Friday, February 21, 2014

Don't Judge a Box By Its Cover

According to our district curriculum, our sixth graders should be "exposed to researching an artist, an art style or art movement". Since I don't want to GRADE traditional research papers, I don't have them WRITE them! For the last few years, we've done these art history boxes and I've been very happy with the results.

First, we start off with a PowerPoint into to the -isms of art history: Realism, Impressionism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, etc. It's a lot of me talking and them taking notes and I don't usually like "lecturing" to my classes, but I find for this kind of content, it's necessary. It's fun to see them recognize a lot of what we talk about because of all their years of Artist the Week presentations. They know more than they think they know!

Then, they choose a book from my Art Library. I really like the Mike Venezia series, Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists. At last count, I had over 40 different titles, so the kids have quite a few to pick from. I also let them use the Know the Artist posters. I order most of my art supplies and these kinds of books and posters from United Art & Education, but they are readily available in all sorts of catalogs.

Once they have chosen their artist, they get to work finding out basic biographical information: full name, birth year, death year, place of birth, style of art. And then through their research, they have to find at least a few interesting facts to include in their final write-up.

They also make a colored pencil reproduction of one of their artist's pieces of art. I really try to have them focus on the accuracy of the composition and recreating the colors and texture in the piece. When 6th graders look at famous works of art, they don't fully appreciate the work that goes into it, but when they have to recreate it, I find they have a better understanding of what the original artist had to go through to make the piece great. 

The last step is painting the cardboard box (which is called a "White Craft Box" and is about 4 1/2"x 4 3/4") with acrylics, using ModPodge to attach the recreation to the outside lid and the gluing the typed facts to the inside off the box. 

At the end of it all, my students have a piece of functional sculpture, a detailed colored pencil drawing, and a deeper knowledge base and appreciation of art history. They have also incorporated reading, writing, research, and technology. This project gives me a lot of bang for my buck and is one of my favorite lesson plans - I hope you give it a try!

~ Amy


  1. Oh wow! I love this idea, will definitely put this in my lesson plan book!!!
    Lauren @

  2. Good info. Lucky me I came across your website by accident (stumbleupon).

    I have bookmarked it for later!