My lesson plans include exercises in: visual literacy, making observations and gathering evidence on graphic organizers, and writing a five-paragraph essay using the data gathered. Studying colors, symbols, and composition or form, students will compare and contrast two paintings:
The Ascent of Ethiopia
by Louise Mailou Jones and
Building More Stately Mansions
by Aaron Douglas that both narrate the history and survival of the black race and culture in this society.
Lesson Plan I: Students will compare and contrast (1)colors and hues, (2)symbols, and (3)the flow or composition of the two paintings that narrate the history and survival of the black race and culture in this society. They will practice the skill of making observations about art and gathering the evidence to support these observations.
For these exercises the two paintings will be projected simultaneously onto a screen, using either an overhead projector or two slide projectors. For this activity it will be necessary to make slides of these two paintings or to have them imprinted side-by-side on an overhead plastic sheet.
The teacher will lead a guided discussion of the
colors and hues
used in these two paintings, asking students what they notice at first glance about the colors in these paintings. They will notice that the shades of purples, greens and browns in Aaron Douglas's painting are muted and understated, while Jones uses bright hues of blues, purples, greens, and yellows, accented with black. There are more differences in the colors and hues in these paintings than there are similarities. For this exercise, students will record the colors and hues they see in each painting and for evidence identify objects in each painting that represent those colors and hues. A
divided into quarters is useful for this activity. The top two quarters can be used for one painting and the bottom two for the other. On the left side students can record the colors and hues they see and on the right side they can identify objects in the painting that are those colors.
Next the teacher will give the students a
(two overlapping circles) and ask students to point out
that they see in both paintings such as the pyramids and the sphinx. Objects that appear in both paintings will be recorded where the two circles in the diagram overlap. Then they will find objects or symbols that appear in only one painting. Where the circles do not overlap, students will record on one side objects and symbols unique to one painting and on the other side objects and symbols unique to the other. Hence, there will be three lists in the diagram, two that contrast with each other and the one list of objects and symbols in the middle that the paintings share.
Once the students have recorded the symbols on the Venn diagram, they will fill out
three more graphic organizers
: one listing on the left side the objects and
by the two paintings and on the right side what they think these represent, and two separate organizers for
symbols unique to each painting
. For example each painting contains a dominant figure of the sphinx and pyramids, no doubt representing the powerful culture of Africa in Egyptian civilization. On the other two graphic organizers students will list the symbols that are unique to each painting and on the right side, across from the symbol, write down what they think it represents in the painting. Obviously, before filling out these three organizers, the teacher will lead a mini-discussion about the titles of these paintings and the overall theme of the paintings. Knowing this, it will be easier for students to speculate on and decode the symbols on their graphic organizers. For example, Douglas includes, in the right forefront, a figure (could be a teacher or a mother) showing a globe of the world to two children. Students will speculate on what these figures and the globe represent. Jones includes a palette and brushes in her painting and also a black figure at an easel. Students will identify what they think she is conveying in her painting through these symbols about the rise of the black culture in our society.
Once students have observed the colors and hues of these paintings and they have recorded the symbols and what they represent, they will be ready to compare and contrast the overall
flow or composition of the paintings
. It helps to know that both of these large paintings of a very large topic are approximately the same size, almost sixty inches high and approximately forty-five inches wide. To begin looking at form and structure students will observe how the symbols flow. In Douglas's painting, the sphinx and pyramids appear to dominate the upper left part of the painting, while the contemporary figures appear prominent in the foreground. In Jones's painting the black sphinx and pyramids dominate the lower right foreground and the contemporary figures gradually rise out of this, culminating in the upper right hand corner, at a piano, on stage, and at an easel in front of skyscrapers. Students will observe where the myriad symbols are positioned within this flow.
graphic organizer divided into quarters
is helpful for students to record the structure they observe in each painting and how this structure or
conveys the artist's statement, keeping in mind the titles of the paintings. Again, the top two quarters can serve for observations of structure on the left and evidence on the right for one painting, and the bottom two quarters can serve the same purpose for the other painting. These observations and evidence can be general or specific, depending on how in-depth the teacher wants to make the lesson.
Lesson Plan II: Students will use their observations and evidence they have gathered to write a
five-paragraph essay comparing and contrasting these two paintings. I refer to the word
because it is empowering for students to learn that any time they are faced with an expository essay assignment, they can rely on this formula, once they have learned it. I like the expression I saw somewhere,
"Writing should be crafted, not sprayed." Knowing the
builds confidence in students and reduces tendencies to
thoughts and evidence as a result of anxiety.
A highly effective metaphor for the formula five-paragraph essay that has proven itself again and again is the simple
I simply draw a flashlight on the overhead or blackboard and write
next to the bulb. Where the top part of the flashlight screws into the body, I write
controlling idea "A," controlling idea " B,"
controlling idea " C." These four parts, I explain, make up the introductory paragraph: a thesis sentence and a sentence stating each controlling idea.
