Teaching Through Lawrence Anholt’s Artist Biographies


Hello guys and a happy Monday to you! I hope you had a wonderful weekend and are excited to start the week with new goals and new aspirations. Today, I wanted to write something that is fun and educational.

As many of you may know, I was an elementary school teacher for over 5 years and learned so much about the interests and learning styles of children. One of the lessons a former colleague taught students was how to write biographies on famous artists. She would hand out Lawrence Anholt’s picture books (See HERE) and have students read them to structure a biography essay themselves. You can do the same lesson at home, if you want, but I would suggest to give your child/children paragraph structures to show how the whole biography essay should look like (they were 4th graders so tune the lesson accordingly). The FUN part of the whole assignment was to do an art lesson where students learned and discussed art techniques used by famous artists and translated them into their own art creations.

The Writing Lesson

While reading picture books are a great way for children to connect to words and worlds, they are also a great source of inspiration for writing and other means of self-expression. Lawrence Anholt’s books are appropriate for 3rd graders and above. If you want your child to focus on the writing aspect, then start by picking a book covering their favorite artist and then reading the book themselves. Giving them a pre-made graphic organizer (See HERE) or having them create one themselves will help them learn which facts are important and how to structure their biography essays. To give you an idea, a biography could be organized like the following:

Paragraph 1: Introduction

  • Include the person’s full name
  • The reason why they are famous and what they are known for

Paragraph 2: Early Life

  • Date of birth, place of birth, and parents or siblings names.
  • 1-2 fun facts or events from their childhood

Paragraph 3: Their Accomplishments

  • Who were the important people in their lives that helped them reach their goals?
  • 1-2 facts on how they accomplished their goals
  • Any major events like covering any awards won for their discovery/accomplishments

Paragraph 4: Reflection/Conclusion

  • Is this person dead? If so, when did he die? If alive, what is he doing right now?
  • How has this person’s accomplishment impacted society?
  • How has this person impacted/influenced you?

The Art Lesson

This is where you can get as creative as you want while keeping in mind the budget, your child’s art skills, and your art knowledge. After the child reads an artist biography by Lawrence Anholt, discuss ONE artist painting with him/her. I would suggest focus on one concept like “creative lines” or “finding shapes” as well, and have children make observations. For example, you can discuss how Van Gogh (See HERE) used lines to show movement or what shapes did Picasso (See HERE) use to create his “Cubist” art. Another concept great for children is discussing color and the feelings they invoke. You can use Matisse (See HERE) and Monet (See HERE) as examples.

You need to plan ahead the materials they will use and any guidelines you want them to follow. For example to teach my students (I did the lesson once or twice, I think) about Degas’s art style, I used the following book (See HERE) and picked ONE painting of his (a ballerina one, of course) to discuss. With a class of 21 students selecting one painting to reproduce is much more manageable. Then I gave them the medium (the materials) which included oil pastels, construction paper, lace, and glue.  You can adjust or differenitate your lesson/activity according to your child/children needs. But it is imperative that they use these books to gain the background first so they know what they are doing (reproducing a famous artist’s painting) why they are doing this (to learn and connect with the artist’s art style). Doing this will help them gain academic knowledge, gain life skills and it’s fun!

Well guys, I have given you two lesson plans that you can do at home (any teachers here? 🙂 ) with your child. Please have them read these books. They are simple, informative, and fact-based. I totally recommend them. Happy Reading!!

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