Personal Geographies



This Personal Geographies lesson was developed to align with the Personal Geographies Unit published by the Colorado Department of Education in their Instructional Unit Samples.

In this lesson 7th grade students studied map-making and geography, as well as how culture is represented in art. They connected this learning to personal art making by creating a metaphorical clay map of self. Students communicated elements of their time/place and culture in their finished piece, which included a drawn key/legend for decoding their clay work.

Student evidence learning outcomes were based on Colorado State Standards for the Visual Arts:
Students can analyze and infer how visual forms create meaning in an artwork. VA09-GR.7.-S.1-GLE.1, Students can use creative strategies and art concepts to communicate ideas from disciplines outside of art. VA09-GR.7.-S.2-GLE.2, Students can follow a thoughtful plan to create an artwork with well-crafted ideas and forms. VA09-GR.7.-S.3-GLE.1,
Students can intentionally apply formal studio skills to communicate ideas in my art.

This Workshop Session was tagged in Visual Arts

Overview and Context

This lesson was taught in a 7th grade visual art studio class. There were 34 students in the class, with 18 girls and 17 boys. Ethnicity and race reports show that 23 students identified as white, 5 as Asian, 3 as Latino, 2 as African American, and 1 as mixed-race. The students were between 12 and 13 years of age.

The school is located in an upper-middle class south suburban metropolitan neighborhood and was built in the last 10 years. The community is comprised of new homes and as construction continues in this area, the school is growing beyond capacity. Currently the 6th-8th grade school student population is around 1,400 with next year’s projections for 1,600 students.

Students have access to current instructional materials and technology but the growing size of the school creates some challenges with large electives classes and some classes offered in mobile buildings.

This class was taught in the arts wing of the school in a 3-D art studio classroom with sufficient space and resources.

Process and Protocols

At the start of the semester, as we worked on student goal-setting, I began pre-assessing student background knowledge of geographical maps and symbols through daily warm-ups. This helped me to determine students’ experience level before beginning the Personal Geographies lesson. The warm-ups also assessed student thinking about the meaning and purpose of maps in general. As I planned for the lesson I paid attention to selecting artists of diverse backgrounds and ethnicities in order to provide all students with a broader perspective and give each student a chance to see their own heritage reflected in the artwork studied.

     The instructional shifts I focused on were creating relevancy with increased focus on personal time, place and culture as represented in art and the building of classroom community relationships through increased collaboration especially in the initial instructional phase.

     On our first day of the lesson we looked at images of artwork demonstrating cultural influence and life events. Students took their own notes and engaged in “think-pair-share” with various partners to analyze the artwork further.

     The next day we looked at more images from the introductory Power Point presentation, took notes and engaged in a whole group discussion about how artists use maps as an art form, particularly mapping their time, place, and culture. We also considered how maps can be used in communities and looked at the Memphis Mud Island Park Riverwalk for an example.

     I demonstrated with visual examples of what excellent project planning might look like. Students could choose to work with a partner(s) to plan collaborative, connecting maps or they could create a map on their own. I provided this choice as I knew that some of the students prefer to work individually. However, in the planning process it was required that the students received peer feedback before making final revisions to their plan. This helped students to reflect on their choices and consider other approaches.

     On day four of the lesson, I demonstrated various clay slab relief techniques and the students began practicing with the clay and creating their personal clay geographies. Students had 5 days to work with their clay map, engaging in dialogue with their peers about challenges in the process in order to problem solve, before bisque-firing. As the clay was being fired, students used their planning sheets and photos to guide them in preparing a legend for their clay map, including color plans for glazing. My goal with the legend construction was to help students purposefully plan for color use and glazing. Students then had 4 days to glaze their artwork before the second firing.

     On the final day of the lesson (day 15), students completed a self-assessment using the rubric and took pictures of their artwork to post on the class website in a media album I created specifically for the Personal Geographies lesson. A final peer critique gallerywalk, in which students toured the art and wrote comments for the artists, provided written, constructive feedback for classmates. I chose this critique approach because I have found that it engages all students in the process and provides each student with a feedback document for personal reflection.

