Surrealistic Art and Grammar?!?: Kush, Sentence Combining, and Narrative Writing

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SWBAT write engaging narrative by writing about a piece of surrealistic art; by completing a grammar puzzle focusing on commas and sentence structure.

Big Idea

It is exciting to enter into the dreamworld of surrealistic art and to narrate possible pathways.

See, Think, Wonder, Kush!

5 minutes

We return to the classroom after a two-day fieldtrip experience.  I am hoping to take up a set of lesson to help students write three short pieces of writing about various art works, and I am looking forward to seeing how their powers of observation from the fieldtrip will be set to work in the writings that they create.

Today, as we have already rehearsed the thinking  routine of See/Think/Wonder in class and on our fieldtrip experience, I know that this routine is familiar to the students.  I will be using today's piece of art to hook the students on two topics: sentence clauses, and stepping-in narrative writing. 

I will begin class by projecting the Vladimir Kush painting that is the inset image for this lesson, and it features a cloudy, dream landscape, in which participants in a hot-air balloon ride are held aloft by tethered clouds.  Link to original  

I will ask:

1.) What do you see here?

2.) What interpretations do you have of the piece?

3.) What does it  make you wonder?

and stepping in..

4.) From whose vantage point would you like to view this story? The riders?  The people in the boat?  The onlookers?  What do you think will happen next?  What type of mood (emotional landscape) does the painting create, and how could you create that with  your own writing?

For  their part, the students will listen respectfully to their peers and offer specific evidence from the painting (SL.9-10.1) to help build interpretations together.  This lesson segment is meant to be fairly quick and to foreground the larger segments that follow; nevertheless, I want to make sure that the students are tracking with the ethos of the painting and finding it interesting, so I will do my best to build on their enthusiasm and ideas. 

Sentence Patterns Exercise with Stepping In

15 minutes

Language: Clauses and Combining Clauses.  In the course thus far, we have spent some time reviewing what is a complete sentence, independent clause, dependent clause, conjunction, compound sentence and complex sentence.  I do this because students need to know where to put the friggin' comma on the ACT, and it's impossible to know how to do this without knowing clauses (I am less picky about terminology).  

Complex Sentences: 


Because I am afraid of the dark, I have a night light!


I have a night light because I am afraid of the dark!

Both sentences are virtually the same, but the first one (an inverted sentence) requires a comma, whilst the second one does not.  This is befuddling for many students.

Similarly, Compound Sentences:

I have a tree fort, and I spend a lot of time up in there telling stories to the squirrels.

I have a tree fort and own a croquet set.

Only the first sentence here is a compound sentence, while the second sentence is a compound predicate, which means that no comma is needed.  Thus, the students must be able to distinguish between the following patterns:

IC, and IC.

IC (with two verbs or two subjects).

GRAMMAR and CCSS.  I see the above knowledge as central to the CCSS Language standard #1, which reads, "Use various types of phrases (noun, verb, adjectival, adverbial, participial, prepositional, absolute) and clauses (independent, dependent; noun, relative, adverbial) to convey specific meanings and add variety and interest to writing or presentations" (CCSS 9-10.L.1B).  

Grammar Puzzle on Kush.  Thus, I give a grammar quiz, in which the students will be able to check their knowledge from past lessons, and then I give them the following task, slips of paper that create a little poem about the Vladimir Kush painting that we have just been discussing, and the are to arrange the slips of paper in four correct sentences, each having two clauses, with an A, B, B, A rhyme scheme.  It's a puzzle and it's fun, even a little frustrating, so I may give them some hints.

When the winds were quiet and calm,      each said that he couldn't quite see.

In the end, we were happy and free        because we were not too proud.

Two spectators then pointed to me;         I was ferried by a cloud.

The clouds held us aloft,                          and all we had to do was just be. 

Groups. Students work in groups of 3 to arrange the slips of paper in the following solution sentences for combing or in whatever close facsimile of it they can produce.  We then discuss their answers, highlighting the above content knowledge along the way (i.e. the first line of poem makes a complex sentence, the second one makes a complex sentence without a comma, the third makes a compound sentence with a semi-colon, and the final sentence makes a compound sentence with a comma/conjunction.  In this way, we are continuing to talk about art, writing about art, and other substantial larger issues, but I am smuggling in some work with grammar, clauses and commas in particular (L.9-10.1b). 


Kush-based Narrative

15 minutes

Narrative Writing. Now I will offer students some time in class to begin constructing their own narrative on the piece of artwork that we have been discussing.  If some ask for choice, I will allow them to select from the other surrealistic art pieces or from pieces that we have already viewed online and in person at the Art Institute on our fieldtrip.

The goal here is to give students the chance to construct a narrative (W.9-10.3) based on an imaginative prompt.  The students have already written a longer narrative this year, and we have covered some of the technical elements such as punctuating dialogue effectively (W.9-10.3b), using sensory details (W.9-10.3b) to convey character and setting, and generating an interesting plot (W.9-10.3c) and them (some of the students even generated symbolism!!  W.9-10.3d).  In any case, this lesson asks me as the teacher to be looking at student narratives, some four months after the main narrative unit, to see if the students have retained the narrative techniques that we addressed earlier in the year or if the skills need additional reinforcement.  My approach here is to avoid the "one and done" approach to narrative writing, which is common, and instead to offer assignments that reinforce techniques learned earlier. 


I will say: 

1.) Please refer to English1WritingAboutArt.

2.) You do not need to write a full story, but about a page "sketch." 

3.) You will be writing three papers, one of which you will expand for a summative grade next week.  This is just a start... if you find you get into your piece and can't stop writing, please feel free to write a longer piece.