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Drawings of layered earth.

Sixth graders sometimes have difficulty thinking in terms of the abstract. As a culminating activity for a unit on line, I have my students make a drawing of underground layers in the earth. The layered earth drawing asks them to abstract a rather concrete subject. But, with the right motivation, they soon forget that this is a "difficult problem" and jump right in.

I begin with a drill; students are asked to list eight or more things which might be found under the earth's surface. Their responses are wonderful and stimulating; sometimes including items such as coal, water, minerals, dirt, oil, gems, clay, animals/insects, bones, fossils, treasure, ruins, rocks, etc. To insure that all the students have a good list from which to work, I give the class a few minutes to use cooperative group sharing; then a group spokesperson shares several items with the entire class. These responses are listed on the chalkboard for everyone to see. After all the groups have had an opportunity to share, a discussion follows, high-lighting those items which lend themselves to being illustrated by lines, patterns and invented textures.

Following this discussion, the students begin designing their "layered earth" drawings after discovering that they can borrow my "magic earth-slicing machine." (This machine can slice open the earth at any location and hold back everything in its way to enable students to observe.) After a discussion of this machine, and observation of actual samples of things found under the earth (assorted rock formations, fossils and artifacts) the excitement of "imagining" is at its peak!

These layered earth drawings are laid out on 12" x 18" (30 cm x 4-6 cm) white drawing paper and rendered in felt-tipped pen and colored pencil. (I keep the use of colored pencils to a minimum because their color looks flat compared to the felt-tipped pens.) If an area in the background needs a light layer of color, this can be done with colored pencil and felt-tipped pen lines on top. A black line emphasizing the change between various layers may be necessary, depending on the weight of the line patterns, textures, etc.

It is very rewarding to watch the enjoyment and excitement as the "layered earth" drawings begin to evolve. In the early stages, the process can be stimulated by short discussions about archaeologists, artifacts, hidden treasures and geologists. Resource books are available for students wishing to "dig" a little further for that extra special touch.

When the finished layered earth drawings are displayed, each one contains a mystery to be unravelled. Close observations may reveal some truly unique ideas and effects. This activity is one in which success is almost inevitable.

As a follow up to this assignment, I give a short writing exercise following the format of the Maryland State Department of Education Functional Writing Test. This exercise encourages analytical thinking skills and gives the students an opportunity to explain the layers they "discovered" under the earth's surface.

Theodore Pokorny is an art department chair, Golden Ring Middle School, Baltimore, Maryland.
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Author:Pokorny, Theodore
Publication:School Arts
Date:Feb 1, 1990
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