

1. Have the students create two illustrations, one for each paragraph in their narrative. Prompt students to start with a drawing of the characters waiting.

2. Pass out pastels or colored pencils and paper.

3. Ask students to imagine the setting of their story and prompt them to sketch the setting with a pencil. If necessary, show students the reproductions of the Solomon paintings again, pointing out how the details in the background give clues to the setting.

4. Have students visualize the characters in their narrative. Display the reproductions of Waiting for the Verdict and Not Guilty to discuss the gestures of the figures before students draw their illustration. Remind students to think about gesture when drawing the bodies of the figures. Have students sketch gestures and lines to show the emotions of the characters in their narrative. Instruct them to sketch gestures on a different piece of paper before adding the characters to their illustration. For an example of gesture sketches, see the art activity "Create a Quick Gesture Sketch."

5. Ask students to visualize the expressions of the characters in their story. Remind students to think about line when drawing the details of the faces. Show/chart samples of a simple line drawing of a face with three varying shapes of eyebrows (surprised, angry, curious). For examples of sketches of different emotions, see the student handout "Emotion Cards" in the Performing Arts in Art curriculum. Display the reproduction of The Vexed Man again to discuss the lines of tension in his neck or the position of his eyebrows and what they tell us about his emotion. Encourage students to sketch lines to show emotion on different piece of paper before adding the characters' facial expressions to their illustration.

6. Give students ample time to complete the "before" illustration.

7. Prompt students to illustrate the "after" part of their narrative. Repeat steps 2–5 as necessary.

8. Allow students to present their narratives and illustrations to the class.

The Vexed Man / Messerschmidt
The Vexed Man, Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, 1771–1783


Students will be assessed on:
• whole-group and pair discussions of the paintings.
• generation of oral and written similes.
• two-paragraph waiting narratives.
• inclusion of facial expressions and gestures to communicate emotions in original drawings.


Art review: Hang the student work in the classroom and allow for a critique or review. Students can go on an "art walk," pick a classmate's illustration, and explain three positive things they notice about the art.

Simile portrait sculpture: Students can create portrait sculptures using Model Magic® after a closer examination of The Vexed Man.

Class book: Use student descriptions and illustrations to create a class "waiting" book.

Standards Addressed

Visual Arts Content Standards for California State Public Schools

Grade 3
4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
4.1 Compare and contrast selected works of art and describe them, using appropriate vocabulary of art.

5.0 Connections, Relationships, Applications
5.3 Look at images of figurative works of art and predict what might happen next, telling what clues in the work support their ideas.

Grade 4
2.0 Creative Expression
2.5 Use accurate proportions to create an expressive portrait or a figure drawing or painting.

Grade 5
2.0 Creative Expression
2.7 Communicate values, opinions, or personal insights through an original work of art.

English–Language Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools

Grade 3
2.0 Writing Applications (Genres and Their Characteristics)
2.1 Write narratives:
a. Provide context within which an action takes place.
b. Include well-chosen details to develop the plot.
2.2 Write descriptions that use concrete sensory details to present and support unified impressions of people, places, things, or experiences.

Grade 4
3.0 Literary Response and Analysis
3.5 Define figurative language (e.g., simile, metaphor, hyperbole, personification) and identify its use in literary works.

2.0 Writing Applications
2.1 Write narratives:
a. Relate ideas, observations, or recollections of an event or experience.
b. Provide a context to enable the reader to imagine the world of the event or experience.

Grade 5
2.0 Writing Applications
2.1 Write narratives:
b. Show, rather than tell, the events of the story.