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Visual Arts Education in New York City Public Schools: Lesson Plans

Some Goals to think about

  • Create art and reflect upon what they have made
  • Seek and construct meaning through encounters with art
  • Create narratives about artwork
  • Use art as a tool to to understand historical and cultural context

Glossary || Source: The Getty

A line is an identifiable path created by a point moving in space. It is one-dimensional and can vary in width, direction, and length. Lines often define the edges of a form. Lines can be horizontal, vertical, or diagonal, straight or curved, thick or thin. They lead your eye around the composition and can communicate information through their character and direction.

Shape and form define objects in space. Shapes have two dimensions–height and width–and are usually defined by lines. Forms exist in three dimensions, with height, width, and depth. 

Real space is three-dimensional. Space in a work of art refers to a feeling of depth or three dimensions. It can also refer to the artist's use of the area within the picture plane. The area around the primary objects in a work of art is known as negative space, while the space occupied by the primary objects is known as positive space.

Light reflected off objects. Color has three main characteristics: hue (red, green, blue, etc.), value (how light or dark it is), and intensity (how bright or dull it is). Colors can be described as warm (red, yellow) or cool (blue, gray), depending on which end of the color spectrum they fall.

The surface quality of an object that we sense through touch. All objects have a physical texture. Artists can also convey texture visually in two dimensions.

In a two-dimensional work of art, texture gives a visual sense of how an object depicted would feel in real life if touched: hard, soft, rough, smooth, hairy, leathery, sharp, etc. In three-dimensional works, artists use actual texture to add a tactile quality to the work.

Still Life Lesson Plan from the Getty

You can find other lesson plans, organized by grade, here

Lesson Planning | Source: The Getty

Building a Visual Arts Lesson

Step 1: Generate Learning Objectives
First generate the learning objectives, or goals, for your lesson. The more specific each objective is, the better. Each objective should describe a specific skill, map to a specific activity in the lesson, be measurable, and support one or more state or national standards. Set only two or three objectives for each lesson to keep students focused and reinforce skills.

Step 2: Identify Activities to Support Your Goals
Identify an activity or two that will teach the skills and concepts required to meet your objectives. Use the Grade-by-Grade Guide to find ideas and activities for your students' grade level.

1) Learning Objective: Students identify the elements of art in a painting.

Activity: Students work in pairs to chart different types of lines (thin, thick, smooth, broken, etc.), colors (warm, cool, primary, secondary, bright, subdued, etc.), and other elements of art they see in a specific work of art. You can teach this in the same way you might teach the parts of speech, for example by having students chart nouns or adjectives in a sentence.

2) Learning Objective: Students research the life and work of an artist and speculate about his or her artistic intention in a given work.

Activity: Students read information about the artist's history and look at other works of art by the same artist. They use the information they learn from this research to speculate about why the artist used certain elements and imagery. For example, student research about Monet's painting Wheatstacks, Snow Effect, Morning will reveal that the work is part of a series depicting the same subject at different times of year and day. This information helps students speculate about the artist's choice of color and line and use of light in this painting.

Step 3: Determine Assessment Criteria
Develop criteria that will help you know whether your students have achieved the learning objectives. Each assessment criterion should describe the results you expect from a student who has achieved the objective. The assessment criteria should be easily measurable.

1) Learning Objective: Students identify the elements of art in a particular painting.

Assessment: Students can verbally point out and name one example of each of the elements of art in a single work of art. A rubric will help you to measure student success. For example: Students who can name one example of all elements of art have excellent understanding. Students who can find examples of 3–4 of the elements have sufficient understanding. Students who can only find 1 or 2 examples need more practice!

2) Learning Objective: Students research the life and work of an artist and speculate about his or her artistic intention in a given work.

Assessment: Students can formulate a theory about why a single element or image is included in a work of art and support their theory either with information from the artist's biography, or information found in other works of art by the same artist.

Step 4: Write Lesson Steps
Fill in the details of the lesson steps that will teach the skills. You now know exactly what your goals (learning objectives) are for the lesson and what kind of outcome you'll be expecting from your students' work (assessment criteria).




Websites that can provide lesson plans and inspiration

Whether you’re are a teacher, student, or lifelong learner, MoMA Learning is your destination for tools and strategies for engaging with modern and contemporary art. Download and customize slide shows, worksheets, and other resources for use in the classroom or for independent study.

MoMA Learning

How to incorporate art into the curriculum

You can have visual art work in tandem with more traditional academic lesson plans. Art does not necessarily need to be silo-ed.

An example of this is taken from MoMA's website:

Blueprint from Studio in a School

Studio in a school generously supplies lesson plans organized by unit theme and grade. 

For example a lesson plan for Drawing in 5th grade could focus on capturing gesture or movement. The takeaway goals could be: 

Students will be able to: 
Identify the characteristics of a gesture drawing.
Create gesture drawings using expressive line.
Identify proportional relationships in the body.
Draw a figure in proportion using the head as a unit of measurement
Draw a figure in an action pose with attention to direction and position of the limbs and torso
Engage in a sustained investigation of a subject.
Use compressed charcoal to create a graded value scale on toned paper.
Use white chalk to create highlights.
Control media to produce the illusion of volume.
Students will understand that: 
Artists interpret the figure in a variety of ways.
Gesture drawings capture the essence of an action.
Artists observe anatomical relationships in the human form.
Artists carefully obsrve the poses of a figure when drawing.
Artists engage in sustained investigations of a subject to develop deeper understandings.
Artists combine art media to create new effects.
Artists make aesthetic decisions.
Artists select media to produce specific effects.

Brooklyn Museum

The Brooklyn Museum offers Teacher Resource Packets for all of their exhibitions. 

"All of these PDFs feature at least one artwork from our collection or a special exhibition, and include high-resolution color images, background information, questions for viewing, and activity ideas. Learn more about our collection with our database, featuring a search function that indicates artworks currently on view and their locations."

Click here to browse this resource!

Educational Videos


Studio in a School Elementary Programs:

"The Long Term Program gives children the foundation of a comprehensive arts education. It builds foundational art skills that meet the grade level benchmarks of the Arts Blueprint. It develops creative and critical thinking skills and habits. Children learn to observe the world closely, develop their imaginations, and reflect on what they and their peers create. They build both academic and domain-specific vocabulary while talking about art, asking and answering questions, describing their choices and intentions. They learn to follow directions as well as their imaginations. They develop respect for other people’s work – their peers as well as established artists. They engage in creative learning, which inspires them to learn more."

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