K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education


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Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • interpret the environment through art by finding characters from the alphabet in man made and natural objects.
  • apply design principles of positive and negative space when they take photographs by making the letters the focal point of the pictures.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

2 hours


  • Alphabet City by Stephen T. Johnson
  • Instant Polaroid camera(s)or digital cameras
  • Polaroid film

Technology resources

  • Computer with internet access hooked to a big screen or television to allow all students to see the screen at once.
  • Digital cameras, if available.
  • Printer for printing images.


Ask if students have laid on their backs and seen pictures in the clouds by using their imaginations. Discuss responses. Show students the Cloud Gallery site. This site contains many images of clouds. Ask students what several clouds remind them of? Do you see shapes in the clouds? Can you see lines? Do any of these form any letters or pictures? Sometimes you can find letters in our environment if you look very closely.…

Read the book Alphabet City. As you are reading, have students point out where the letters are in the pictures. What is the letter a part of…the leg of a chair, the branch of a tree, a powerline. In each photograph discuss why you see the letter more than the object. It is because of the way the photographer cropped the picture. He/she left little negative space so that the letter is the focal point. In other words, the letter forms the positive space in the picture.


  1. Students will go outside on an ALPHABET HUNT. Rules:
    • Must walk quietly in a line for students to concentrate and visualize.
    • Letters can be found anywhere, just so they form a complete letter of the alphabet.
    • Depending on the number of cameras, students may have to take turns taking one picture each. They cannot take a picture of the same thing.
    • The picture must be taken close enough so that the letter is the positive space and there is little leftover space.
  2. When all students are finished, go back inside and gather (this step may have to be done during the next class depending on how long the classtime is). Take the pictures and line them up on the wall, floor according to the order of the alphabet. If there are any missing letters, look for them in the art room.


Hold a discussion after the alphabet is complete about the success of our photography skills. Which pictures are very clear? Which ones really show the letter up close? Why?

Ask students to find one thing at home that forms some interesting shape or letter. Sketch it and label.

Supplemental information

Teachers should study the book Alphabet City by Stephen T Johnson to understand the concept of finding shapes and letters in our environment.

Look at the area where you will take the students to outside and make sure there are ample objects-- natural and man made-- so the students can find letters.


This lesson is fun and educational. If you do not have a budget large enough to buy cameras for everyone, borrow, or have students sketch the object they see which contains the letter. I believe third graders can do this lesson because I had second grade students out hunting for objects in nature to photograph last year. When you do this lesson display the pictures in the hall, let everyone know how fun art can be! If a computer is not available for the Cloud Gallery, go outside, lay on your backs and look at the real clouds!

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Visual Arts Education (2010)
      • Grade 3

        • 3.V.2 Apply creative and critical thinking skills to artistic expression. 3.V.2.1 Create art through a process that includes generating ideas, planning solutions, and producing original art. 3.V.2.2 Use personal point of view and experiences as sources for...
        • 3.V.3 Create art using a variety of tools, media, and processes, safely and appropriately. 3.V.3.1 Understand how a single tool can be manipulated in multiple ways, safely and appropriately. 3.V.3.2 Use a variety of media with refined skills. 3.V.3.3 Create...
      • Grade 4

        • 4.V.3 Create art using a variety of tools, media, and processes, safely and appropriately. 4.V.3.1 Apply a variety of methods of manipulating a single tool, safely and appropriately. 4.V.3.2 Compare characteristics of a variety of media. 4.V.3.3 Create art...
      • Grade 5

        • 5.V.3 Create art using a variety of tools, media, and processes, safely and appropriately. 5.V.3.1 Evaluate how to manipulate tools safely and appropriately to reach desired outcomes. 5.V.3.2 Use appropriate media for the creation of original art. 5.V.3.3...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

Computer Technology Skills (2005)

Grade 3

  • Goal 2: The learner will demonstrate knowledge and skills in the use of computer and other technologies.
    • Objective 2.02: Discuss and select appropriate technology tools (e.g., probeware, digital cameras, handhelds) to collect, analyze, and display data. Strand - Societal/Ethical Issues

Visual Arts Education (2001)

Grade 3

  • Goal 1: The learner will develop critical and creative thinking skills and perceptual awareness necessary for understanding and producing art.
    • Objective 1.08: Develop the ability to work in small groups to reach a group goal which will be greater than any one individual might achieve alone.
  • Goal 2: The learner will develop skills necessary for understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes.
    • Objective 2.01: Expands control and manipulation of the media and tools which may include the following:
      • Photography - sun prints
      • Drawing - chalk, fine and broad markers, colored pencils, creates a variety of lines with tip, point and side, computer and software.
      • Cut paper - papers, found objects, fibers, glue, sharp-edged scissors, curling, scoring and stapling, cutting a variety of single and multiple shapes.
      • 3-D - paper mache, small hand tools.
      • Printmaking - cardboard
      • Painting - liquid acrylics, large and small brushes, computer and software.
      • Ceramic - coil construction, compound pinch and slab, addition, smoothing, self-created stamps.
      • Fibers - Knotting, small hand looms for fibers.
  • Goal 3: The learner will organize the components of a work into a cohesive whole through knowledge of organizational principles of design and art elements.
    • Objective 3.07: Recognize composition is using the elements of art to create an artwork.
    • Objective 3.11: Consider numerous solutions during the problem-solving process.
  • Goal 4: The learner will choose and evaluate a range of subject matter and ideas to communicate intended meaning in artworks.
    • Objective 4.02: Use knowledge and imagination to interpret environments.