Descriptive Essays About Paintings

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Lesson Plan

Artistic Elements: Exploring Art Through Descriptive Writing


Grades3 – 5
Lesson Plan TypeStandard Lesson
Estimated TimeTwo 40-minute sessions
Lesson Author




Art and literature go hand-in-hand in this integrated lesson designed to develop descriptive writing skills. Student artwork serves as the basis for a guided discussion on the elements of artistic expression—color, shape, line, and mood—and how these can be conveyed in written language. A read-aloud of Anna's Art Adventure applies these ideas to the work of well-known artists, focusing on Jackson Pollock. Students each choose a work of art from an online or print source (recommended sources are included) and work individually to write a vivid description of that picture. They exchange their finished descriptions with a partner and use classroom art materials to try to reproduce the picture their partner described. The lesson is easily adaptable for students with special needs or who are English-language learners.

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Anna's Art Adventure by Bjorn Sortland; illustrated by Lars Elling (Carolrhoda Books, 1999): Engage students in art he story of a young girl who, while searching for the bathroom in an art museum, discovers the work of many influential artists.

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Greco, R. (1997). Introducing art history through children's literature. The Reading Teacher, 50, 365.

This article explores the ease with which art and literacy goals can be achieved cohesively within the elementary classroom by using integrated units and lessons based on children's literature. "Art and literature are natural companions," states art teacher and author of the article Rita Greco. The diverse literature selections now available for elementary-aged children provide a wonderful starting point for educational endeavors involving all of the content areas. This "is a venture that should not be ignored."

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Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.



Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.



Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.



Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.



Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.



Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.



Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.



Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).


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Resources & Preparation


  • Anna's Art Adventure by Bjorn Sortland; illustrated by Lars Elling (Carolrhoda Books, 1999)

  • Computer cart with projector

  • Drawing/writing paper

  • Easel with chart paper and markers

  • Projecting surface (e.g., screen, chalkboard, white board, wall)

  • Writing and coloring tools (e.g., pencils, crayons, colored pencils, markers)

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1.Set up the computer cart and projector so that students will be able to see the projected pieces of art while working at the same time.

2.Test the computer's Internet connection, and visit each of the websites listed above to make sure they work.

3.Gather the materials needed for this lesson, and place them in a central location in the classroom. The main text for this lesson, Anna's Art Adventure, recounts the story of a young girl who, while searching for the bathroom in an art museum, discovers the work of many influential artists, including artist Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain," which is one of his "ready-made" objects—a urinal. Other materials for this lesson include markers, an easel with chart paper, and art/writing supplies for your students. It's also a good idea to have extra paper, pencils, and coloring supplies in an easily accessible area of the room.

4.Select pieces of artwork to use for modeling of the lesson activities.

  • For Session 1, Before Reading, select a few teacher-made or student drawings, or artwork from the Global Children's Art Gallery or The Worldwide Kids' Art Gallery.

  • For Session 1, After Reading, choose artwork from Jackson Pollock's collection. Pollock's action paintings, such as "Lavender Mist,""Shimmering Substance," or "Full Fathom Five," are recommended for this lesson.

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Instructional Plan


Students will

  • Develop descriptive writing skills by using adjectives and descriptive phrases

  • Identify and describe the artistic elements (i.e., lines, colors, shapes, mood) that are present in a piece of art

  • Create an artistic rendition that adheres to the specific artistic elements of an artist's work

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This lesson is based upon the premise that students have had an introduction to basic descriptive writing and to the use of adjectives.

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Session 1

Before Reading: Modeling and Guided Practice

1.Pose the following questions to students to begin the lesson:

  • What is a description?

  • When do we describe things?

  • What are some of the reasons that we describe things?

  • What kinds of words might you use to describe this room?
Use these questions to initiate a student-driven review and discussion of description, describing words, and descriptive writing. The level and series of questions should be aimed at having students access their prior knowledge of this topic.

2.Provide students with an overview of the goals or objectives of the lesson. For example, "Today we will be using what we know about describing words to describe some pieces of art. This will help us to see the importance of using precise descriptive language when we write."

3.Show students a teacher-made drawing or a student's drawing. Introduce the piece with the artist's name and the title of the drawing. [If classroom artwork is not available, drawings from the Web can be shown using the computer cart or as printouts. There are many sites that include collections of children's artwork, such as the Global Children's Art Gallery and The Worldwide Art Gallery.]

4.Begin by modeling a description of what you see in the selected piece of artwork. For example, you may comment on the shapes, size of objects, coloring, and lines.

5.After modeling, ask students to describe what they see in the art.

6.After a few responses, use the following questions to focus students' descriptions on the four artistic elements: color, shape, line, and mood.

  • What kinds of colors do you see? Are they dark, light, bright?

  • Can you see any shapes in what the artist has drawn? Are they tall shapes? short shapes? large shapes? small shapes?

