Grades/Level: Lower Elementary (K–2), Upper Elementary (3–5)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts, ESL
Time Required: Single Class Lesson
1-hour class period
Author: J. Paul Getty Museum Education Staff

When Art Talks Contents

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Thirty-Second Look Activity (RTF, 248KB, 2pp.)

Lesson Overview

Students generate new vocabulary by discussing descriptive words, or adjectives, and the names of shapes they see in a still life painting. Inspired by an object in the painting, students then use their new vocabulary to create a shape poem.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
• identify the basic shapes that are used in art.
• build a vocabulary of descriptive words about what they see.
• write a shape poem using adjectives.


• Reproduction of Still Life with Peaches, a Silver Goblet, Grapes, and Walnuts, Jean-Siméon Chardin
• Black-and-white photocopies of Still Life with Peaches, a Silver Goblet, Grapes, and Walnuts (one per student)
• Background Information about Still Life with Peaches, a Silver Goblet, Grapes, and Walnuts
• Pencils and colored pencils
• Scratch paper
• Student Handout: "Poetic Guide"
• Transparency paper

Lesson Steps

1. On the board, start a word bank by creating three columns with the headings: "Shapes," "Objects," and "Adjectives."

2. Begin developing a vocabulary list by either introducing or reminding students of the names of basic shapes and writing them in the appropriate column on the board. Explain that artists throughout time have used basic shapes in their works. (Note: Shapes are flat with actual or implied lines that define a space.) (Use the examples of shapes—circle, oval, rectangle, square, and triangle—in the lesson download.)

3. Display the reproduction of Still Life with Peaches, a Silver Goblet, Grapes, and Walnuts. Inform students that they are looking at a still life painting by the French artist Jean-Siméon Chardin. Tell students that a still life is a work of art that has a grouping of natural objects (e.g., flowers, vegetables, or fruits) and man-made objects (e.g., a table or cup). Guide students to point out the shapes that are present in the painting. The Chardin painting has circles (peaches and grapes), ovals (walnuts), rectangles (the ledge), and a triangle (the stacked peaches). (Use the diagram in the lesson download.)

4. Pass out a photocopy of the reproduction of Chardin's painting to each student. Ask students to use their fingers to trace the shapes they see in the artwork on the photocopy.

5. Add to the vocabulary list in the word bank by asking students to identify the objects (nouns) they recognize in the painting. Write their vocabulary words in the "Objects" column on the board.

6. Employ early production strategies to help students use this vocabulary:
• Ask yes/no questions (Is this a circle?)
• Ask or questions (Is this a circle or an oval?)
• Ask wh- questions (What shape is the ledge?)
• Make open-ended statements (The peaches are shaped like . . . .)

7. Once the class has generated the list of objects (nouns), ask students to think about some words (adjectives) to describe the objects included on the vocabulary list. Write the vocabulary that the students generate in the "Adjectives" column on the board.

8. Have students choose one object in the painting and have them trace the basic shape of it on their photocopy using a colored pencil. With a partner, ask students to brainstorm as many descriptive words (adjectives) as they can for their objects, and then write them down on scratch paper.

9. Make copies of and pass out the "Poetic Guide" handout to each student. Write the following text on the board, and have students fill in the blanks on their handout:

An _____________ is a(n) _____________.
            (object)                       (shape)

______________, ______________
        (Adjective)           (adjective)

______________. I ______________
         (objects)                (verb)

______________ ______________.
       (adjective)            (objects)

Encourage students who have trouble coming up with a verb or adjectives to talk to their partners for help.

10. Inform students that they are going to create a Shape Poem. Pass out transparency paper and have students place it over the photocopy of the painting. Using the "Poetic Guide," instruct students to write down their poem over their chosen shape object on the transparency paper. Tell them they will have created a poem in the shape of their chosen object! (Display the example illustration in the lesson download.)

11. Have students present their poems orally.

Still Life with Peaches/Chardin
Still Life with Peaches, a Silver Goblet, Grapes, and Walnuts, Jean-Siméon Chardin, about 1759–60


Students will be assessed on their participation in class discussion, their use of adjectives in their shape poems, and their oral presentation to their level of ability.


  • Depending on the ELD level of your students, remind them that they are looking at a still life painting. Reintroduce the definition of still life and the following vocabulary:

     still life—a type of art whose subject is a group of natural objects (such as
     flowers, vegetables, or fruits) and man-made objects (such as containers
     usually placed on a tabletop
     subject—focus or theme
     natural—not made by humans
     man-made—made by humans
     containers—objects, such as baskets, bottles, and dishes, that hold something
     tabletop—the top of a table

  • Using another still life, have students point out the shapes used in the construction of that painting. Introduce a word bank using verbs and ask students to create another shape poem that includes verb phrases.
  • Use cutouts of different shapes to have students construct their own geometric still lifes.