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Lesson Title:

Narrative Dioramas - Part 1

(Part 1 in a 2-part series)
Authors: Stephanie Brash, Marybeth Storey, Lucy Andrus
Grade/Age Level: Elementary
Written here for:
3rd Grade Inclusion Class

Conceptual Basis For This Lesson:

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

This lesson is the fifth in our unit: The Language of Visual Art, and focuses on the idea of narrative art. Based on an exemplary artwork (see Art Resources below for the selection we used), the students will work in small groups to develop a diorama that continues the story suggested by the work. Students will exchange ideas and collaborate to make decisions together in the art making process. Students will also relate narrative work to that of a story with a setting (environment), characters and plot. Consideration will be given to the idea of a painting as a frozen image and story, trapped in time (like a photograph). Students will consider what may have happened just before or after in the picture and what clues and information the artist may give us that helps tell the story. This discussion will form the basis for the story they will tell in a three-dimensional diorama format.

Relation to Life:

This lesson offers students the opportunity to take a chosen artwork and interpret it in relation to their own experiences, bringing into sharper focus the connection between art and life. In addition, through collaborative art experience, children learn and develop important social skills such as getting along others and being a team player, which enrich interpersonal relationships.

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 elements and principles of art. AC, AP, Std. 1 & 3
  2. Develop awareness of how artmakers use elements and principles in their work. AH, AC, Std. 3
  3. Increase understanding of narrative in art. AH, AC, Std. 3
  4. Develop an understanding of spatial relationships. AC, AP, Std. 1 & 3
  5. Develop memory recall skills. AC
  6. Improve socialization skills, group collaboration, and cooperation. S
  7. Respect and discuss differences in opinions about an artwork. AE, Std. 3, C/S
  8. Improve interpersonal skills; especially peer interaction, personal responsibility and self-control. S, LV
  9. Enhance creative response to development and expression of personal ideas. AE, Std. 3, E, LV
  10. Increase descriptive language skills. C, AC, Std. 3

Performance Objectives for Observational Assessment (reflecting goals):

The students will be able to:


  • Name at least one artmaker behavior. Goal 5
  • Name the 4 basic elements of art (line, shape, color, texture). Goal 1
  • Define the term narrative. Goal 3
  • Name the three elements of narrative (setting, characters, action or plot) and describe how artist use these to tell their stories. Goals 3 & 9
  • Define the terms: overlapping, foreground, middle ground and background. Goals 4, & 10
  • Name two differences between two-dimensional space and three-dimensional space. Goals 4 & 10
  • Attend to the opening activities without disruption. Goal 7


  • Discuss an art image in relation to a story line (plot), the characters and setting. Goals 8 & 10
  • Discuss what may have happened before or after in the image. Goal 6, 8 & 9
  • Decide as a group what part of the story they want to tell in their diorama. Goal 6, 7, 8 & 9
  • Discuss and describe the setting (environment), the characters and objects for their diorama that help tell the story. Goal 2, 6, 8 & 9
  • Create the background environment inside the diorama using desired media, covering all inner sides of box. Goal 2, 3, 6
  • Work cooperatively with group members, share space and materials, make decisions and arrive at consensus regarding story. Goal 6, 7 & 9
  • Assist with clean up as directed. Goal 6


  • Correctly recall/describe major concepts: narrative and its elements, three-dimensional space and spatial positions. Goal 3 & 4
  • Name the story idea of their diorama. Goals 3 & 10
  • Describe at least one way the elements and principles were used in creating the background of the dioramas. Goal 1 & 2
  • Verbally contribute to group presentation of dioramas when called upon. Goal 3, 6 & 7

Tools Needed For Application

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

  • Action: what is going on in the picture?
  • Background: the area or space behind an object
  • Collage: a design of objects glued down to paper
  • Diorama: a scene inside a box that tells a story, and is made from art materials
  • Elements of art: line, shape, color, texture
  • Environment / setting: where is the story happening?
  • Narrative art: an artwork that tells/shows a story
  • Plot: what is the main idea of the story?
  • Three-dimensional: not flat like a painting, having volume/weight/thickness, able to see an object from many sides


  • Teacher-made: Diorama exemplar
  • Art Resources: An exemplary narrative artwork for each group. Our selection was: Leon N. Smith Dance for the Hunt, Currier and Ives The Happy Family (birds), Van Gogh's Bedroom at Arles, Carmen Lomas Garza La Feria en Reynosa, Juan Miro People and Dog in the Sun, Albina Kosiec Felski The Circus, Degas Dancer with Bouquet, Allan Crite Parade on Hammond Street.

