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Sketch a paragraph.

As a reading specialist, I'm interested in demonstrating how important reading is in every subject area. Two senior high art teachers encouraged my idea for a reading-related art activity. To show students that what they read can be drawn as readily as what they see, I introduced the "police artist" project. We discussed the term "police artist," and determined that a police artist transfers descriptive word images to paper.

I displayed the above paragraph from "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" by Edgar Allen Poe on the overhead, and read the paragraph several times while students followed along. We then discussed it in detail because Poe's writing contains many unfamiliar words--bedstead, besmeared, hearth, bureau, bed (as opposed to mattress), Napoleons, metal d'Alger and topaz. No one student knew the meaning of all the words, but collective definitions evolved.

We also discussed the time setting for the story. The furnishings could not be modern. How, then, should they look? Students recalled trips to museums, stories they had read and TV shows to help define mental images of the furniture.

In order to keep the interest level high, I gave students some hightlights of "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." In actuality, a very frightened orangutan had committed the crime and one body was stuffed feet first up the chimney. Such gory details stimulated the students' desire to continue with the project.

Following the discussion, I gave each student a copy of the descriptive paragraph and read it to them one last time. We again clarified each unfamiliar term. I encouraged the students to write definitions on their papers for future reference. Then students pretended that they were police artists reconstructing the room on paper.

We discussed the art techniques the students would need, such as lines of perspective for corners and floors. I showed students a number of ways to sketch the room so that the floor area could be large or small, the ceiling could show, or the room could be wide or narrow. I encouraged them to use the furniture in the room as "models." For instance, the lines of an art table might be the same lines needed to sketch the bed stead. Or the lines for the bureau might be compared to the lines of the cupboard against the wall. I opened a cabinet to show how a fireplace could be given depth, and placed the base of a cabinet against a wall to demonstrate the lines for the hearth. We discussed specific terms relative to size. Again, questions helped students understand the concept. I asked them, "Which is larger, a spoon or an earring? and "If the safe is under the mattress, is it a large or small safe?"

I also asked students to analyze the paragraph to determine exactly what had to be included in the drawing, cautioning them to sketch the items realistically according to the period of time during which the story takes place. The placement of items in the room also warranted discussion. Wall space had to be available to accommodate a bureau, the fireplace and hearth and, possibly, the bedstead.

I then turned the project over to Alice Jones and Bill Wilson, art teachers. They carried it through to completion, which took about two weeks. The finished projects were accurate as well as imaginative. It was interesting to watch the students sketch after careful and constant referral to the paragraph, I believe that the students came away with the understanding that reading is important in art, too.


The apartment was in the wildest disorder--the furniture broken and thrown about in all directions. There was only one bedstead; and from this the bed had been removed, and thrown into the middle of the floor. On a chair lay a razor, besmeared with blood. On the hearth were two or three long and thick tresses of grey human hair, also dabbled in blood, and seeming to have been pulled out by the roots. Upon the floor were found four Napoleons, an ear-ring of topaz, three large silver spoons, three smaller of metal d'Alger, and two bags containing nearly four thousand francs in gold. The drawers of a bureau, which stood in one corner were open, and had been, apparently, rifled, although many articles still remained in them. A small iron safe was discovered under the bed (not under the bedstead). It was open, with the key still in the door. It had no contents beyond a few old letters, and other papers of little consequence."

Grace A. Ayers is a reading specialist at Parkside High School, Salisbury, Maryland.
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Author:Ayers, Grace A.
Publication:School Arts
Date:Feb 1, 1990
Previous Article:An integrated learning experience.
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