Lesson Plan: Cave Paintings

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This post shares one of the most in-depth lesson plans I’ve ever created. I actually needed to cut down the language quite a bit to make it fit. For this lesson, I focused heavily on procedures and planning, because it involves having the students crawl under their desks (which have become caves) to discover that I’ve taped paper underneath for them to use to create cave paintings. It was utterly fabulous—challenging, meaningful, and extremely memorable. At one point I was literally lying flat on my back, shoulder to shoulder with a student as they described in great detail every element of their work. I apologize for the length but hope the idea is useful for teachers!

Overarching Understandings:

  • Drawing a picture of what I am writing can help me reflect on what I am trying to communicate.
  • I can cooperate with a group to give and receive reflection in order to improve my own ideas and to help improve the ideas of my classmates.
  • Other people see my work (and the works of others) differently than I do.

 Essential Question(s):

  • How can creating an image help me organize my thoughts for what I am writing?
  • How can I learn to cooperate and collaborate with others?
  • Why do we take the time to stop and reflect upon the work we’re making?

National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies

4. Individual Development & Identity: How can I learn to cooperate and collaborate with others?

 Common Core Standards:

 Speaking & Listening: Comprehension and Collaboration: 3.SL.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly. Explain their own ideas and understandings in light of the discussion.

 Grade Level Performance Descriptor(s):

Visual Arts: 27.A. Students who can meet the standard can analyze how the arts function in history, society, and everyday life.

A.2. Share comments in a positive manner about a performance and/or an art work.

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Students will know:

Students will know that two people may perceive things differently in the same image by observing an image, verbally sharing one thing that they see in the image with a partner, and by using a non-verbal gesture as a whole class to weigh in on whether they perceived the same thing.

Students will know that other people perceive their work differently than they do by showing an image they created to a small group and listening as their classmates orally respond to their image with the prompt, “One thing I see in your picture is…” and later individually responding in writing to the prompt, “One thing a classmate saw in my drawing that surprised me was…”

Students will know that drawing a picture is one way to visualize and reflect upon what you are writing by individually creating a chalk drawing of their story, non-verbally showing the drawing to small group to hear what they perceive in the work they’ve created, and then individually responding to the written reflection question, “One detail I want to add to my description of my peaceful person now I’ve made my drawing is…”

Students will be able to:

As a small group, students will be able to work collaboratively with others by orally responding to each other’s drawings with the prompt, “One thing I saw in your drawing was…”

Individually, students will be able to reflect on their ability to work collaboratively in a group by completing a written self-assessment checklist of the following:

  • I shared one thing I saw for each of my classmate’s work.
  • My classmates could understand my story by looking at my picture.
  • I was positive and respectful while working in my group.
  • I stayed on task while working in my group.
  • I listened while my classmates shared their opinions.

Individually, students will be able to reflect on their own work by completing written responses to the following prompts:

  • One thing a classmate saw in my drawing that I saw too was…
  • One thing a classmate saw in my drawing that surprised me was…
  • One thing I want change about my picture (more colors? more details?) after hearing from my classmates is:
  • One detail I want to add to my description of my peaceful person is…

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Assessment of Prerequisite Learning: 

  • Students will have listened to (and read again on their own) the book Kali’s Song.
  • Students will have begun writing about a peaceful person they have learned about in response to Kali’s Song.
  • Students will have previously gone through the entire process of workshopping a text.
  • Students will have worked with making a chalk drawing as a response to something they have read.
  • Students will have experience with making text to world connections while reading.
  • Students will have learned the concept “non-verbal” in drama class.
  • Students will have practiced positive response while giving feedback.
  • Students will have looked at cave paintings, discussed the words prehistoric and ice age, and discussed how long ago they lived.


Teacher will have turned the lights off and will have displayed an image of a cave painting on the projector. Teacher will say, “Look at this picture. What is the first thing you see?

Share with your neighbor what you see in this image by using the phrase on the board, ‘One thing I see in the picture is…'” Teacher will give students one minute to discuss. Teacher will say, “Did you see the same thing in the image as your partner? Did anybody see something that their partner didn’t notice?” Teacher will ask the students to raise their hands if they saw something different than their partner. Teacher will say, what kind of painting is this? Who do you think made it?”