Materials and Preparation:

  • Diorama boxes for each group, painted white on outside
  • Watercolor or tempera paints, brushes, cups, water containers
  • Construction or other colored paper (large pieces that for inside of box)
  • Scissors, pencils, rulers
  • Tissue paper, glue solution, cups and brushes for tissue collage
  • Paper towels or sponges
  • 2 large buckets for collecting dirty tools
  • Glue sticks
  • Scrap paper and pencils to sketch ideas and notes


Procedural Steps:


1. Teacher opens with Hello Song, followed by a recall of what we learned from our still life drawing experience: competency at drawing, observation skills looking with the eye of an artist), creating a background using pattern and repetition, and creating a strong composition using objects that overlap in fore middle and background space.

2. Teacher introduces the idea of paintings or artworks that are narrative, and defines the term. Narrative art is art that tells a story! What’s your favorite story? Have you ever written one?

3. Teacher asks children what they think a good story needs, and proceeds to explain/discuss that good story needs an interesting idea, action that takes place, a setting where the action takes place, and characters that perform the actions.

4. Teacher introduces idea that artists also tell stories in their pictures. Let’s look at some pictures of paintings and see if we can figure out the story the artist is telling. Teacher shows a few of the selected exemplars and engages them in discussion, drawing parallels with writing a story: Who are the characters, what is the setting, and what is the plot or action taking place?

5. Teacher presents idea that artists consider and organize elements of art into a composition or arrangement to help tell the story. Class will discuss objects and elements in painting that describe and tell the story. The teacher will then relate the artwork to a snap shot in time. What may have happened before or after the picture was taken, engaging the children in a discussion of continuing the story suggested in the artwork.

6. Introduce the idea that the students can be co-authors and artists who work together to show this new story, but this time, we will not do it flat on paper like a drawing. We will create our story inside of a box, in three-dimension, called a diorama.

7. Teacher defines diorama and 3-D space. Teacher uses a student volunteer to illustrate the three dimensions…a student volunteer helps show that s/he is a 3-D object, not flat like a picture but has height, width and depth and can be seen by more than one angle or view, can be seen from many sides, not just the front. After defining space, teacher defines diorama and shows the teacher exemplar, asking the children to see if they can figure out the story illustrated in this diorama.

8. Teacher suggests that we can use one of the artworks on display as our inspiration, and continue the story we see in the artwork. We can make a diorama that tells more of the story suggested in the artwork, or even what we think might have happened in the story just before the part we’re seeing in the artwork. We will need to us our imaginations, just like a person writing a story with words!

9. Artworks are given to each S/T group and all proceed to work areas to begin their dioramas by deciding on the story they will tell, and creating the appropriate background inside the box choosing from the available media.


10. In small groups, S/Ts and children will begin by exploring their artwork, discussing and deciding what story the artist is telling us and who are the characters, the setting/environment and plot in the picture. Discuss what may have happened before this picture was painted or what could happen in the future.

11. Children decide as a group what their story is going to be about, and decide on the setting and background and characters. S/Ts write ideas down on paper.

12. S/Ts and children then work together to create the five background areas inside the box that is appropriate to the story (painted, collaged, mixed media). The group must work cooperatively together to make decision, assign, and carry out tasks to accomplish this.

13. When the backgrounds are completed, the children and their S/Ts will spend a few minutes making a list of the things they might need and use to help finish their dioramas next week.

14. The children will help bring their dioramas to the front of the room for brief discussion and display. Students will help clean up as directed.


15. All reconvene and lead teachers direct discussion and viewing of diorama backgrounds, having children recall that what is found in a written story (setting, characters, plot/or action) can also e found in a visual story.

16. Each group will display diorama, name their story, and explain how they used an element or principle of art to illustrate their backgrounds in a way that helps describe the setting.

17. Lead teachers give preview of upcoming steps to finish the dioramas next week, suggestion that if anyone has a small item that would fit in the diorama and help tell the story, they can bring it in. Sing Good-bye Song.


In addition to observation of the Performance Objectives described above for evaluating students, as well as noting what teachers may need to re-teach or do differently, questions to ask may include:

  • Did each student participate in determining the diorama story in his or her small groups?
  • Did the students contribute personal ideas to the decision making process?
  • How did students work together to brainstorm, solve problems and arrive at consensus?

Curriculum Connections:


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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