Finding Story Elements in Art- A lesson plan

Judith Lowry (Maidu/Pit River, born 1948)
Acrylic on canvas, 68 x 90 in. Crocker Art Museum, gift of the Artist, 2009.113


Students will learn about warm and cool colors and understand how artwork can portray common experiences. Students will learn how to write a short narrative using setting, characters, objects, and events based on an artwork.

About the artist

Many of Judith Lowry’s subjects are deeply personal, relating family triumphs and tragedies. She also seeks to record and recover the oral and musical traditions with which she was raised. These traditions came from her father’s mixed Maidu and Washoe heritage, which he learned from his grandmother, who, in turn, had learned from her own grandmother.

In Welgatim’s Song, Lowry portrays the Native California story of inundation. The protagonist is Welgatim, wife of the mythical coyote Weh-pom. Weh-pom has fallen in love with the beautiful deer Suh-Mim and so plots to murder his wife. Each morning, Welgatim reappears unharmed and makes breakfast for her husband. She warns him of terrible consequences, but Weh-pom will not be dissuaded from his plots. The next morning he awakens to an empty home and when he sets out to hunt finds all the light and heat extinguished. Using song and prayer, Welgatim has summoned all the clouds and rain to the earth as punishment. The story continues with the tale of The Race for Fire and the hazardous trek to distant Mount Tehama (foreshadowed by its depiction in the background here) to retrieve fire in order to save all of Earth’s inhabitants. The artist unites both the deluge narrative and the volcanic destruction of Mount Tehama in order to speak directly to our contemporary environmental crisis.


Cool colorscolors suggesting coolness: blue, green, and violet. 

Warm colorscolors suggesting warmth: red, yellow, and orange. 



Part 1: Discussion

Begin by asking students to look around the classroom very closely. After at least 1 minute of looking, ask the students to look around again, this time looking for all the different types of lines that exist in the classroom. Have the students repeat the process, looking for shapes in the classroom. Finally, have the students look again for different types of colors in the classroom. Each time allow students the opportunity to get out of their seat and point to the line, shape, color they are describing.

  1. Show students the focus artwork. Ask the students to describe what objects they see. Ask students to describe the lines they see. Repeat for shapes and colors.
  2. Once students have had a chance to study the artwork, begin a discussion on what the artist was trying to tell the viewer.
    • What are the people doing? What time of year is it? Is it cold or hot outside? How do you know?
    • If you could become a part of the painting, what would you hear, smell, feel, taste?
    • Why do you think the artist chose this scene to paint?
    • What did the artist want to share with the viewer?
  3. Moving from the scene in the painting, ask the students to think of a time in their life where something special or important happened. Ask a few students to share their stories with the class.
  4. Explain the literary term of setting to the students. Use the artwork to give an example. Using the same procedure, explain to the students the literary terms of characters, objects and events referring back to the artwork for a concrete visual example for each term (If time permits, use a related artwork showing an event and have the students point out the examples of setting, characters, objects, and events).
  5. Have the students tell a story to a partner about an event in their life that was special or important. Encourage the students to include setting, characters, object, and event in their story.
  6. Have the partner retell the story back, and then have the students change roles so that both students can tell their story.
  7. Hand out paper to the students and have them write down the story they just shared with a partner. You may want to provide a writing prompt.

Part 2: Oil pastels

At the front of the class, show the students an oil pastel. Show the students how oil pastels can be used like a pencil or laid on their side and used to lay down large blocks of color. Show the students how to blend two colors by laying down a patch of one color next to a different color, then using your fingers blend the two where they meet. Model the use of baby wipes to clean hands before using another pastel.

Have the students lay down old newspaper on their desks to keep the oil pastels from getting on the desks. Hand out baby wipes, paper and oil pastels to the students. Allow students time to work with the pastels, experimenting with the medium. Help where necessary.

Ask the students what cool colors are (blue, green, and purple.) Next ask the class what warm colors are (red, yellow, and orange.) Direct the students to find the warm and cool colors in their oil pastels. Give student a few minutes to experiment with either the warm or cool colors.

Tell the students that they are going to illustrate their story using either warm or cool colors. Discuss with the students which type of stories might be better illustrated in cool colors (sad, calm) or warm colors (high energy, angry, excitement). Tell the students to choose warm or cool colors from their pastels, then direct the students to put back in the box all the other pastels, leaving out only those colors they selected. Give the students time to finish their illustrations.


  1. Clean up. Ask students to clean up and return all materials. Their artwork should remain at their desk for the “gallery walk” to conclude the lesson.
  2. Class and/or table group discussion. What did we learn? What was challenging? What felt familiar? Shout-outs to helpful neighbors?
  3. “Gallery walk”. Students will leave their artwork at their desk to be previewed by their classmates. (If they do not want to share, offer to turn over work). Invite students to line up behind you with their arms behind their backs. Discuss museum manners (hands to self, positive remarks). Slowly “snake” around the table groups so students may view the work of their peers.


The following California content standards are directly addressed in this lesson for the grade levels indicated. Although not listed here, this lesson also meets similar content standards in other grade levels.

Visual Art

Responding—Anchor Standard 8: Interpret Intent and Meaning in Artistic Work (K.VA:Re8, 1.VA:Re8)

Connecting—Anchor Standard 10: Synthesize and Relate Knowledge and Personal Experiences to Make Art (PK.VA:Cn10, K.VA:Cn10)

English/Language Arts

2nd grade: RL.2.1; RL.2.6, RI.2.8, SL.2.1.a-c, SL.2.2, SL.2.3, SL.2.4, SL.2.5

3rd grade: RI.3.1, RI.3.2, RI.3.6, SL.3.1.a-d, SL.3.2, SL.3.3, SL.3.4


  • Focus artwork
  • Old newspapers
  • White construction paper-two per student
  • Oil pastels
  • Paper
  • Pencil


60 minutes

Grade Level



  • English/Language Arts
  • Visual Art


  • CA Indian Artists
  • California Connections
  • Color
  • Drawing


  • Oil Pastels