Grades/Level: Upper Elementary (3–5)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts
Time Required: 3–5–Part Lesson
Four 45-minute class periods
Author: Jesus Herrera, Third Grade Teacher
Jefferson Elementary School, Compton Unified School District


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Lesson Overview

School Things / Gonzalez

Students will plan and design a still life composition. When composing the still life, students will choose objects that emphasize a variety of shapes and textures, and arrange the objects to reflect balance. Next students will create a photographic still life and use it as inspiration to write a poem. Then students will present the still life photograph and poem to the class.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • analyze still life compositions in photographs, focusing particularly on the elements of shape and texture and the principle of balance.
  • create an original still life using photography, reflecting their understanding of shape, texture, and balance.
  • write and present poetry inspired by their still life photograph.
  • present their photograph and poem to an audience.


• Reproduction of Bowl with Sugar Cubes by Andre Kertesz
• Reproduction of Still Life with Bananas and Oranges by Edward Weston
• Student Handout: "Elements of Art"
• Assorted objects selected by students from their homes
• Student Handout: "Principles of Design"
• Ruler (optional)
• Table with neutral backdrop
• Lamp or flashlight
• Digital camera
• Pencils
• Paper (ruled, 8½" x 11")

Lesson Steps

Part 1: Exploring Still Life Photography

1. Introduce the still life genre to the class. Explain that, traditionally, a still life is a painting of a group of natural and manmade objects, usually placed on a table or flat surface. Photographers adopted the style of still life painting (grouping natural and manmade objects), expanding the use of photography as a new mode of artistic expression.

2. Refer to the student handout "Elements of Art" in the Understanding Formal Analysis section of the Getty website and discuss the elements of shape and texture. You may wish to distribute the handout to the class.

3. Show the class the reproduction of Bowl with Sugar Cubes by Andre Kertesz or Still Life with Bananas and Oranges by Edward Weston. Lead a class discussion about the photograph by asking the following questions:

  • What do you see in this photograph?
  • What shapes do you see in this photograph? Explain that shapes can be geometric, like squares, and circles or organic, like free-form or natural shapes.
  • What textures do you notice in this photograph? Explain that texture is the surface quality that can be seen and felt. Textures can be rough or smooth, soft, or hard. Textures do not always feel the way they look; for example, a drawing of a porcupine may look prickly, but if you touch the drawing, the paper is smooth.

4. Chart students' responses.

5. After the discussion, assign homework to the class. Tell students they will be creating their own photographic still life. Ask students to bring to class objects from daily life that they want to include in their own still life. Tell them to find objects at home with shapes and textures that they find interesting.

Part 2: Composing a Still Life Photograph

1. Ask students to display the objects they brought from home on their desks. Then conduct a gallery walk in class.

2. After everyone has a chance to see each object, review the focus elements, shape and texture. Have students share with a classmate their objects with interesting textures and shapes.

6. Refer to the student handout "Principles of Design" in the Understanding Formal Analysis section of the Getty website to introduce the principle of balance. You may wish to distribute the handout to the class.

3. Display the reproduction of Bowl with Sugar Cubes by Andre Kertesz or Still Life with Bananas and Oranges by Edward Weston. (You may decide to use the same photograph from Part 1, introduce a new photograph, or use more than one.) Begin a class discussion by asking students to share what they see in the photograph. Tell students that artists often organize objects in a still life to create visual balance. Explain that balance is the distribution of the visual weight of objects, colors, texture, and space. If the design is a scale, these elements should be balanced to make a design feel stable. In symmetrical balance, the elements used on one side of the design are similar to those on the other side. In asymmetrical balance, the sides are different but still look balanced. In radial balance, the elements are arranged around a central point and may be similar.

You may wish to place a ruler on a reproduction of the work of art and point out where an artist has created balance on either side of the ruler. For example, in Still Life with Bananas and Oranges, you could place the ruler vertically in the middle of the composition and demonstrate symmetrical balance.

4. After the discussion, set up the table, backdrop, and lamp or flashlight. Give students time to compose or arrange their objects on the table so that they reflect a concern for balance. Students will take turns throughout the day composing their objects and experimenting with lighting (above the still life or beside the still life). Students may sketch the still life in order to remember their composition later.

5. Finally, have students photograph their objects to create their own still life.

Part 3: Poetry Inspired by Photography

1. Print the students' photographs and give each student a copy of his or her still life, as well as pencils and paper.

2. Tell students to title their still life photograph and write ten sentences about their work of art. Students should be as descriptive as possible. After students have completed their sentences, encourage them to go back and add more details, especially sensory details.

3. Once students have finalized the sentences, model how to select poetic phrases from their sentences. Students will reread each sentence and circle any phrase that strikes them, looking especially for descriptive words. After phrases have been circled, model how to write the circled phrases into stanza form to create a poem. Give students ample time to independently work on their poetry.

4. Demonstrate a poetry reading for the class with clear diction, pitch, tempo, and tone. For homework or in class, encourage students to practice reading their poem to prepare for class presentations.

5. Have each student present their poem and still life photographs to the class.

Still Life with Bananas/Weston
Still Life with Bananas and Oranges, Weston, 1927


Students will be assessed on:

  • whether their still life photographs include objects with a variety of shapes and textures.
  • their attempt to create balance in their still life photograph.
  • descriptive phrases in their poetry.
  • overall presentation of their work, specifically clear diction, pitch, tempo, and tone.

Standards Addressed

Visual Arts Content Standards for California State Public Schools

Grade 3
1.0 Artistic Perception
1.5 Identify and describe elements of art in works of art, emphasizing line, color, shape/form, texture, space and value.

5.0 Connections, Relationships, Applications
5.2 Write a poem or story inspired by their own works of art.

Grade 4
1.0 Artistic Perception
1.5 Describe and analyze the elements of art (color, shape/form, line, texture, space and value) emphasizing form, as they are used in works of art and found in the environment.

Grade 5
1.0 Artistic Perception
1.1 Identify and describe the principles of design in visual compositions, emphasizing unity and harmony.

English–Language Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools

Grade 3
2.0 Writing Applications
2.2 Write descriptions that use concrete sensory details to present and support unified impressions of people, places, things, or experiences.

Listening and Speaking
2.0 Speaking Applications
2.2 Plan and present dramatic interpretations of experiences, stories, poems, or plays with clear diction, pitch, tempo, and tone.

Grade 4
Listening and Speaking
1.0 Listening and Speaking Strategies
1.1 Ask thoughtful questions and respond to relevant questions with appropriate elaboration in oral settings.

2.0 Speaking Applications
2.4 Recite brief poems (i.e., two or three stanzas), soliloquies, or dramatic dialogues, using clear diction, tempo, volume, and phrasing.