Art Lessons

Visual Art Lesson Plans for grades K-12

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Cities of the Future

-Carrie Shiffrin

Intended Audience: 12 graders

New York State Learning Standards:
Standard #1: Creating, Performing, and Participating in the Arts

-Indicator A: Experiment and create artworks, in a variety of mediums, based on a range of individual and collective experiences.

-Indicator B: Know and use a variety of sources for developing and conveying ideas, images, themes, symbols, and events in creating original art.

-Indicator C: Create artwork, using the elements and principles of art, to communicate specific meanings to others.

-Indicator D: During the creative process, reflect on the effectiveness of mediums or techniques that have been selected to convey intended meanings.

Standard #3: Responding to and Analyzing Works of Art

-Indicator B: Identify, analyze, and interpret visual and other sensory characteristics discovered in natural and human-made forms.

-Indicator C: Compare the ways ideas and concepts are communicated through the visual arts, with ways they are manifested in other art forms.

-Indicator D: Compare the ways ideas, themes, and concepts are communicated through the visual arts, with the various ways they are manifested in other disciplines.

Prerequisite Knowledge:

Students have read Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, and have brought in a sketch of their favorite city. Project takes place toward the end of the year, so students have experience using most of the materials found in the studio, including x-acto knives and clay.

Goal: To create a sculptural illustration of a city from the future.


-Students will complete a creative writing piece to use as the basis of their artwork.

-Students will gain experience using non-traditional materials.

-Students will use logical reasoning to justify their predictions for the future.

-Students will work independently, and use each other as resources for problem-solving.

Duration: 55 minute class periods

Day 1: Critique of Invisible Cities sketches and intro to project

Day 2: Share city descriptions, materials intro and brainstorming

Day 3: City construction

Day 4: Construction continued

Day 5: Critique



-x-acto blades


-hot glue

-hot glue guns

-masking tape

-assorted scrap paper, fabric, buttons, beads etc.

-aluminum foil


-oil-based clay

-acrylic paint



-any other natural or recycled materials students choose

Vocabulary: non-traditional materials

Art Historical References:
Rat Evolution by Alexis Rockman

Drawings by Michael Schall:
Remaking the Night Sky, graphite on paper,41.25” x 59.75”, 2008.

Black Rock Forest Preserve, graphite on paper, 40” x 60”, 2008.

Rebuilding the Quarries, graphite on paper, 40” x 60”, 2008.

Volkeshalle, graphite on paper, 22” x 30”, 2009.

Teaching Procedures/Task Analysis:

Day 1: Critique of Invisible Cities sketches and Intro to Project
A. Introduction, Review and Key Questions: 5 minutes
Have students put their work up on the board. Explain that today students will get to see their classmates interpretations of various cities from Invisible Cities.

B. Presentation: 25 minutes
Hold an informal critique of the work for about 25 minutes. Explain that students should consider the following questions: What kind of city do you see? Is it from the past, present, or future? What do you see that makes you say that? Who lives here? Is it a place you would want to live? Why or why not? How did the artist illustrate these qualities?

C. Modeling/Demonstration: 10 minutes
Explain that over the next couple of class periods students will again be illustrating a city, but this time it will be a city of their own creation and the illustration will be sculptural. Explain that for homework, they are to bring in a written description, in the style of Invisible Cities, that represents a city in the future. Explain that they can go as far into the future as they want but they must have a logical explanation for their predictions. Show Rat Evolution by Alexis Rockman as an example. Discuss how Rockman’s prediction for what rats will be like in the future is an extrapolation based on current patterns of environmental change. Explain that the logic used to make the prediction does not have to be a scientifically tested hypothesis, but there must be some kind of basis for the changes they choose to illustrate. Show picture of spider webs in trees following the flooding in Pakistan last March. Explain that because the flood waters took so long to recede, the spiders had to seek shelter up in the trees, spinning huge webs that covered the trees. Explain that one could use this reasoning to predict that in the future, cities will be build on tall posts above the ground because water levels will be so much higher.

