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Lesson Title:

Mixed Media Still Life Lesson - Part 3

Focus on spatial relationships and composition (final in a 3-part series)
Author: Lucy Andrus
Grade/Age Level: Elementary and Early Middle School
Written here for:
Elementary Inclusion Class

Conceptual Basis For This Lesson:

Unit/Theme, Relation of Lesson to the Unit, Major Concepts to be Learned:

This is the final lesson in our 3-part mixed media still life series within the unit, The Language of Visual Art. Today's focus will be on spatial relationships of foreground, middleground and background, use of overlapping to manipulate space on a two-dimensional surface, and principles of composition. Methods used to explore these concepts will be a preliminary kinesthetic activity, and actual physical manipulation of the cutout still life objects on the painted tabletop background.

Relation to Life:

See previous lessons in this series. Also, the ability to visually negotiate space is integral to actual, physical movement through space. Recognizing spatial relationships is part of this process as we try to make sense of the visual environments within which we live and learn. One example is successfully reading and interpreting visual data on a computer screen or any other 2-D surface, which requires the ability to make sense of space and the objects in it. Being able to judge distances when moving (driving, riding bike, etc.) is another example. Finally, the elevation of ordinary everyday objects through the still life process enhances connections to the aesthetic in everyday life.

Learning Standards

Goals Specific to Lesson/Unit (reflecting NYS standards, & targeted learning areas. See Abbreviation Key at end):

The students will:

  1. Increase awareness of basic spatial relationships of fore-middle-background AC, AP, Std. 1 & 3, P/M
  2. Develop understanding of use of overlapping as a design principle used to manipulate space AC, AP, Std. 1 & 3, P/M
  3. Increase memory recall A/C
  4. Develop understanding of and ability to order objects in the environment A/C, V/S
  5. Increase attending skills A/C, W/S
  6. Enhance conceptual understanding through kinesthetic activity A/C, P/M

Performance Objectives for Observational Assessment (reflecting goals):

The students will be able to:


  • Recall the four basic elements of art: line, shape, color and texture.
  • Identify and differentiate between geometric and free-form shape.
  • Recall/Define repetition and pattern
  • Demonstrate overlapping and fore-middle-and background positions using body movement
  • Recall/describe still life
  • Identify/name objects in fore-middle-and backgrounds of exemplars


  • Paint in table top wash with care
  • Finish coloring at least 4 different still life objects using oil pastels
  • Use scissors correctly to cut out at least 4 still life objects
  • Demonstrate attention to composition by moving and arranging cut-out objects on table top background
  • Demonstrate overlapping in composition of objects
  • Describe objects in still life composition that are in front, middle, and background
  • Use glue stick properly to adhere objects when arrangement complete
  • Assist with clean-up and hanging of compositions as directed


  • Recall/define overlapping
  • Name/identify objects in fore-middle-background in finished still lifes
  • Name one artmaker behavior used today

Tools Needed For Application

Vocabulary (defined in age-appropriate, student-friendly language):

  • Composition: a design or an artwork made up of (composed of) the elements of art; a design where we arrange the elements in a way that looks good to the eye; a pleasing arrangement.
  • Foreground: the space in the front of a composition or picture.
  • Middleground: the space in between the foreground and the background.
  • Background: the space in the back of the composition or picture.
  • Overlapping: a principle of art; something we do with the art elements when we cover part of an element like shape with another shape; when we place one part of an element like shape over or behind a part of another.

Visual Aids:

  • Teacher-made: One completed still life example and one in progress to use for demonstration (ready for object placement with wallpaper and tabletop done); elements and principles visual.
  • Art Resources: same still life examples as last week

Materials and Preparation:

  • Supplies for previously absent children to catch up on with patterning (see previous lesson plan)
  • Portable display board
  • Masking tape
  • Brushes, cups and tempera wash for painting in table top (we used watered down white which we premixed in squeeze bottles for easy dispensing)
  • Scissors
  • Glue Sticks
  • Pencils to label names
  • Sponges or wipes for each table
  • Paper towels


Adaptations: While useful and motivating for all students, the kinesthetic exercise in spatial relationships (detailed in step #10 below) was specifically designed to address the cognitive/receptive language and perceptual needs of children in the class with learning disabilities.

Procedural Steps: (details on procedures from beginning to end with ability-appropriate language scripted in as necessary):


1. Sing Hello Song. Leader recalls the still life project and has children begin the session by painting in their tabletops using the white tempera wash. These need to dry as the lesson proceeds.

