French Art/ Research Unit

Submitted by Julie A. Rose
French Teacher
Daniel Webster Middle School

Brief Descriptions: Students learn about the different artistic periods and styles of painting with the primary focus on Impressionism. Students then paint an Impressionist work of their choosing. (This was a first year seventh grade project.)

Objectives: Students will be able to recognize the particular works of art, know basic knowledge of various art periods, as well as do their own study of an Impressionist painting. Students were then responsible for completing a research project of the artist whose painting they selected. Students used new French vocabulary related to art enabling the class to be in the target language whenever possible.

Goals: My goal in this unit was to not only introduce my students to a brief history and understanding of the different artistic periods as it pertains to painting, but to also give my students a chance to explore their own artistic talents as they try to emulate an Impressionist painting that interests them.

Structure/ Description of Lessons: This particular Art Unit took approximately three weeks; however, you can alter the sequencing of lessons to fit your level of student abilities/ interests.

Week One: Getting Started

I start the Impressionism Unit with a brainstorming session on art, as well as several days of gathering information about the different artistic periods with our main focus on Impressionism.

What is Art? The first day I have fun brainstorming with my students as to what Art is? I give each of my students a plain sheet of paper and a box of crayons just to give this gleaming session a creative touch. We review our colors in French that help of the crayons, and then the students make colorful Webs of various shapes that contain all the different art forms. This is a particularly easy thing to do in French because so many cognates exists in French with art-related vocabulary words. (Students gave examples in English, and then I provided them with the French equivalent both orally and in written form.)

After brainstorming, I reviewed new French vocabulary with the students and finally allowed students to get creative with their brainstorming sheets as they experimented with various colors, shapes, and designs.

The rest of the week I give students a brief history of several art genres so students have some understanding what climate impressionism rose out of, as well as to what significance the impressionist's movement had on later art movements. For this portion of the unit I used a direct method of teaching by showing examples of paintings that represent various art genres and pointing out key elements that depict the period, style and finally the artist of the painting. After students have a general idea of the four or five different periods discussed and the key artists of those periods, they then do some class reading and sharing with in a cooperative groups. (Periods covered are Classical, Impressionist, Expressionist and then Modern.)

In addition to books and selected reading, there are some wonderful art videos that you can share with your students at this point to give them added information. Use your library for a rich source of books and videos when teaching this segment of the Unit. One note of caution, be careful of selecting a video that is too long and drawn out as students often lose interest with these. I've gathered the best instructional art videos on some of the educational networks that air every year on channels 10 and 36. The one I'm currently using is quit well done and was easy for the students to follow. Only 15 minutes in length, it covers works by Manet, Monet, Degas, Renoir, Cassatt, and Seurat, and VanGogh. (Depending on the age and interest level of your students you can limit or extend the Art history/ genre portion of the Unit.)

Week Two: Let the Painting Begin

Prepare yourself for having things be a bit hectic and messy this week. But trust me, in the end, you'll be happy with the results.

Students select a particular Impressionist painting and do their interpretation and/ or study of that painting. I first tell students to sketch their designs, after that, they are free to start painting. Remember, I am NOT an art teacher, so whatever tips I may give my students are extremely limited. I give them little hints or suggestions such as, keep your sketching lose, or it's not necessary to paint every inch of paper, but for the most part the students are pretty much on their own. On occasion I've been known to do a few sketch lines or mixing of paint, but I'm usually so busy manning the paints and supplies that I'm not able to lend a helping hand even if I wanted to.

One book I found extremely helpful is called Start Exploring Masterpieces by Martin & Zorn. This book is like an adult coloring book and contains 60 outlined images of the world's most famous painting along with a brief bio of the artist. This book is great in helping students simplify the lines of a painting which makes the sketching process much easier. You can purchase this book at the Museum Store located at Mayfair Mall.

My main objectives at this point of the Unit are to give students an artistic/ creative outlet, to get students to be patient and concentrate fully on their subject, and of course to use their newly learned French vocabulary when asking for supplies. Try to encourage them to take their time and just do the best job they can. The results are often amazing, as you can see from some of the examples.

Let the Research Begin

After the painting project is finished, students completed a research paper on their chosen artist. Again, given the age and ability of your students, you can vary the requirements of the research paper as you feel is appropriate. I would like to point out however, that the students really did enjoy the research portion of this unit. They were surprised to find pictures of their paintings on the internet, they loved perusing through the art books seeking out information and viewing other examples of their artist's work. The students were often quite surprised and intrigued by some of the agony and hardships many artists endured during their careers. Although I didn't include any of the papers in my examples ( I no longer have access to them) I was very pleased with the results. I feel that by actually painting a piece of art themselves, my students generated a lot of motivation for the research element of this unit.

I finished off the Unit with a trip to the Art Institute of Chicago. The Impressionist/ Post-Impressionist tour was partially conducted in French (French speaking docents can be requested). The students loved this project and the trip. I really was impressed with their talent and enthusiasm for Art.


Office Max is where I find the paint and the paper. don't use construction paper because it's just not durable enough. I buy regular art/ drawing paper that comes in tablets of 25 each. It's a little larger and more durable than the usual stuff you find in the stock room at your school. I also invest in acrylic paints. Again at Office Max you can buy a 6 pack of large tube acrylic paint in primary colors for under $20.00. I then usually enhance these basic colors with a couple different shades of brown and purple. (The students can mix colors to get these, but getting the different shades of brown is often difficult to achieve so I found it works out better to just to purchase these separately.. ) I really like to affect acrylic paints have over the tempera of poster type of paints. Students can get much more texture and vibrant color with acrylic. I also keep on hand a couple of packs of basic water colors which come in handy for backgrounds and softer uses of color.

The only drawback to the acrylic paint is it difficult to salvage unused paint, so stress to the students to only take what they need! This past year I implemented a new rule that during the last 15 minutes of class students were to check to see if anyone had any extra paint before getting more. This worked out really well as kids shared the excess paint, thus not wasting any and making clean up easier.


Students use my Art books and the numerous copies of the Master's originals I have gathered throughout the years. Calendars are a great source of cheap copies of the originals, as well as the larger than post card size you can buy at most Art Museums (particularly in Paris). I also drain the shelves of Art books at my public libraries. (Bring a friend, they're heavy!) One note is not to forget to check the children's section. There are some wonderful children books now that feature some of the more popular Impressionists such as Monet, Renoir, and VanGogh.

Examples of Student Art Work