Saturday, October 8, 2016

Mystery Drawing: Owl - and creating a title

Way way back when, in my first year teaching, I had a book called Ed Emberley's Make a World, which gave simple instructions for combining shapes to create more complex images. These steps were really helpful for a beginning artist to learn to see how forms can be built from simpler parts. I started using these techniques in my classroom to help students improve their drawings - and one day I decided to work on listening skills so I didn't tell them what we were making up front -  they had to listen to the clues. They were into it! "Mystery Drawings" became a regular exercise in my class. They were especially useful on days when the kids were really boisterous, like the last days before a big break. They seemed to enjoy the calm focus, and so did I ! :)
My first one was a castle, and I have developed several others. Here are some of our kindergarten owls. I set the tone by announcing that we are going to solve a mystery with our ears, our brains, and our pencils. Then the clues start coming.... vertical paper, giant U shape, connecting lines, over/under, etc - reinforcing vocabulary along the way.
While they are drawing, I am circling the tables, asking for guesses and helping.
Once we are most of the way through, someone solves the mystery and everyone celebrates, but our work isn't done. We continue the steps, and as we go we share things we know about owls. Next, the students have an opportunity to personalize their drawing with backgrounds,textures, patterns, colors. For the Owl drawing, we discuss his nocturnal nature and most choose a nighttime setting. We also discuss his feathery, fuzzy, and sharp textures and experiment with markers and crayons to create these effects. I demonstrate drawing texture lines with markers and using crayons for filling in areas and blending.

Once the page is filled, we discuss titles and what makes a good or bad one. So often, as I am asking kindergarteners what they would like to name their art, they say something completely random. This lesson is a great opportunity to talk about titles because it is very clear what the artwork is about. We use descriptive words and they proudly declare their artwork "The Rainbow Owl", "The Mean Old Owl" or even "The Sleepy Owl on the Branch.”

This lesson takes two 45 minute sessions, from start to finish, including uploading to Artsonia by me, as I move around the room taking pics and getting the titles from each child.

It is amazing to see all the different owl personalities at the end, and you can see the confidence being built as we move from step-by-step in the beginning to more open-ended media exploration in the end. I am offering a set of five of my tried and true "Mystery Drawings" in my Teachers Pay Teachers store if you'd like to give this technique a try!


  1. these are so sweet and visually exciting. i love these mystery lessons you put together, Hope. I did this owl drawing with my K's last week but wish I had held on to them for a second week of focused coloring - they were so excited about their work, I conceded and allowed them to take them home only partially complete......

  2. These are so adorable! I am an early childhood ed senior and I am using these for a creative art project for class! Thank you!

    -Victoria M


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