2. Leader has children recall elements and principles of art by asking them to name what art ideas we learned about that they used to create their pattern designs in the wallpaper backgrounds of their still lifes last time.

3. Leader asks children to define the term still life and view the art exemplars and identify/describe artist’s use of pattern.

4. Leader recalls how hard we worked on drawing our objects by seeing them as an artist would, and noticing the lines and shapes the objects are composed/made up of. Leader has children recall ideas about shape, asking children to identify and describe difference between geometric and free-form shape.

5. Leader uses the incomplete teacher exemplar (with wallpaper and tabletop finished) and a selection of cut out still life objects to illustrate the following points up on the display board.

6. Leader explains that it is now time to take the objects we have drawn and cut out and arrange them in our still life picture, but first we need to learn something about how an artist would make such a composition, and what they would have to think about (placement in space). Leader defines term composition.

7. Leader focuses on the idea of placement in space and explains/demonstrates on the display board (using teacher exemplar, the cut-out objects, and masking tape) how different placement of the objects creates a different sense of what space they are in: what object is in front/foreground? middle/middleground? back/background?

Leader explains that even though our objects are flat, two-dimensional, we can make them appear to be in three-dimensional space by where and how we place them on our the tabletops.

8. Leader places some objects on the table in each spatial position, using tape roll on back, and asks children how she created these spaces with her objects...what did she do with the objects to make them look like they were in the front/foreground or middleground, etc.?

9. Leader introduces term "overlapping" and defines, asking children to find more examples of overlapping on some of the art exemplars on display: where and how did the artist use overlapping to create a sense of space?

10. To help strengthen the children’s understanding of these concepts, the leader takes them through a kinesthetic exercise (using their own bodies/movement to experience the concept). Leader asks for some volunteers and assigns each one a still life object role to play: You are the tall vase, you are the bowl of apples, you are the candlestick, you are the teapot, etc. Using empty space in the front of the room, leader then directs each object in order to create a composition of objects that illustrates the three spatial positions and the use of overlap as the rest of the group observes: Candlesticks find the background, teapot, move to the middle ground, bowl of apples move to the foreground, orange overlap with the teapot, box overlap with the candlestick so it you are in the middleground, etc. Spend a few minutes doing this until all of the children understand.

11. Following this exercise, Leader explains what the children now need to do in order to arrange or compose their own still life objects on their tabletop backgrounds: experiment with placement of objects in space, use overlapping, arrange objects into a pleasing composition. Spend time arranging and composing before gluing objects down with a glue stick. Leader reminds children to use their artmaker’s eye to make good decisions about placement.


12. Children go to their small groups to finish their still life pictures. Children who need to catch up can be grouped together to do so while others proceed.

13. S/T’s have children begin experimenting with arranging and composing, using overlapping, and noting spatial areas.

14. Once desired composition achieved, S/T's show how to use the glue sticks properly and children begin to glue down all their objects onto tabletop.

15. S/T's can direct any child who is finished help a child who is catching up, for example coloring a drawn still life object according to artist wishes and/or cutting object out.

16. When all have finished, S/T's have children clean up hands right at table (use damp sponge or wipes), and assist with capping all glue sticks securely. Have other children bring finished collages to front for taping up on board.


17. Leader reconvenes large group and has children recall spatial positions and what principle of art/design we used to achieve these: overlapping!

18. Leader asks children to name and identify the use of overlapping and spatial placement in some of the finished collages, as well as commenting on each others’ use of pattern, noting differences and similarities.

19. Leader explains that next week, we will begin another project in our unit on The Language of Art that will combine many of the ideas we’ve learned so far into one three-dimensional project (narrative dioramas). Close with Goodbye Song.


In addition to observation of Performance Objectives stated above, questions to ask might include:

  • Do the wallpaper patterns in the still life compositions show variety in their design?
  • Do the lines and shapes of the drawn still life objects reflect careful looking and rendering?
  • Does the composition of the objects on the tabletop indicate use of all three spatial areas though overlapping?
  • Were the children able to accurately indicate the relevant use of elements and principles in the art exemplars?

Abbreviation Key

NYS Standards for the Arts:
AH = Art History Std. 1 = creating, participating in art
AC = Art Criticism Std. 2 = knowing art materials and processes
AE = Aesthetics Std. 3 = responding to works of art/artists
AP = Art Production Std. 4 = knowing cultural dimensions of art

Needs Assessment Areas for Developing Skills and Abilities:
A/C    = academic/cognitive M/P = motor/perceptual  E = emotional
C        = communicative status W/S = work/study habits S = social
Pre-V = prevocational skills  L = living skills  

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