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Smile for Leonardo!

Leonardo da Vinci was fascinated with faces. Students view faces similar to those Leonardo drew in preparation for making original self-portraits.

  • Grade 2
    Grade 3
    Grade 4
  • 30 to 60 minutes
  • Directions

    1. Introduce students to Leonardo da Vinci, an artist fascinated with human idiosyncrasies. He filled notebooks with his sketches of facial features. Inform students that in this lesson they will use Leonardo's observational techniques to inspire self-portraits. First provide class time and resources for students to investigate da Vinci's live and artistic career. What type of artist was da Vinci? Where was he from? What was his childhood like? What other artists may have influenced his career? In small groups, students discuss their findings.
    2. Students view their own faces in mirrors. Ask them to think about something that makes them really happy. They'll see a smile forming, and all of the changes in faces that accompany the smile: cheeks rise, and eyes may close slightly, creating laugh lines. These lines, which extend down from one's nose on either side of the mouth, will deepen, and dimples may form. What other changes can be seen? Ask each student to make a list of changes they see in the mirror with each new facial expression.
    3. Ask students to think about something that elicits a sad emotion. How does the facical expression change? Challenge students to try making faces that show other emotions, such as surprise or indignation.
    4. On white construction paper, students use Crayola® Washable Markers to draw their faces showing one of the experimental emotions. As students look at their reflections in the mirrors, have them draw so what them see, keeping focused on facial details. Encourage students to refer to their notes as needed.
    5. Students color their portraits with Crayola Construction Paper Crayons.
    6. Once self-portraits are complete, ask students to write a short paragraph identifying their facial expression, describing what they incorporated into the artwork to show that expression and how their self-portraits art similar to, or different from, da Vinci's style. Assist with writing as needed.
    7. Post student artwork and writing pieces on a classroom bulletin board or in a school corridor.
  • Standards

    LA: Read and comprehend informational texts, including history/social studies, science, and technical texts, at the high end of the grade level text complexity band independently and proficiently.

    LA: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.

    LA: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) 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 with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly at an understandable pace.

    VA: Use art materials and tools in a safe and responsible manner.

    VA: Use visual structures of art to communicate ideas.

  • Adaptations

    Possible classroom resources include: Who Was Leonardo da Vinci? by Roberta Edwards; Leonardo da Vinci for Kids: His Life and Ideas, 21 Activities by Janis Herbert; Leonardo Da Vinci: Artist, Inventor, and Renaissance Man by Roberta A. Koestler-Grack; Leonardo da Vinci by Kathleen Krull.

    daVinci was known for his drawings of his own inventions. He was particularly interested in flying machines. Encourage students to investigate daVinci's flying machine drawings. Ask students to invent a flying machine that is different from anything they have ever seen. Display student illustrations and written descriptions of their original flying machines.

    Leonardo's Mona Lisa may be the most famous painting of all time. Part of the fascination with this painting lies in the model's half-smile. Encourage students to draw a personal version of the Mona Lisa. Create a thought bubble that shows what she is thinking!

    Students work in teams of two. One student sketches two portraits of their partners. The first portrait is of the partner smiling. The second is of the partner frowning. Analyze the portraits. How are they similar? How are they different?


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