Collaborative Tree Building with 4th Grade


And honestly, I’m changing/adding/developing as I go so bear with me as I don’t exactly know what to expect in the end.

As you know, October is all about “growing” at my school.  So my 4th graders are learning about trees in art.  We talked about how we all are pretty good at making trees that look like cartoons.  The cloud like leaves, the thick trunk with pointy roots – we learned that early.  Well, now it was time to approach tree drawing a new way.  With the alphabet!

Say what?  Yes – the alphabet.  Ys and Vs, to be precise.  I don’t know who taught me this trick but I am sure it was one of my many art teachers along the way.  It’s so simple, I don’t even know how to make it simpler!  We started with a practice day – we all got a scratch sheet of paper and began drawing along.

1. Start with a large Y on your paper.
2. Add a V to each arm of the Y.
3. Add a Y onto the middle of one of the arm pointing up and one on the middle of the other arm point out.
4. Begin to add Ys and Vs where appropriate, getting smaller as your tree gets bigger.

Looks like a twig, right?  Well here’s the trick.  Outline around your “twig”.  Start far away at the trunk of your Y to make your tree trunk and get closer to your twig’s line as you get to the smaller Ys and Vs. Don’t worry – pictures coming soon! Try not to get too perfect with your line because trees aren’t perfect either – a little bump in your line can really add to the drawing.  When you’re all done tracing, all the way around and back to the other side of the trunk (in and out of the Vs and Ys), erase the twig line and you have a solid tree with no leaves!

Kids were thrilled that this looked impressively more like a tree than their cartoon drawings! That was a reward in itself.  We talked about adding 2-3 roots that looked almost like snakes slithering down and out from the trunk.  We also talked about adding lines onto the trunk and branches to make it look like bark.

On day 2, we returned and I handed out a very large piece of paper.  We would be working in groups.  This entire project will be done with your group. The kids were excited about the paper and a little hesitant of the group work.  We talked about the word collaboration and cooperation and how you could pick different tasks to do or everyone could work together on the same tasks.  Everyone had to participate, though – that was key.  We would be drawing a very large tree.

Students put their name on their paper and I asked them to “say hello” and greet their table mates.  When you work with people, it’s best to clear the air and take care of the greeting right away.  While I know my students know each other, this is good practice.  Then I had them decided who would do what – everyone had to have a part in the tree drawing (Drawing the Ys, the Vs, Outlining, Erasing, Adding the Roots, Adding texture – there is plenty of jobs!).  This was my favorite part of the day besides the success of it all.  Students all had different approaches.

One group delegated each task of drawing the tree around the table and began to work.  Another group divided the parts of the tree for each person.  Another group, one person did the Ys and Vs while the other two outlined and trace.  Walking around the room, and I’m not kidding – everyone had a role.  This was great! And the drawings were turning out better than ever.

(Still very excited about this project.)

After we were done and close to finish, we talked about collaboration and cooperation – what’s the difference?  Why do teachers want students to work in groups?  What was hard?  What does it mean to be a leader? Is it the same thing as a boss.  For whatever reason, my 4th graders really stepped it up without much of a push.  They knew that collaboration and cooperation went together but they were also different.  They knew that leaders lead a group and listened to ideas while some bosses just tell people what to do – that they’re not really leaders sometimes.  It was a great conversation!

I was very hesitant to do group work.  I’ve done partner work and small group activities – but for an entire project, that can be intimidating! But wow, what a great start.  I am so excited to see where this goes.  We will be turning our trees into a building project, where we add texture and dimension to the art, continuing to work in our group.  Stay tuned!

Follow along with this successful journey.

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8


9 responses to “Collaborative Tree Building with 4th Grade

  1. I LOVE this idea — I am always looking for cool collaborative projects. The kids are growing together and working together. This is absolutely great thank you for the idea!

  2. Your timing lines up with my fourth graders upcoming unit! They start their biome unit about sharing the planet… They visit a mangrove forest (awesome!) and I’m working on attending with them to help guide their observational sketches and the lines they see. In the art room we focus on line quality, and while I try not to teach thematic links I can’t help but love the lines and forms of mangroves so they each make giant trees… I love the collaboration your kids use for this– I might try it out, the second half of the unit is on found object and recycled art talking about environmental artists that send messages through the tools and types of art they make… That has been a collaborative recycled sculpture project in the past but maybe I’ll revamp a few ideas your lesson has got me thinking about! We’re several weeks out from completion but I look forward to comparing results and maybe we can even create a space or opportunity for our students to exchange ideas or feedback?! Love universal connections 🙂 love that you’re so excited bout this project too- that is such a key factor in student excitement too! All the best, Amy

    • Skype!? That would be fantastic – I would love to figure something out. They could really benefit from seeing how your kids interact! 🙂 Let’s talk when we get closer to end date! 🙂

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