  • What are the lines like? Did the artist make squiggly lines? straight lines? thick lines? thin lines?

  • How does this painting make you feel when you look at it? Do you think the artist was sad when he or she drew this? Why or why not?

During Reading

7.Introduce the book Anna's Art Adventure. Provide students with a short picture walk through a few pages, asking them to focus on the artwork that they see.

8.Read the story aloud, pausing every so often to check student's comprehension of the text and to ask them to make predictions. While reading, you might also draw students' attentions again to the artwork in the book and ask them to comment on what they see.

After Reading: Guided Practice

9.Review the story with students. Give an overview statement about the artwork in the text and introduce students to the follow-up activity. ("There are many different pieces of artwork in the story, Anna's Art Adventure. Now we're going to look at one painting in the story more carefully.")

10.Show students the illustration of Jackson Pollock's work in the text, explaining that the illustrator of the book used this example to show readers the kinds of paintings Pollock does.

11.Use the computer to project an image of one of Pollock's other paintings for students to view. Recommended pieces are mentioned in the Preparation section of this lesson.

12.Ask students to describe what they see in the painting. After a few responses, focus their descriptions with questions based on the four artistic elements (i.e., color, shape, line, and mood), using questions similar to those used during the Before Reading section of the lesson.

13.Record their responses on chart paper, the chalkboard, or an overhead projector. (Use whatever medium best suits students' learning in your classroom as well as the set-up of your room.)

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Session 2

Independent Practice

This portion of the lesson can be tailored to fit the needs of individual students in your classroom.

1.Explain to students that they are now going to describe a piece of art on their own.

2.Model the writing portion of the activity, while giving directions at the same time. Directions are as follows:

a.Students are to write descriptions of a piece of artwork using descriptive language and paying attention to the artistic elements in the piece.

b.Once finished, students exchange their descriptions with a partner.

c.The partner reads the description carefully two or three times.

d.The partner then draws a picture that matches the written description that he or she was given.

e.Students then compare the illustrations that they drew to the original artwork described in writing.

Depending on the needs of your students, you can tailor the writing portion as follows:

  • Grade 3: Ask students to write paragraphs focusing on one particular element of the art, such as color.

  • Grades 4–5: Ask students to write multiple paragraphs or an essay on the various artistic elements.

  • Second language learners: Depending on their proficiency level, students may benefit from using their second language or from combining English and their first language in their descriptions.

  • Students with special needs: Have students work with a computer-processing program or dictate their thoughts to an adult or peer.
3.Provide students with writing/art materials, and have them select a piece of artwork to use for the activity. Students can go online to one of the recommended art websites listed in the Preparation section of this lesson or use art texts found in the classroom or school library.

4.Have students independently create the written description of the art, and then exchange their written description with a partner to work independently on the artistic portion of the exploration.


5.Gather students with their partners and have them share their written descriptions and matching artistic renditions.

6.Use the following series of questions to address and review the importance of precise descriptive language as it pertains to the activity completed:

  • Did your illustrations match the original artwork? With approximately what percentage of accuracy do they match?

  • Why do you think some of the illustrations do not match the original with 100% accuracy?

  • What could have been written differently in the description to help the illustrator make their recreation more accurate?
7.Lead students into a broad discussion about descriptive language and its relation to students' everyday writing and reading of literature.

  • Is descriptive language important when describing something, like a painting, a character's appearance, or a room? Why?

  • Is it important that the descriptive language be precise? Why?

  • How will using precise descriptive language help you in school and in your everyday life?

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  • Compare and contrast two pieces of art by the same artist or two pieces by different artists using a graphic organizer, such as a Venn diagram.

  • Write a comparison and contrast essay on two pieces of art by the same artist or two pieces by different artists. The comparison and contrast guide might be helpful for students to preview before beginning this writing assignment.

  • Have students use literature or the Internet to research and read about other artists and view their work.
Suggested literature:

  • Raboff, E. (1988). Art for children series. Garden City, NY: Harper & Row.

  • Venezia, M. (1990). Getting to know the world's greatest artists series. Chicago: Children's Press.
Suggested Web resources:
(Please note that when searching sites containing catalogs of art, nudes may be part of the collections.)

  • Include an art center focused around the work of a certain artist or style (e.g., pop art). Have students further explore this center by creating their own renditions of the art.

  • Have students explore some online interactive art activities:
  • The Art Institute of Chicago: Families. The link for Art Access includes additional lesson plans and family activities that may be of interest.

  • National Gallery for Kids: The Art Zone. Students can use the interactive art tools on this site and then write about their own creations.

  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art: MuseumKids. Numerous activities are suggested under the heading "For Kids to Try Right Now."