D. Work Period: 10 minutes
Allow students to brainstorm ideas in their sketchbooks for the next ten minutes of class.

E. Summary: 5 minutes
Clean up and reiterate their homework: Come in with a typed description of a city in the future, using the writing style of Invisible Cities as inspiration. Emphasize that how far into the future they go is entirely up to them. It could be 5 years, 100 years, 1,000 years or beyond but remind them to be prepared to justify the predictions they are making.
Day 2: Share city descriptions, materials intro and brainstorming

A. Introduction, Review and Key Questions: 5 minutes
Begin class by showing drawings by Michael Schall. Pose the same questions asked during the critique from last class. Discuss how the landscapes Michael Schall creates seem entirely fantastical despite the fact that they are made up of existing human structures and materials. Discuss creating a sense of internal logic within your city.

B. Presentation: 20 minutes
Have students partner up and read their stories for 10 minutes. Have each partner give feedback on what kinds of images came to mind when hearing the description of the city. Refocus the group and discuss non-traditional materials. What do you think non-traditional materials means? What kinds of materials would be considered traditional? Non-traditional? Have the materials listed above out on a table. Walk students through the traditional and non-traditional materials given. Review the three constraints of the project:
1) The city must have a cardboard base that is no larger than 1.5’x1.5’ but may be as tall as they want.
2) At least one component of the sculpture must be made using a non-traditional material.
3) Any additional materials used must be free (i.e. only natural or recycled materials)
C. Modeling/Demonstration: 5 minutes
Explain that the sense of scale depicted in their sculpture is entirely up to them. Show NYC Scale example:
D. Work Period: 22 minutes
Have students begin by sketching out plans for their sculpture. Emphasize having at least three sketches of the project before they begin sculpting it.

E. Summary: 3 minutes
Clean up and mention that before the next class, they should have at least three sketches of their project. Explain that the sketches do not need to be perfected drawings, but clear enough to give an idea of how the sculpture will be made. Explain that they should be prepared to get to work right away in the next class, so if they want to use any additional materials, they should bring them in.
Day 3: City Construction

A. Introduction, Review and Key Questions: 10 minutes
Have students partner up with a different person than they did in the last class. Have them share their sketches for their city, explaining the logic behind their predictions for the future. For 10 minutes have them discuss their plans, choice of materials, and any suggestions the other person might have.

B. Presentation: 5 minutes

Explain that this will be a very independent project, since everyone will be using different materials. Emphasize using their fellow classmates as a resource if they have questions or would like feedback. Mention that you will also, of course, be  available to answer questions and give feedback but that they should make use of the expertise of their friends. 

C. Work Period: 35 minutes

E. Summary: 5 minutes
Have students clean up and regather. Ask students to share any difficulties they encountered  and ways they overcame them. Give students an opportunity to ask questions of the group. Explain that they will have one more class period to work on the project, followed by a critique, so they may need to work on it during free periods, lunch or at home.
Day 4: Construction Continued

A. Introduction, Review and Key Questions: 7 minutes
Have students bring out their projects. Do a gallery walk around the classroom so that everyone can see everyone’s progress. What are some non-traditional materials you are seeing your classmates use? How are they changing the purpose of these materials by putting them in an art piece? What techniques are you noticing? Does anyone have any questions they would like to ask the group? Discuss the work for about five minutes.

B. Presentation: 3 minutes

C. Work Period: 40 minutes
Students work independently. About halfway through the work period, refocus the group, have them pair up with a different partner and discuss the progress, offering feedback and any suggestions for future moves.

D. Summary: 5 minutes

Day 5: Critique

A. Introduction, Review and Key Questions: 2 minutes
Have everyone display their work out on the tables with their writing piece next to it.

B. Presentation: 3 minutes
Explain that they will begin with one student choosing a piece to discuss. Explain that they should address the same questions they’ve been considering since reading Invisible Cities:
1) What kind of city do you see?
2) Is it from the past, present, or future? What do you see that makes you say that?
3) Who lives here? How can you tell?
4) Is it a place you would want to live? Why or why not?
5) How did the artist illustrate these qualities?
6) How did the artist incorporate non-traditional materials into the piece?
Hold a group discussion of each piece, allowing the people who partnered with the artist provide insight into the city description that the person wrote. Have the artist speak last.

C. Work Period: 45 minutes

E. Summary: 3 minutes
Ask students to write a one paragraph reflection piece addressing what they liked and disliked about the project and what they learned through working with non-traditional materials.  

Filed under sculpture 12thGrade Literacy CarrieShiffrin