Tools and Artifacts

  • Cornell Note-taking Handout– Rationale: Students retain more information from the introductory lesson when they take written notes on their own and when sharing ideas with a partner. This form of note-taking also aligns with your school focus on A.V.I.D. W.I.C.O.R. strategies.
  • Images of geographic map forms and symbols (Daily Warm-up Power Points)-Rationale: Students can use prior knowledge and integrate learning in Geography and Social Studies
  • Images for study of cultural influence and life events in artwork (Introductory Lesson Power Point)- Rationale: Students can analyze the images collaboratively to determine how they think artists reflect culture in art
  • Images of artist maps (Introductory Lesson Power Point)- Rationale: Students can see how professional artists use the map as art form and connect personal experience to the larger art community
  • Images of an example map used in community space(Introductory Lesson Power Point)- Rationale: Students can see creative ways maps are used in community spaces.
  • Student Artwork Planning Worksheet– Rationale: Students spend time thoughtfully working with ideas in order to create a quality plan for their project. Students peer critique each other’s plans and make revisions to the plan.
  • Project Rubric– Rationale: Students understand the success criteria for the project.
  • Teacher examples of clay map and legend– Rationale: Students can see one example of what a successful project might look like.
  • Clay tools and classroom instructional signs – Rationale: Students are aware of available tools and understand techniques and procedures when working with the media of clay.

Workshop Session Files

Workshop Session Images

Reflections and Discoveries


If you could do this activity again, what would you do differently?

Student reflections were very similar to each others. Below is a representative sampling of responses. All responses were some form of the 6 responses below. Most did not feel anything should be done differently. And the next most popular response was giving more time. Additionally a few students wanted more glazing instruction.

What do you think the teacher could have done differently to help you learn more about creative strategies and art concepts to communicate your ideas with mapping and geographical techniques in clay?

Maybe show more examples of student maps.

Give us more time.

Maybe she could have done a longer glazing example

I don’t think she could’ve done anything I understood pretty well.

She could have given more critique to students.

Watch clay videos on You Tube.

What instructional changes would I make in the lesson plan for next time?

Some students struggled with the fact that the project did not have just one expected form for an exceptional personal geography. While the project rubric had technical expectations, much of the work of visualizing their personal geography in an abstract way, was left to the students. Since this was my first time teaching the lesson I did not have multiple student examples to show them, just my one teacher example (clay map and drawn legend), more general artist map examples and the rubric success criteria.

With the next lesson I will have a diverse selection of student examples to show and that should be helpful for students who would like to see completed project visuals.

Collaboration for understanding of lesson ideas (think-pair-share for art analysis and peer critiques) was an important component of this lesson. Some students chose to collaborate further by creating connecting map pieces with other students but this collaboration was optional. For future lessons I would extend the collaboration to give the students the challenge to connect their piece with at lease 2 other artists in the class. This would add an additional opportunity for group problem-solving.

When I looked over students’ responses to how the lesson could be taught differently I felt that the instruction was mostly successful from their perspective as well. I did notice a small group that wished for additional glazing instruction. The next time I teach this lesson I will film 2 additional glaze tutorials that I can post on the class website, in case someone is absent of needs further technique instruction. I will also extend the planning and work time to include 2 additional days.

To help students reflect more deeply after future lessons I would ask about specific instructional elements.

For example: Which collaborative element of the lesson did you find most helpful and why?

Think Pair Share during Art Analysis of Artists’ reflection of their time and culture in their art

Peer Critique with Planning Worksheet, Peer Critique during Work Time, Peer Critique at the End of the Project

Collaboration to problem-solve ways to make your clay map fit with another student’s art map.

What are the instructional strengths in the lesson plan?

Collaborative elements of the lesson were consistently effective. Student responses and work indicated that the instructional strategy of personal relevancy was useful for engaging learners and sustaining interest and effort.

The pair-share students did at the start of the lesson, in regard to artist reflection of culture and life events in art, gave them a strong foundation for understanding reflection of self in art because of the opportunity to verbalize their ideas with a partner. This also provided a good starting point for the group discussion on artist maps, as it gave students confidence to share their ideas. 

Peer critique of plans, work in progress and complete work helped students lead the process and allowed me to facilitate their learning rather than dictate.

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