  • Haring Kids. This site offers lesson plans for teachers, and numerous online activities for kids, such as coloring books, e-cards, stories, and so on.

  • Museum of Modern Art: Art Safari. On this site, kids go on an art safari and write a story about what they see.

  • Doodle Splash. In this online activity, students create artwork to complement a book they are reading. Have students also include a written description to explain how and why their artwork reflects the text.

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  • Observes students' use of precise descriptive language and their descriptions of the artistic elements, and record anecdotal notes based on these observations.

  • Assess students' written descriptions using a district or state writing standards rubric.

  • Assess the students' artistic recreations using district, state, or national art education standards.

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Related Resources


Grades   3 – 12  |  Calendar Activity  |  April 26

The Spanish town of Guernica was bombed on this date in 1937.

After showing students Picasso's Guernica, they are provided with background information, share their impressions, and write about Picasso's purpose in creating the painting.


Grades   1 – 8  |  Calendar Activity  |  August 10

The Smithsonian Institution was founded in 1846.

After exploring an exhibit online, students use the information they learned to write "A Day in the Life" narratives that tell about a person, animal, or object they saw in the exhibit.


Grades   5 – 10  |  Calendar Activity  |  October 25

Artist Pablo Picasso was born on this day in 1881.

Students view a Picasso piece, write their impressions, and share. Students can create their own Picasso-style art using the interactive Picassohead.


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Penny Strait

June 30, 2014

Thank you for providing a lesson that can be used to support students with a penchant for art. I am interviewing for a new position at an Arts Academy in Denver (currently a 4th grade teacher at a charter school) and am going to model my unit after your lesson and using your book as an anchor text. Some don't like the book, but I feel it is appropriate and shows the symbiotic relationship that exists between artistic expression and literacy.


Tracey Mulligan

July 17, 2011

Just bought a book called The Imaginary Garden by Andrew Larson and Irene Luxbacher. This would also be a great book to use with the lesson "Exploring Art Through Descriptive Writing".


I bought the book for the read aloud. The book has nudity and it keeps referring to the little girl looking for the toilet. My 2nd graders would certainly have loved for me to explain what a urinal was. The lesson is fine you just need to get another book for the read aloud.



Very few paintings today are as popular as Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. There may be very many painters today, some of whom may be more skilled than Leonardo; however, there is yet to be a painter who can express facial features on a piece of art as Leonardo did. For instance, Mona Lisa’s smile has been a subject of much debate, given the many articles that have been written to try and describe this smile. Leonardo’s other work of art, christened the Lady with Ermine, also presents facial features in an outstanding manner.

An examination of the Mona Lisa in the present day reveals that the painting has indeed had better days. The original color of the painting appears faded and is almost gone and this is perhaps the reason why the original painting has been repainted at least three times. The painting does not appear to be clean and this can be observed in the greenish glaze on the painting. The repainting of the painting and the greenish glaze makes the painting somewhat different from what Leonardo originally painted. In a bid to understand the Mona Lisa, artists have continued to question the identity of Mona Lisa.

The Mona Lisa has so far been associated with more than 10 different women and some professionals have even stated that she may have been a lover of Leonardo. Some artists have even proposed that the painting depicts a boy and not necessarily a woman as it so obviously appears to be. Some of the interesting descriptions of the painting are that it is Leonardo’s mother, Catherina, his daughter, or even his son. Some artists have even recently described the painting as a self-portrait. Despite its age and the confusion over who is depicted in the painting, the Mona Lisa is still regarded as one of the most popular paintings in the world of today. The painting has indeed stood the test of time and has been written about and reproduced more than any other painting in the world.

The famous painting is currently being exhibited in the Louvre museum, Paris, in a temperature and humidity controlled box that has been embedded in concrete. The museum protects the painting using two sheets of bulletproof glass that have been triple laminated. Even with this high level of care and security accorded to the painting, the museum has placed a couple of guards next to the painting whose main job is to control the flow of the crowd. Given the high level of protection and care granted to the Mona Lisa painting, it is accurate to state that the authentic Mona Lisa is difficult to see. This is especially so because of the huge crowd of tourists who gather in front of this painting every day when the museum is open as well as the numerous flashes from the cameras of the tourists. More than nine million tourists flock the museum on an annual basis just to get a glimpse of the famous painting.

Tips on writing a descriptive essay on a Piece of Art:
Writing descriptive essays is like writing narrative essays, in the sense that both paint a picture for the reader to imagine. Therefore, you have to show your readers through words what you want to describe, not just tell about it. What you should tell the readers is what you are going to describe in your essay in the introductory paragraph, so that they are not confused.

You can buy Art essay written from scratch by academic experts at custom essay writing service. Just fill in the order form with all paper details.

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Mar 11, 2015

Filed under: Sample Papers — Tags: art essay, descriptive essay — Joan Young @ 11:01 am

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