Torn-Paper Autobiography

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.3; McREL
Visual Arts Standard 1 (Understands and applies media, techniques, and processes related to the visual arts)

What You Need: Construction paper in various colors, glue, writing paper, pencils or pens
What to Do: Understanding one’s own life story is an important part of adolescence. Using colorful torn paper, students will make a self-portrait and then write an accompanying “life story.”

Start by showing students examples of torn-paper art and reviewing the elements of autobiography (one type of expository writing): speaking candidly about oneself, talking about important life events, and presenting ideas in a logical, often chronological, way. Then, have students sketch their portraits on a sheet of construction paper. After they’ve finished, hand out scraps of different-colored construction paper and have them tear the paper into small pieces. Instruct students to glue the paper bits over their pencil drawings to create a torn-paper portrait.

Now it’s time to write their autobiographies. Remind students to write about important life experiences, putting events in chronological order; they should write it in the standard five-paragraph form. Have them end with positive predictions for their own futures. They can then display their artwork and read their autobiographies to the class.

As an extension, have students interview a family member, such as a grandparent or an aunt, and write a biography of that person, accompanied by a torn-paper portrait.

At the Movies

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.1; McREL
Visual Arts Standard 3 (Knows a range of subject matter, symbols, and potential ideas in the visual arts)

What You Need: Construction paper, markers and crayons, lined paper, pencils
What to Do: Introducing your students to plays and dramas this year? Take the mystery out of the genre by creating a movie poster for a play you’re reading as a class. The artwork will serve as a cover page for a persuasive essay in which students aim to convince their audience that the themes in the play (greed, friendship, true love, etc.) speak to them. (You can easily use this activity with a wide range of literary works to explore themes and symbols—not just plays.)

To begin, show students online clips of a movie adaptation of the play. Ask them to comment on what they notice about sets, costumes, and so on. Then, search the Web for examples of visually striking movie posters. Explain that students will consider the major themes in the play and make a poster that uses symbols, characters, and props to convey those themes (for example: a crown and a knife dripping blood for Macbeth; a rose for Beauty and the Beast). Distribute art materials to students. As they work on their posters, encourage them to be bold in their use of symbols, as they are trying to communicate the themes to people unfamiliar with the play.

Now for the writing! Go over the elements of persuasive writing, such as outlining and defending an argument and including a counterargument. Then, explain that they will write an essay arguing that the play relates to all readers, highlighting relevant themes and character motivations and using examples from the text to support their argument. To narrow it down, have students focus on one key scene.

Symmetry and Poetry

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.5; McREL
Visual Arts Standard 3 (Knows a range of subject matter, symbols, and potential ideas in the visual arts)

What You Need: Poster paints, construction paper, lined paper, pencils
What to Do: By using paint and paper to create a Rorschach-like symmetrical design, students will be inspired to write a descriptive poem filled with figurative language about what they see in their abstract artwork.

First, have students pour droplets of poster paint in various colors onto a piece of construction paper; two or three different colors work well. Next, they should fold the paper in half, pressing down to distribute paint evenly. When the paper is opened, a symmetrical design should appear. Give students a few minutes to reflect on their design, letting their imaginations run wild.

Next, instruct students to write a poem inspired by their artwork, describing what they see as their eyes move across the painting. Tell them to include a simile, an example of hyperbole, and two rhyming couplets. After trading papers with a partner to edit for style and consistency (and to check that all poetic elements are included), students can share their artwork and poems with the class.

Extend the learning by having students use the shapes and images they see in their artwork to choreograph their own dance.

Great Labyrinth

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.3; McREL
Visual Arts Standard 2 (Knows how to use structures [e.g., sensory qualities, organizational principles, expressive features] and functions of art)

What You Need: Construction paper; writing paper; pens, pencils, and markers; rulers
What to Do: Give students practice writing narratives with the Great Labyrinth project. First, define what a labyrinth is (an intricate structure of paths and passages). Explain that the seeker often enters a labyrinth with a problem and hopes to find a solution upon reaching its center. Show some examples of labyrinths.

Tell students they will draw their own labyrinth, either by hand or on the computer, and then write a short story (250–500 words) in which the labyrinth plays a major role; the story should have a clear problem and solution. Review the fairy tale or mythology genre; these types of stories are fairly simple, and they involve magical characters or events. When finished, students should trade papers with a partner to edit and revise before presenting their story and artwork to the class.

Don’t want to stop there? Kids can make a 3D model of their labyrinth or maze, perhaps even photographing the planning and building process. Or you might suggest they revise the story and add dialogue to present as a play.


Adapted from Awesome Art Projects That Spark Super Writing.


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Image: Courtesy of Jan Wiezorek