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Learning how to draw means learning to see. A good art lesson teaches us not only to create but to look at, think about and understand our world through art.

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Little Land by Robert Louis Stevenson

 My students will be reading the poem
The Little Land by Robert Louis Stevenson.
First they will read and interpret the poem without illustrations and tell me what they think it means. Then they will look at the illustrations below as we read the poem as a class and, drawing from their own experiences, either from books or movies, tell me if their ideas on the meaning of the poem have changed. We will discuss movies they are familiar with, such as 'A Bug's Life' and 'Honey I Shrunk The Kids'. We will then discuss how illustrations help the reader to visualize the meaning of a poem. Using the reference materials provided by the teacher, students will then envision themselves as being very small. They will create an illustration of what the world would look like from an insect's point of view.

English Language Arts Standards,Reading: Literature 


Colored Pencil drawing by Rachel Wintemberg, The Helpful Art Teacher
When at home alone I sit
And am very tired of it,
I have just to shut my eyes
To go sailing through the skies--
Illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith
To go sailing far away
To the pleasant Land of Play;
To the fairy land afar
Where the Little People are;

Where the clover-tops are trees,
And the rain-pools are the seas,
And the leaves, like little ships,
Sail about on tiny trips;

And above the Daisy tree
Through the grasses,
High o'erhead the Bumble Bee
Hums and passes.

In that forest to and fro
I can wander, I can go;

See the spider and the fly,
And the ants go marching by,

Watercolor by Rachel Wintemberg
Carrying parcels with their feet
Down the green and grassy street.
Illustration by Gertrude Elliot 

I can in the sorrel sit
Where the ladybird alit.
I can climb the jointed grass
And on high
See the greater swallows pass
In the sky,
Drawing by Rachel Wintemberg,The Helpful Art Teacher

And the round sun rolling by
Heeding no such things as I.
Through that forest I can pass
Till, as in a looking-glass,
Humming fly and daisy tree
And my tiny self I see,
Painted very clear and neat
On the rain-pool at my feet.

Watercolor by Rachel Wintemberg, The Helpful Art Teacher

Should a leaflet come to land
Drifting near to where I stand,
Watercolor by Rachel Wintemberg

Straight I'll board that tiny boat
Round the rain-pool sea to float.
Illustration by Julie C. Pratt
Little thoughtful creatures sit
On the grassy coasts of it;
Little things with lovely eyes
See me sailing with surprise.
Some are clad in armour green--
(These have sure to battle been!)--
Some are pied with ev'ry hue,
Black and crimson, gold and blue;
Watercolor by Rachel Wintemberg

Some have wings and swift are gone;--
But they all look kindly on.

Watercolor by Rachel Wintemberg, The Helpful Art Teacher

Watercolor by Rachel Wintemberg, The Helpful Art Teacher

When my eyes I once again
Open, and see all things plain:
High bare walls, great bare floor;
Great big knobs on drawer and door;
Great big people perched on chairs,
Stitching tucks and mending tears,
Each a hill that I could climb,
And talking nonsense all the time--
Illustration by Arthur Rackham

O dear me,
That I could be
A sailor on a the rain-pool sea,
A climber in the clover tree,

And just come back a sleepy-head,
Late at night to go to bed.
Illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith

How can asking students to illustrate a poem help them to become not only better artists but better writers? 

Studying writing that evokes clear visual imagery and invites readers to explore the imagination, like the Robert Louis Stevenson poem above,  is key to helping students become both better artists and better writers. 

The art/writing connection
How to Be a Better Writer: 
6 Tips From Harvard’s Steven Pinker

Quotes from the Time Magazine article linked above:
"Our brain works a particular way; so what rules do we need to know to write the way the brain best understands?
 Steven Pinker is a cognitive scientist and linguist at Harvard. He’s also on the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary.
Steven was recently ranked as one of the top 100 most eminent psychologists of the modern era."
His number one piece of advice:
"Be Visual: One third of the human brain is dedicated to vision. So trying to make the reader “see” is a good goal and being concrete has huge effects."
"We are primates, with a third of our brains dedicated to vision, and large swaths devoted to touch, hearing, motion, and space. For us to go from “I think I understand ” to “I understand ,” we need to see the sights and feel the motions. Many experiments have shown that readers understand and remember material far better when it is expressed in concrete language that allows them to form visual images…"
A key element to 'close reading' is inviting students to explore the visual imagery that a well written poem evokes in their minds. One way to explore this visual imagery is to draw it.  

At the University of Pennsylvania, freshman students are taught how to do 'close readings' of classic pieces of literature. 
Here is one piece of advice they are given their freshman year: 
 Make a mental list of the images that pile up in passage.
 How do these metaphors or images affect how you read?"

The Helpful Art Teacher says; why not create that 'mental list' by illustrating a passage with a beautiful drawing? Students can demonstrate how closely they have read by including as much detail as possible. 

Related open ended question: 
What would you look like from a bug's point of view? If you were very small what would ordinary people look like?
Using a camera, cell phone or tablet, get down on the ground and take some photographs of the world from a miniature person's perspective. How does the world look different when you look at it from another perspective? What are some other perspectives or points of view that you can use to explore the world? What about a bird's eye view? To learn more about 'Bird's eye view vs. bug's eye view', click here.

The 8th grader used the IPad app PS Touch and one of my photographs to add a background to her colored pencil drawing

7th Grade Drawings
Some students used the iPad App, PS Touch to digitally add color

Colored Pencil Drawings 
by 6th Grade Students 

The Littles: complete animated series:

The Borrowers Movie:


  1. Immensely charming, lyrical, and instructive!

  2. Great lesson! Thank you for being so helpful! :)

  3. I am enjoying your blog! Thank you for the depth and thoughtfulness you include.

  4. Thank you for taking the time to create such a wonderful blog! I will frequently visit!

  5. Great lesson! Thank you for being so helpful to us!!