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Descriptive Words in Art with Kids

Using Descriptive Words in Art with Kids

I’ll show you how I use the work of Vincent van Gogh in an art critique and show you some fabulous sunflower drawings by kids.

What is an Art Critique?

An art critique is much more than just saying whether or not you like a piece of art. Art teachers teach students to describe a work of art first before judging the merits of the art. Describing the work of art can help students’ language skills, but it also helps students understand the work a little better. It’s hard to appreciate a work of art that you don’t understand. However, when describing a work of art, sometimes the meaning becomes more evident. For example, was the artist trying to tell a story or convey a feeling? Students can then give their opinion of the visual aesthetics of the work of art and whether they appreciate the meaning. Students also learn to back up their statements with evidence. This activity teaches students to use good descriptive words so that their audience understands what they are trying to say.

Describing Art with Kids

This little exercise below is an excerpt from the presentation with Expressive Monkey’s Van Gogh’s Sunflower lesson. First, ask the students to use some descriptive words for each picture, then students are asked to compare and contrast the two sunflower pictures painted by Van Gogh.

van gogh critique activity with descriptive words in art with kids
using descriptive words in art with a van gogh art critique activiy
activity to compare and contrast 2 sunflower paintings by van gogh

How Does Describing Art Help Kids Draw?

Doing this before making drawings of sunflowers will help students see that no two sunflowers are alike. Noticing the small details in the sunflowers will help them move past just making generic-looking sunflowers. They can also see from the two paintings that their color choices will have. After doing this, you can ask students which sunflower painting they like best, and I’m sure they will have much more evidence to back up their opinion.

Descripting Art to Increase Vocab When Writing

If you’d like to try a little experiment, first show students the two sunflower pictures side by side and ask them which one they enjoy looking at most, have them write down their reasons why.  Then do the art critique as a class.  Generate as many words as possible to describe the paintings and then compare and contrast the paintings.  Finally, ask them the same question about which painting they enjoy looking at the most. Have them write down their reasons why again.  Hopefully, you’ll see that their vocabulary is much better and their explanations are more thoughtful.

Art Critique with Van Gogh’s Sunflowers

The presentation asks students to look at the texture of the painting then look at photographs of sunflowers and the patterns of the seeds.

(Along with giving a little background info on Vincent van Gogh.)

This lesson includes several other art critique games, such as matching the sunflower to the written description.  Of course, you’ll also get Expressive Monkey’s sunflower drawing pages so that your students have lots of sunflower variations at their fingertips.

2 van gogh sunflower drawing pages with a sample vase of flowers

Student Sunflower Drawings

I recently came across some fantastic sunflower drawings made by the students of Mrs. Wright.  I was delighted by the amount of detail and the variety of sunflowers!  They are enjoyable to look at!  I’ll share some pictures below.

Have you tried this lesson?  Feel free to tag @expressivemonkey so that I can see them!

I have 2 versions of the lesson: just the presentation and drawing (Sunflower Roll, Draw & Write) OR with the integrated art critique activities.   

12 students line drawing of vases of sunflowers
16 students line drawing of vases of flowers
16 more pictures of student work
12 vases of sunflowers drawn by students after using descriptive words in art to describe sunflowers.


The Benefits of Drawing

Click on the image to get your free infographic!

Use this infographic to display in your room or share with parents, administrators, or other teachers as a way to point out some of the academic benefits of learning to draw. While they are not the only reason for using drawing as part of a balanced curriculum, they are certainly worthy of celebrating and may help you advocate for including drawing as part of your art or classroom learning experiences.

You can read more about The Benefits of Drawing in this blog post.

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Stacey Peters

I create engaging drawing resources that help students build confidence and express themselves through art. I'm a former elementary art teacher of 25 years turned business owner. Giving you the tools you need to bring more drawing into your classroom brings me joy.

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I create engaging drawing resources that help students build confidence and express themselves through art.


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