Each year during National French Week, I like to do a big art project with my students. Last year we studied Impressionism, and each student created a painting in that style. This year, I decided to teach a unit about one of my favorite French artists, Henri Matisse.
My inspiration for this project comes from my study abroad in France in 2008. I spent the first few weeks in Cannes before going to Paris for most of my semester. While in Cannes, a few friends and I took a train to Nice and visited the Matisse Museum. (It’s totally worth the hike up many hills from the train station). While I was there, I saw many of his paintings, but I was most struck by something new I learned about him- that late in his life he started making paper collages. Since I started teaching, I’ve been trying to think of a meaningful way to share my love for Matisse with my students. I think I found a way!
I’ll share my unit here. I spent a whole week on it! (I teach French 3 and 4, so most of the instruction, discussion, and presentation can be done all in French, but I think it’s very easy to adapt to levels 1 and 2). Here’s the general breakdown:
lundi: I showed this Google Slides presentation. It’s in French and tells about Matisse’s life (very brief). I also found some wonderful videos of Matisse working. Mostly, the presentation explains the different elements of Matisse’s cut-outs. This vocabulary is really the heart of the project as students had to use it at the end to discuss their collages. There are a few examples of Matisse’s collages I used to reinforce the vocabulary and to really show the different elements of his work.
After the presentation, I divided students into groups of 3-4. They had just a few minutes at the end of class to look online for more inspiration and to start coming up with a plan. Every group had an idea of what they were going to do- most of them sketched plans on their iPads or in their notebooks.
mardi et mercredi: CREATE! I gave students two class periods (49 min each) to work with their groups on their collages. We listened to Yelle while they worked. Here’s what I provided the students:
- a full size poster board
- child sized scissors
- regular old construction paper
I told the groups on Monday to think about what other materials they could bring to accent their work. Here are some items they brought in to supplement:
- adult sized scissors
- scrap-booking paper
- wrapping paper
- tissue paper
- Origami paper
- other colors/weights of construction paper
jeudi: Gallery Walk! I hung all of the collages from all the classes around the room and numbered them. I’ve had the vocabulary for the elements of Matisse’s work on the board all week, so using that as a guide, I modeled how to analyze a collage. I talked about how the collage used (or didn’t use) each element. Then, the students paired off and started going around the room and analyzing all of the collages. I walked around and listened to them using the vocabulary and really being interested in the other collages. As they were analyzing each collage, they had to decide which was their favorite! Students then returned to their seats to start working on their essays. While they were writing, I walked around the room and tallied their votes for their favorite collage (the winning group members received a page of Eiffel Tower stickers).
vendredi: In-Class Writing day. I gave the students a class period to write an essay about their experience. Here’s a copy of the directions. Briefly, they had to give a title to their collage, discuss why they liked or didn’t like this unit, tell which collage was their favorite, then using the vocabulary words, discuss how their collage incorporated (or didn’t incorporate) the elements of a Matisse-style collage. I’ve read what the students have written, and it’s very clear they understand the concepts of this unit!
Overall, this unit was incredibly engaging for the students and they really did make some beautiful pieces. I’m hoping that they will never forget Henri Matisse!