Grade 3 Portfolios — The Shapes and Colors of Joy

“Matthew’s Dream”, by Leo Lionni, is my inspi­ra­tion for our third grade port­fo­lio project. In this charm­ing fable, a boy named Matthew vis­its the museum with his class­mates and is entranced by the paint­ings he sees there. That night Matthew has a mag­i­cal dream which helps him to see the world around him in a whole new way. He becomes a painter and cre­ates beau­ti­ful abstract paint­ings “filled with the shapes and col­ors of joy”. With this les­son, stu­dents will use over­lap­ping shapes and col­ors to cre­ate their own beau­ti­ful abstract designs!

Allow stu­dents to take a good look at the paint­ings cre­ated by “Matthew” in this story. Then draw exam­ples of over­lap­ping shapes on the board to demon­strate the way a new shape is cre­ated where two shapes over­lap. As soon as this tech­nique “clicks” for your stu­dents, they will enjoy mak­ing these fun abstract draw­ings every chance they get!


1. Talk about how artists “see things dif­fer­ently” by look­ing for the basic shapes that are found in the objects around them. Review these basic shapes (cir­cle, square, tri­an­gle, oval, rec­tan­gle, etc., as well as “organic” shapes that are found in nature), draw­ing them on the board for stu­dents to refer to. As you draw them, point out items in the class­room that are made up of these shapes and ask for other exam­ples.
2.
Cen­ter a piece of 9“x18” con­struc­tion paper on the front of your port­fo­lio and trace around it with pen­cil. Draw diag­o­nal lines from the cor­ners of your rec­tan­gle into each cor­ner of your port­fo­lio. This will become your “frame”.
3. Using a pen­cil, fill your rec­tan­gle with large, over­lap­ping shapes. Try to use each one of the shapes on the board! It’s okay to use the same shape more than once. Make sure each of your shapes over­laps at least one other shape, always striv­ing for a bal­anced com­po­si­tion. Crop­ping (hav­ing shapes go “off the page”) is another great tech­nique to use here. Make sure you draw your shapes large enough and avoid cre­at­ing any tiny areas where your shapes over­lap.
4. Notice how your over­lap­ping shapes have cre­ated “new shapes”!
5.
Now color each of these “new shapes” with col­or­ful mark­ers or crayons. Make sure you change col­ors every­where a new shape appears, and try to have shapes of the same color only touch at cor­ners, if at all. (Remind stu­dents to color “all one direc­tion” within each shape.)
6. Finally, draw some swirly lines inside your frame to imi­tate a fancy museum frame. You can use the side of a yel­low or brown crayon to color your frame and then use the point to trace over your swirly lines, press­ing harder to make them stand out.


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2 Responses to Grade 3 Portfolios — The Shapes and Colors of Joy

  1. Janie B September 16, 2010 at 4:43 pm #

    Great idea. My 3rd-graders would enjoy this.

  2. Anonymous October 16, 2010 at 8:21 am #

    Cheryl,
    I live in Wash­ing­ton. Any chance you’ll have a packet of lessons for sale for us “Teacher’s With­out Bor­ders” who were not able to attend your work­shop? (ha) I would love to see some jpegs of the work­shop.
    Deb­bie Sup­plitt
    supplitt@comcast.net

Leave a Reply

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Grade 3 Portfolios — The Shapes and Colors of Joy

“Matthew’s Dream”, by Leo Lionni, is my inspi­ra­tion for our third grade port­fo­lio project. In this charm­ing fable, a boy named Matthew vis­its the museum with his class­mates and is entranced by the paint­ings he sees there. That night Matthew has a mag­i­cal dream which helps him to see the world around him in a whole new way. He becomes a painter and cre­ates beau­ti­ful abstract paint­ings “filled with the shapes and col­ors of joy”. With this les­son, stu­dents will use over­lap­ping shapes and col­ors to cre­ate their own beau­ti­ful abstract designs!


1. Talk about how artists “see things dif­fer­ently” by look­ing for the basic shapes that are found in the objects around them. Review these basic shapes (cir­cle, square, tri­an­gle, oval, rec­tan­gle, etc., as well as “organic” shapes that are found in nature), draw­ing them on the board for stu­dents to refer to. As you draw them, point out items in the class­room that are made up of these shapes and ask for other exam­ples.
2.
Cen­ter a piece of 9“x18” con­struc­tion paper on the front of your port­fo­lio and trace around it with pen­cil. Draw diag­o­nal lines from the cor­ners of your rec­tan­gle into each cor­ner of your port­fo­lio. This will become your “frame”.
3. Using a pen­cil, fill your rec­tan­gle with large, over­lap­ping shapes. Try to use each one of the shapes on the board! It’s okay to use the same shape more than once. Make sure each of your shapes over­laps at least one other shape, always striv­ing for a bal­anced com­po­si­tion. Crop­ping (hav­ing shapes go “off the page”) is another great tech­nique to use here. Make sure you draw your shapes large enough and avoid cre­at­ing any tiny areas where your shapes over­lap.
4. Notice how your over­lap­ping shapes have cre­ated “new shapes”!
5.
Now color each of these “new shapes” with col­or­ful mark­ers or crayons. Make sure you change col­ors every­where a new shape appears, and try to have shapes of the same color only touch at cor­ners, if at all. (Remind stu­dents to color “all one direc­tion” within each shape.)
6. Finally, draw some swirly lines inside your frame to imi­tate a fancy museum frame. You can use the side of a yel­low or brown crayon to color your frame and then use the point to trace over your swirly lines, press­ing harder to make them stand out.

Allow stu­dents to take a good look at the paint­ings cre­ated by “Matthew” in this story. Then draw exam­ples of over­lap­ping shapes on the board to demon­strate the way new shapes are cre­ated. As soon as this tech­nique “clicks” for your stu­dents, they will enjoy mak­ing these fun abstract draw­ings often!

Subscribe & Connect

Subscribe to our e-mail newsletter to receive updates.

, , , ,

3 Responses to Grade 3 Portfolios — The Shapes and Colors of Joy

  1. Janie B September 16, 2010 at 4:43 pm #

    Great idea. My 3rd-graders would enjoy this.

  2. Anonymous October 16, 2010 at 8:21 am #

    Cheryl,
    I live in Wash­ing­ton. Any chance you’ll have a packet of lessons for sale for us “Teacher’s With­out Bor­ders” who were not able to attend your work­shop? (ha) I would love to see some jpegs of the work­shop.
    Deb­bie Sup­plitt
    supplitt@comcast.net

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