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An Original Compare and Contrast Lesson from WritingFix
this writing across the curriculum assignment encourages deeper student thinking

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Are Artists Good Neighbors? Lesson

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This Lesson's Title:

Are Artists Good Neighbors?
friendly letters about conflicting artistic styles

This comparison/contrast lesson was created by Consultant Corbett Harrison during a Writing Across the Curriculum class sponsored by the Northern Nevada Writing Project.

The intended "mentor text" to be used when teaching this writing across the curriculum lesson is the picture book When Pigasso Met Mootisse by Nina Laden. Before writing, students should listen to and discuss the writing style of this book's author.

Check out When Pigasso Met Mootisse at

This seven-step, teacher-created lesson was inspired by the NNWP's Going Deep with Compare and Contrast Thinking Guide. Click here to inquire about ordering your own copy of this resource.

Step #1:
Defining a High-Quality Comparison:


On the day before sharing this lesson's mentor text, use Google images to find/print two different pictures from Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Challenge students to find five similarities and five differences between the paintings styles. The top two are the two from Picasso that I use, and the bottom two are the two from Matisse that I use. Here is the handout I give students with these four pictures on it, but I invite you to find different pictures that interest you.

Picasso #1

Picasso #2

Matisse #1

Matisse #2

Tell students a quality comparison will be about stylistic elements. Simple answers like “They are both paintings” and “They are both boring” are not thoughtful enough to count as one of the five they are looking for. Comparisons about subject matter--"These two are portraits" or "These two both have lemons in them"--are a little bit better answers, but the best answers will be about stylistic elements. Stylistic answers might focus on a) types of colors used, b) types of shapes used, c) brush styles used, d) use of shadow, e) placement of subjects, f) predictability of subject matter, g) etc..

Share comparisons out loud, and write the most thoughtful stylistic ones on the board for all to see. Tell students they will be needing to search for thoughtful, stylistic comparisons in two pieces of art placed side by side for this assignment. The examples for this lesson will be based on Pablo Picasso

Step #2:
Introducing the Topics to Be Compared:

Tell students, for this assignment, they will be choosing two visual artists with different styles to learn about by comparing them. The examples for this lesson will be based on Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. For the art and writing assignment, they will need to learn about other artists whose styles interest them.

Flip to the last page of the picture book and share the “True Story of Picasso and Matisse.” As students listen to these facts, have them refer to the images you have printed for them. Show them the two pictures of the artists from the back of the book, which are painted in the style of the artist they represent. Have students compare the book’s pictures of the two artists to the four paintings you have shown them.

As homework, ask students to talk to their parents about famous artists known for having their own style. Tell them to explain to their parents what they have learned about Picasso & Matisse.

The next day, read When Pigasso Met Mootisse out loud to your students. Have them recall all the high quality comparisons given the previous day, and to be prepared to celebrate any stylistic differences shared in the picture book that they saw and identified when they were comparing the paintings.


Step #3:
Establishing a Purpose for the Comparison:

Now explain the assignment. Students will research an artist with a unique style. Students will partner up with another student who has researched an artist with a different style. Students will pretend their two artists--like Pigasso and Mootisse--live across the street from each other, and they will decorate the front of their artist's house in a style that resembles their his/her style. Partners will exchange their decorated houses, and use the drawings to compose a letter of complaint in their researched artist's voice; the letter will explain to their "neighbor" what about his/her house offends the artist who is writing.

At the end of this lesson, each student will have a decorated house for their artist and a letter written in their artist's voice.

Make a list of artists the students came in with as homework. Here are some suggestions to add to the list, if the students don't think of these on their own:

  • Monet
  • Manet
  • Michaelangelo
  • DaVinci
  • Whistler
  • Dali
  • Diego Rivera
  • Andy Warhol
  • Cassatt
  • Renoir
  • Seurat
  • Vermeer
  • Degas
  • Van Gogh
  • Frieda Kahlo
  • Kandinsky

Give students time to find brief biographies of their artists, but more importantly, give them time to find/print samples of their work. It might not be a bad idea to assign four or five students one artist to research together, so they can share the printed paintings.

From the biography and the visuals, students are to make a list of four of five stylistic elements commonly found in their artist's work. Then, they are to decorate a house-front in the style of their artist. Require them to use colored pencils or crayons or markers and make their best imitations; don't let them print Internet pictures and paste them on the front of the house.

If your students don't want to draw their own house-fronts, here is a colorless one I found on the Internet that can be easily decorated.

Be sure to show them the illustrations of the decorated houses from the picture book before they begin designing.

Give students time to decorate their artist's houses. Talk to them about the "styles" they are decorating with as you circulate around the room. Make them say the vocabulary out loud as they explain their decorations to you: texture, shape, color, etc.

When they are done decorating, partner your writers up with students who have researched a different artist. Make sure the partnerships contain two artists who have styles that are different enough to warrant an interesting conversation between your students.

Step #4:
Introducing the Comparison Tool:

Have student partnerships discuss why they decorated their houses the way that they did. Have them explain to each other what they remember about their artist's biography.

Once the students have had a thorough discussion with their partners, have them work together to fill out this graphic organizer:

Click here to open/print this graphic organizer.


Step #5:
Model the Comparison Tool:

On the overhead, show this teacher-made sample of the graphic organizer. As you talk about the comparisons of style in the bottom half of the page, be sure to open up Nina Laden's picture book and show students (using the visuals) evidence of the things listed.

Some artists adopt many styles over their careers, and it's alright to include different stylistic traits on the graphic organizer, if students discover this about the artist they have researched. The goal is to put into words elements of artistic creations.

Remind students of this list as they try to come up with five descriptions for their artist and the artist of their partners: a) types of colors used, b) types of shapes used, c) brush styles used, d) use of shadow, e) placement of subjects, f) predictability of subject matter


Step #6:
Posing a Deep Question to Students:

Deep question: "How does an intelligent person write a letter of complaint to his/her neighbor? How does one maintain a civil voice in letter writing?"

Now, using the completed graphic organizers, students will write an intelligent letter of complaint to their partner's artist. To write the letter, students must imagine that the two artists (now compared/contrasted) live across the street from each other, and that each has decorated his/her house using his/her own style. The letter must be neighborly but it must also be thoughtfully critical of the style used to decorate the house across the street.

The letter should include these three things to earn full credit:

  • Accurately refer to two or three facts about their own artist or the artist they are writing to.
  • Explain why the style the neighbor has decorated his/her house with is not a style that appeals to the letter writer.
  • Follow the friendly letter format.

Here is Corbett's teacher model of a letter, which has Picasso complaining about Matisse's house.

Step #7:
Writing About the Comparison:

Students draft their letters from their artist to their partner's artist. Remind them to include facts about both artists in the letter, and to use their comparison of the two artists' styles as the basis for their complaints. It's okay to suggest to the neighbor a better way to have decorated!

For revision, have students double-check facts about the two artists, and have them double check their letters' voice for civility. This should be more about intelligent arguments than name calling.

Hang final drafts of the letters side-by-side, with the pictures of the decorated houses above or below them.

If you have a great exchange between two artists created by your students, photograph the houses and send the letters to us at WritingFix. If we feature your students work at this lesson, you'll earn one of the NNWP Print Publications as our way of saying thanks for sharing your students' ideas.

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