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Picturing Pets

Do animals have feelings? Read about famous animals who have displayed human like emotions. Create expressive “pet portraits” that show pets in a favorite environment.

  • Grade 1
    Grade 2
    Grade 3
  • 30 to 60 minutes
  • Directions

    1. Invite children to bring in pictures of their pets or other favorite animals. Initiate a discussion of pet behaviors. Do animals have emotions? Can they be happy, sad, lonely, mad, loving…? Ask students to support their opinions with examples of animal behaviors they have observed.
    2. Share a nonfiction book with the class that depicts an animal expressing emotion. Possible examples are: “Koko’s Kitten” by Dr. Francine Patterson, or “Hachiko Waits” by Leslea Newman. Discuss the animal’s human like qualities and its relationship with humans in the story. How do the illustrations reflect the animal’s human like qualities? Ask students to think about the bond that can develop between a human and an animal, especially between people and their pets.
    3. Show students Christine Merrill’s “Chesapeake Bay Retriever”, a painting donated to FAPE (Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies). Note the expression in the dog’s eyes as well as the Chesapeake Bay in the background. Ask what they think seeing a picture like this would tell people in another country about Americans.
    4. Provide Crayola® Crayons and white drawing paper and/or construction paper. Invite each student to draw a picture of a pet or other favorite animal. Encourage them to think about the animal’s feelings and how they communicate feelings with their eyes, mouth, tail, or posture.
    5. Remind them that animals are not usually one solid color, but a mixture of colors. Even a brown dog is not completely brown but a mixture of different browns, golds, and a little black and white. Suggest that they use several different colors when drawing their pets. If available, encourage them to try Crayola Multicultural Crayons, Crayola Construction Paper Crayons, or some of the Crayola Dry Erase Crayons. Dry Erase Crayons produce particularly bold colors when used on paper.
    6. Ask students to think about how it feels to stroke an animal. Does the fur usually grow in one particular direction? Suggest that they think about that when creating their crayon strokes. That will give texture to the animal’s fur.
    7. Remind students that Chistine Merrill’s portrait included the Chesapeake Bay in the background because that is where this dog is from and retrievers love to swim. Invite students to include a background setting that they associate with their pet. Does their cat love to sit in a sunny window? Does their dog love to be out in the garden? Suggest that they fill the whole page with color.
    8. Ask students to create titles for their portraits that say something about the pet’s mood. Then invite them to display their portraits along with the titles around the room.
  • Standards

    LA: Describe the connection between two individuals, events, ideas, or pieces of information in a text.

    LA: Distinguish between information provided by pictures or other illustrations and information provided by the words in a text.

    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.

    SCI: Use evidence to support the explanation that traits can be influenced by the environment.

    VA: Elaborate visual information by adding details in an artwork to enhance emerging meaning.

    VA: develop a work of art based on observations of surroundings.

  • Adaptations

    Show a movie that focuses on an animal/human bond such as “My Dog Skip”, “Shiloh”, or “Homeward Bound”. Discuss it afterwards.

    Invite someone from the ASPCA to talk to the class about things they can do to help animals at the shelter.

    Learn more about the work of Christine Merrill and share other examples of her work with the students. Discuss the career of a pet portrait artist.


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  • Creativity.
  • Capacity.
  • Collaboration.
  • Change.
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