Drawing fish can be daunting, especially if you press your students to let go of schemas they rely on to help them get by. Schemas for this age might look like an oval with a triangle tacked onto the end. That’s a starting point, but not our finish line.
This watercolor (and, for some students, pastel) project was a long-term activity for my 4th graders. It involved a drawing packet that helped them think of complex objects—like a fish—in terms of simple geometric shapes. My kids practiced creating 3×4 thumbnails from a collection of photo references I printed out for them. From thumbnail, they moved on to selecting one fish for their final artwork. They had the option of changing colors and simplifying aspects of their fish’s anatomy.
The drawing packet I created was something unexpected for them. Thinking like a representational artist by breaking down complex objects into simple shapes challenged them, but at the end of the project many students were amazed at what they accomplished. I don’t necessarily advocate packets (even when I create them!) but some times it’s important to shake things up for students. It teaches them important life skills they will be tapping into when they move on to middle and high school (and beyond, of course): perseverance, flexibility, and ownership.
Check out Artsonia to see the wonderful job my kids did interpreting their fish.