Elementary Art Lesson Plan - Identity Portraits

Identity Portraits

Submitted by: Theresa Parker
Grade level: 4 - 5th grades


From Theresa: I envision it as a self-portrait, but one intended to encourage students to celebrate their cultural heritage, and in turn, the cultural heritage of their peers.


Brief Description of Lesson

Students discuss the meaning of identity, explore traditional, cultural, and invented symbols, study portraits which use visual symbols, create a portrait which includes symbols to express their identity, and write a short artist's statement describing their work.


How can an artist show aspects of identity besides physical appearance in a work of art?



Artists can use cultural and invented symbols to represent their own or others' identities.


Arts EALRs* Addressed:

1.1 Concepts and vocabulary

1.2 Skills and techniques (drawing, collage)

2.1 Applies creative process

2.3 Applies a responding process

3. Communicates through the arts

4.4 Understands that the arts shape and reflect culture and history

identity portrait

Photo from Katie Eshelman's artroom at Galatia Jr. High School

Writing EALRS Addressed:

1 Writes clearly and effectively

2.2 Writes for different purposes

2.3 Writes in a variety of forms


Just Like Me: Stories and Self-Portraits by Fourteen Artists. by Harriet Rohmer- This remarkable collection highlights the art and inspirational paths of 14 outstanding artists who, over the course of 20 years, have shared their art and lives with children. Each spread comprises a self-portrait, as well as the artist's personal story and reflections on what their art means to them.

Images of various common symbols



Symbols of Native America. - Over 1000 illustrations show the fascinating origins and meanings of 300 symbols and signs used by North American tribes.

Five-Fold Happiness: Chinese Concepts of Luck, Prosperity, Longevity, Happiness, and Wealth. - Chinese concepts of luck, prosperity, happiness, and wealth are discussed, as each concept, as well as the varied legends that surround them, in Chinese and English; for each symbol of each concept there are pictograms, photographs, and other illustrations.

The Dyer's Art: Ikat, batik, plangi. - This volume is the first to focus exclusively on resist dyeing as an art form. It brings together examples from cultures on every continent, and includes the work of many contemporary artist-craftsmen.


Art Materials:

AquaMarkers., Colored Pencils.., Drawing Pencils., 12" x 18" (30.5 x 46 cm) White Drawing Paper. or other choices for collage.

Target Learning

The student:

  • Reflects on the meaning(s) of identity.

  • Compares and contrasts visual symbols used to communicate ideas in various cultures.

  • Creates a self-portrait to communicate their identity using cultural and/or invented symbols.

  • Writes an artist's statement describing their portrait.

Assessment Criteria
The student:

  • Explores their own identity through discussion and research.

  • Recognizes symbols as concrete signs or images that represent some other, more abstract thing or ideas.

  • Creates a self-portrait that employs cultural and/or invented symbols to express identity.

  • Writes an artist's statement that describes their identity-portrait



  • Introduce portrait which shows physical characteristics of individual, begins a discussion about other aspects of identity

  • Introduce portraits which use various adopted and/or invented symbols to convey information about the individual's identity

  • Read sample artist's statement

  • Create "identity map" on white board using students' suggestions

  • Have students use the rest of class time to break into groups for brainstorming symbols for identity portraits (each group could be assigned one identity trait to focus on)

  • Collect identity symbol ideas from groups for use next class.

  • Ask students to think about their own identities for homework and have at least five symbol ideas to begin their identity portraits next class.


  • Ask a representative from each group to share one or two brainstormed ideas on symbols for identity traits

  • Ask for volunteers to share a personal identity symbol

  • Discuss procedure for beginning production of identity portraits (Here specific materials can be discussed, or students can be offered a choice of materials and techniques depending on material availability, their experience, and the physical constraints of the classroom

  • Circulate amongst tables to assist, offer suggestions, encouragement

  • As production period draws to a close, makes a verbal check of students' progress, has students place work in storage area, oversees clean-up


  • Begin class by sharing an identity portrait and accompanying artist's statement and leads discussion on writing artist's statements

  • Oversee students' return to art production and writing activities, circulates

  • As production period draws to a close, check on progress, encourage completion, clean-up

CREATIVE PROCESS (What the Student Does)


  • Participate in discussion of portrait

  • Observe portrait examples and identifies types of symbols used

  • Contribute to discussion on artist's statement

  • Contribute to "identity map"

  • Brainstorm symbols for identity portraits as part of group discussion

  • Homework: Thinks about identity, planning at least five symbols to include in identity portrait.


  • Group representatives share brainstormed identity symbols from previous class

  • Share personal identity symbol

  • Listen to instructions, asks any questions that come up

  • Gather art materials and begin art production.

  • Place work-in-progress in storage area, clean up work area


  • Observe identity portrait, listens to artist's statement, participates in discussion on writing artist's statements

  • Continue art production and/or begins artist's statement

  • Wrap-up art production, writing, clean-up

Assessment Strategies

  • Performance Assessment

  • Teacher journal

  • Checklist

Evidence of Student Learning

Student artworks include images of themselves, symbols representing aspects of their identities (physical characteristics, cultural background, interests, beliefs, etc.)



  • Identity

  • Self-portrait (identity-portrait)

  • Symbol (cultural, invented)

  • Artist's statement

Post Lesson Reflection

Create an identity-portrait of an ancestor


Visual Resource: Honoring Our Ancestors: Stories and Paintings by Fourteen Artists.
*EALRs stands for Essential Academic Learning Requirements, Washington State's statewide academic standards.


NOTE: This lesson was submitted in the early days of IAD when teachers had no scanners or digital cameras to take pictures of student work.



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