Jacob Lawrence's Painted Stories

Jacob Lawrence's Painted Stories lesson plan

Storytelling meets visual arts in the style of Jacob Lawrence, African American artist and storyteller.

  • 1.

    Jacob Lawrence was an African American artist whose work was known for its emphasis on storytelling. He was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on September 7, 1917, and spent portions of his life in both Easton (the home of Crayola®) and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, before moving to Harlem in New York with his mother and sisters at age 13. He received his artistic training at community art centers in Harlem, the easel project of the Works Progress Administration, and the American Artists School in New York.

  • 2.

    Jacob Lawrence's work focuses on the history of African Americans in the United States. Many of his screen prints, which are bold and graphic, include several panels that tell the same story, each in a different way. He includes scenes of everyday life, historical events, and the lives of African American heroes and heroines in his work.

  • 3.

    To create your own storytelling artwork, begin by thinking of a significant historical event in your life or to your ethnic group or family heritage. Write a story about this event with Crayola Colored Pencils. Include details such as important names, dates, and circumstances.

  • 4.

    Use Crayola Crayons on heavy paper to draw a portrait of the person featured in your story. Surround the main portrait with other story images, using bold colors and firm strokes. Fill in your drawings with color.

  • 5.

    Cover a table with recycled newspaper. Use Crayola Watercolors to fill in the background of your drawing. Dip your brush into water, then collect a small amount of paint on your wet brush. Apply this diluted wet paint to the background for a wash effect.


  • LA: Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.
  • LA: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.
  • LA: Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
  • LA: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions with diverse partners on grade level topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • LA: Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience in an organized manner, using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace.
  • SS: Describe ways in which language, stories, folktales, music, and artistic creations serve as expressions of culture and influence behavior of people living in a particular culture.
  • SS: Use appropriate resources, data sources, and geographic tools to generate, manipulate, and interpret information.
  • VA: Intentionally take advantage of the qualities and characteristics of art media, techniques, and processes to enhance communication of experiences and ideas.
  • VA: Select and use the qualities of structures and functions of art to improve communication of ideas.
  • VA: Use subjects, themes, and symbols that demonstrate knowledge of contexts, values, and aesthetics that communicate intended meaning in artworks.
  • VA: Analyze contemporary and historic meanings in specific artworks through cultural and aesthetic inquiry.


  • Possible classroom resources include: Story Painter: The Life of Jacob Lawrence by John Duggleby; The Great Migration: An American Story by Jacob Lawrence; Jacob Lawrence by Mike Venezia
  • Students investigate the historical era known as "The Great Migration" in American history. What motivated many Blacks to leave their homes in the Southern states and move North? Why were Northern states referred to as "The Promised Land"? Did Blacks find "The Promised Land"?
  • In a similar manner to Jacob Lawrence's artwork, students illustrate an important event that they are studying in history or social studies. Compose a brief summary of the event to accompany the display of artwork.
  • Students select one of Jacob Lawrence's powerful works, such as a piece from his series about Harriet Tubman. Research information about the scene portrayed. Present research to classmates.
  • Students create a storytelling painting about an important event in their personal lives. Include details about the event. Write the story of the event and post it with the displayed painting.