I show the students how to copy
controlling idea sentence "A"
which is the first support paragraph, and that what follows is the evidence to prove
controlling idea sentence "A."
in the flashlight. Next I show them that they must copy
controlling idea "B"
which is the second support paragraph, and that what follows is the evidence to prove
controlling idea "B."
The third paragraph is the
in the flashlight. Then, I show them that to open
paragraph four, the third battery
in the flashlight, they copy
controlling idea " C,"
followed by evidence to prove this controlling idea. When the controlling ideas are used to open the support paragraphs, they are called
Once they have completed the three support paragraphs or, to stay with the flashlight metaphor, dropped in the three batteries, they must screw the end or bottom on the flashlight to hold the batteries in place, making the light come on. This
end of the flashlight
is the conclusion to the essay. Without it, the batteries will fall out and the light (thesis) will not light up. The bottom end (conclusion) of the flashlight is a shadow of the top part (introduction) of the flashlight. Hence, I write under the word conclusion:
controlling ideas "A," "B," and "C."
These four sentences that make up the conclusion should be similar to, but not exactly like, the four sentences in the introduction. This flashlight metaphor for the formula five-paragraph essay is an easy concept for students to grasp, and the idea that a simple
can represent a five-paragraph essay takes them by surprise. They become comfortable referring to it.
The first lesson in writing a five-paragraph essay is to model for students how to write the thesis, the first sentence of the introduction of a basic five-paragraph essay. I always point to the assignment as the key to the thesis, since students seem to panic when they are assigned an essay, never knowing where to look to begin. The
write a five paragraph essay in which they compare and contrast the three elements they have studied of the two large paintings:
The Ascent of Ethiopia
by Louis Mailou Jones and
Building More Stately Mansions
by Aaron Douglas.
Because my students have limited skills in the writing process, I will probably model how to craft the thesis from the assignment given.
Once we have established the thesis, I will point out that in a five-paragraph essay there are three major support paragraphs, one dealing with each of the three elements they studied in the paintings. It is reassuring for them to know that they have already gathered the data on their graphic organizers, and now it is a matter of incorporating it into their essay. They will need to craft three controlling ideas to complete their introductory paragraph, one controlling idea for each of the elements: color and hue, symbols, and flow or composition. With their help, I will model how to craft one controlling idea and let them use that to craft the other two. Students do not understand that the reason these sentences in the introductory paragraph are called
is because they control the next three paragraphs (the body) of the five-paragraph essay. In order to model the controlling idea, I will ask students to look at the first graphic organizer they did, comparing and contrasting colors and hues in these paintings. I will ask them to come up with an overall statement about the differences and similarities of colors and hues in these paintings. From their shared statements, we will craft a controlling idea that includes the information they have gathered on their graphic organizer. In other words, once they have crafted a controlling idea, they can use the information and details on their graphic organizer to support it. Modeling how to craft a controlling idea by looking at the data gathered on a graphic organizer and coming up with statements that include the information might be effectively done on an overhead projector where the statements made by the students could be written and projected for all to see what the choices are.
Once the students have crafted the other two controlling ideas, they will have completed the introductory paragraph of their essay. It is very liberating when they understand that they will now
rewrite each controlling idea
as the opening sentence to the three support paragraphs, using the evidence from their graphic organizers to support the controlling ideas that open each of these three paragraphs. Again, with their assistance, it will be necessary to model how to craft at least one of these paragraphs. By closely studying the controlling idea that takes in information on the graphic organizer about colors and hues, students should be able to see how they can use the left and right hand columns of the graphic organizer as evidence to write the support for their controlling idea. Hence by rewriting the first controlling idea as the opening sentence to paragraph two and by using the information on the graphic organizer on colors and hues, they will see that they have crafted the first support paragraph of their essay. They have made a statement and they have supported it.
This is the process they will follow to craft the second and third support paragraphs. Again, because my students' writing skills are shaky, I may model, with their help, the second support paragraph and leave them on their own for the third. What is important is that they understand how they combine the controlling idea sentence in their introductory paragraph with the information and evidence they have gathered on the graphic organizer. Essentially, they have done the research by the time they come to writing the essay.
When students are faced with writing the
, I find that they don't know how to wrap up the essay and they often introduce new and extraneous information. It is illuminating for students to learn that the conclusion can be a simple reflection of their introductory paragraph, made up of the same basic four sentences contained in that paragraph. For this reason I call these four sentences the
three shadow controlling ideas
because, while they are not verbatim, they shadow or restate what the students wrote in the introductory paragraph. This modeling of the formula five-paragraph essay gives students a basic understanding of and practice in the basic essay, a skill they will carry with them beyond the English classroom.