Word Theme Unit – 5th & 6th Grade

I tried something new with my 5th and 6th graders this year – a themed 2D unit on text and words.  I wanted to work in a variety of tempera paint techniques and the opportunity to work with calligraphy to create a mixed media artwork.  Thus, the Word Theme Unit was born.

Students started with two full class periods of technique practice, more time was given, if it was needed or desired.


Students first learned about some of the basics on tempera paint – mixing tint and shades, dry brush vs. wet brush, double loading, scratching, and various lines and dots made with brush movements.  Here is where you can find examples of some of the resources I created to help students with these painting techniques.


Next, students had a class period to experiment with calligraphy pens, ink, and various styles of lettering.  I have a packet I use with them that has tips on hand positions, alphabet examples, and tips on using traditional ink pens with nibs.  I also showed students work by the artist and author, Andrew Fox, in the book Learn to Draw Calligraphy Animals.


After learning techniques and having time to work on these techniques, students were introduced to the themes of the unit.  I have started putting my learning targets, or Essential Questions on paper cards in this pocket chart.  This allows the students to use them more as an interactive resource, not just something to look at.

The cards are two-sided.  The front has the grade level, learning target written out, with vocabulary words in bold.  On the back of the cards are the definitions of the vocabulary.  These are placed conveniently near the See Saw upload station and artist statements so that students may access them when writing or talking about their work.

Another resource I provided are my binders with techniques and lesson plans – these sit out on my iPad table so students can access them whenever needed.  The technique binders had ideas on using paint and calligraphy.  The lesson plan binder had written steps, as well as visual examples and all the print outs of the images, PowerPoint presentations, and examples shown in class.  There were also a wide range of books and handouts available for students to use during work time.

Students learned about illuminated letters, logos – redesigning and creating an original one, illustrated quotes and sixth graders had an added option that tied in with their literature units – through the keyhole.  This is where students illustrated a character’s room through the keyhole of the door, based only on clues from the text they were currently reading.

This was a challenging but exciting unit – students had choices of subject matter within a theme of my choice and they could also make choices in terms of media.  Students did not have to use calligraphy or all of the tempera paint techniques on their final work, since they were required to spend at least an entire class period using each of the materials.  Students got three times the normal art history or background of a normal unit, but in a shortened format using quick PowerPoint presentations, images, and short videos.  Students also had access to a plethora of resources during work time and had the freedom to move around to get to those resources.  However, one challenge I found, was that many students resisted using their resources, I had to prod many students to get up and refresh their memories on techniques, vocabulary, or examples.  I think this kind of find-it-yourself idea is something they are just not used to doing yet.

Check out a sampling of the amazing end results below.














One thought on “Word Theme Unit – 5th & 6th Grade

  1. This work is really sophisticated and beautiful, I think. And I am impressed by the thought and research put into formulating the lessons. I also think the experience of the students using resources on their on initiative rather than as handed to them is really valuable because being able to do that in later life is essential.

    I really enjoyed this post. Thank you.

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