Differentiated or individualized learning

  •  Teacher will scaffold the concept of “non-verbal.”
  • Teacher will have extended group reflection questions for students who show an advanced ability to positively respond to their classmate’s work.
  • Teacher will intervene to provide additionally scaffolding for groups where students struggle with turn taking and the concept of positive response.
  • Teacher will provide a differentiated self assessment and reflection sheet for ELL students.

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Teacher Input:

Teacher will say, “On Tuesday we talked a lot about what we know about prehistoric people when we read Kali’s Song. Prehistoric people used cave paintings to communicate stories because they were non-verbal. Can anyone explain to the class what non-verbal means?” Teacher will say, “Another way prehistoric people communicated was by using non-verbal hand motions. Can anybody think of a non-verbal hand motion we use everyday?” Teacher will ask for a couple examples and will ask the class to show the motion when they hear it. Teacher will scaffold the “zero” sign for quiet, the folded arms “Give me five,” sign, wave hello and goodbye, and the peace sign. Teacher will say, “In the book we read on Tuesday, Kali’s Song, Kali’s mom shared Kali’s story in a special way. Does anyone remember how Kali’s mom told his story?” Teacher will say, “Show me a thumbs up if you agree that a cave painting is a non-verbal way to communicate a story. Show me a thumbs down if you disagree.”

Teacher will say, “Today we are going to make our own cave paintings of the story we are writing about a peaceful person. In our picture, we want to communicate who the person is and what they did that is peaceful.” Teacher will show an example of what the cave painting will look like. Teacher will say, “The purpose of making this drawing is to help us reflect on what we are writing. Pictures help us visualize details. Drawing pictures of your writing is a tool real authors use to help them think in a new way! We are now going to go back in time and become prehistoric people. Remember, prehistoric people communicate non-verbally! If you need something, you will have to use hand gestures to communicate it. You will make your cave painting using chalk. Underneath your desk will be your cave. When you are in your cave, you can only communicate non-verbally, so it should be very peaceful and quiet in here. No trips to get water or to the bathroom can happen while we draw, so please do not raise your hand to ask me. You will have 10 minutes to complete your painting. I will put rules for the cave on the board so you can check them if you feel confused. I know it will be very exciting to be inside our caves, so if I hear talking I will give you one warning to help you remember the rules. If I hear you talking a second time, you will have to come out of your cave. I will ring the bell when we are done drawing so you know to come out from inside your cave. Please move your chair into the aisle so it is out of your way while you’re working.” Teacher will ring a bell when drawing time is over.

Teacher will say, “Please leave your cave paintings under your desk and take a seat. We will return to them in a moment.” Teacher will say, “Why do you think some stories have pictures? What do the pictures tell us?” Teacher will say, “At the beginning of class, we all looked at the same picture, but some of us saw different things in it. It can be very helpful to hear other people’s ideas when we write and draw, because they may see something in our work that we can’t see.”

Teacher will say, “In your small group, I want you to show your picture without saying anything about it. Each of your classmates will then say one thing that they see in your picture. We will use the phrase we practiced at the beginning of class, ‘One thing I see is…’ You will each take a turn to show your pictures non-verbally. To help us make sure that everyone gets a chance to speak, your group will use one flashlight as a talking stick. Whoever is holding the flashlight is the only person talking. When they are done, they pass it to the next person. We will call it, “passing the torch.” The person speaking should aim the light at the picture to help the group see what we are talking about. Where do we aim the flashlight? When everyone has shown their painting, please raise your hands to let me know you are done. I will hand out the rules to help you remember.” Teacher will say, “May I have one group volunteer how we will work as a small group?” Teacher will show the cave painting they made and model with the group how to follow the procedures. Teacher will hand out the rules to each group so they can follow along as they reflect. Teacher will extend the reflection for teams who work cooperatively. (Note: depending on behavior, students will work in small groups under their desks when they discuss. If this is too chaotic, the teacher will ask the kids to take their cave paintings up from under their desks and work seated.)

Teacher will hand out self assessment checklist and the reflection sheet. Teacher will say, “We are now going to take some time to reflect on our drawing and what we learned from our group. This reflection will help us continue writing our story. I will read it aloud. You can fill it out as I read it. I will then walk around as you work, so raise your hand if you have questions. You can bring this home if you don’t have time to finish.”


Teacher will ask the whole class: Why might two people see different things in the same picture?

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