This first grade lesson began with group observations of the Mona Lisa. I asked students to look carefully and talk among their group about things they could see in the painting. After a couple of minutes of "talk time" I had students tell me what they could see. I did this with seven different first grade classes over three different days and the lists were pretty much the same, which I expected, although specific language was a little different, such as "it looks like sunset" and "there's light in the sky" and "the sky looks yellow." I charted students' responses and one class's example is shown here. I particularly wanted students to notice all the detail in the landscapes in the background, and was not disappointed. In fact, most groups paid more attention to the background than they did to the portrait itself.
After the discussion and chart-making, we talked about the difference between a portrait and a self-portrait, and I explained that they were going to use construction paper crayons on black paper to draw a self-portrait with a landscape in the background. I did point out to them that they could make these pretty fanciful by using interesting colors for their faces.
The first day I taught this lesson, I found that students were drawing the faces pretty small, so the next two days I provided the rest of the classes with oval templates which they could trace for the face shape if they chose. Most students chose this option and, although I really prefer not to have students trace things they could draw themselves, I also wanted them to have faces large enough to work with and proportionally right for the size of paper. I did whisk away all the pencils as soon as the ovals were traced so that they had to use the crayons for the drawing.
When all students were finished with their drawings, I had them walk around the room to look at everyone's work. We then finished up with a short "analysis" of individual work in which students were asked to tell what they particularly liked about their self-portraits, and then what they particularly liked about others' work.