Self Portrait Coins (5th Grade)

Lesson Plan by Amanda E. Gross
National Visual Art Standards: 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5
Cognitive, affective, & psychomotor skills
4 Sessions

Unit Title: Form
Unit Goal: Some artists focus on detail to give personality to form.
Lesson Title: Self-portrait Coins
Lesson Goals: Some artists emphasize detail and authority when depicting the human face on coins.

Lesson Objectives:  As a result of instruction, students will be able to:

    1. Create a foil coin, utilizing form techniques presented in class.
    2. Convey personality in a portrait and be able to discuss it.
    3. Create a detailed portrait sketch.
    4. Understand how the authority and personality of historic figures are shown through coins.
    5. Work relatively independently, consistently, and use materials safely and responsibly.

Vocabulary Words: Coin, currency, authority, profile, bust or silhouette

Visual References: 
Left to right: My demo coin, State Coin of Wyoming (Sacajawea Golden Dollar), a British pound (Queen Elizabeth II), an American Quarter (George Washington), an ancient Roman coin.

Instructional Support Materials: Visual resources (listed above), my Coin/Sketch worksheet and demonstrations.

Supplies: Cardboard circles (approx. 4 inches wide), masking tape, cardboard rectangles (i.e. from an old cereal box), pencils, erasers, sharpeners, scissors, black acrylic paint, paint brushes, sharp wooden tools, aluminum foil (heavy duty, art quality; approx. one 9″x9″ square piece per student), paper towels, cups of water.

Assessment Strategies: Observation during work times, individual and group discussions, worksheet, students’ final coins, critique.

Evaluation criteria / evidence of success: 

  1. Student applies appropriate techniques to create form.
  2. Student can discern facial exaggerations that lend a portrait personality, can apply these to her/his own portrait, and can articulate her/his process.
  3. Student is able to discern facial detail and apply this in a 2D sketch portrait.
  4. Student is able to recognize and identity meaningful facial traits used to give portraits personality and authority, on historic coins.
  5. Student works independently, uses class time effectively, follows guidance, and ask questions when needed.

Class Progression:
Day 1: 
1. Motivation: Show coin samples and discus them.

  • Who’s depicted on these coins, and how do you know? Discuss facial expressions and the importance of detail and of conveying personality. What sorts of personalities do you see here?
  • Discuss profile versus a straight-forward facial position. Who can tell me what “profile” means or has drawn a portrait in profile before?
  • What message do the text, symbols and other designs in these coins convey?

2. Introduce lesson: If you were a national leader or other important figure, and minted a coin, what message would you want conveyed?
3. Demonstrate how to draw a profile, and how to make bubble letters.
4. Pass out coin samples and worksheets to students.
5. Explore: On a worksheet, students draw their self-portraits, emphasizing detail and facial expression. They choose to draw themselves either in profile, straight-on, or in a three-quarter view.

Days 2 and 3:
1. Motivation: Review what happened in the last class, and introduce the new steps.
2. Discuss safety of handling aluminum foil.
3. Explore: Students finish their worksheet portrait drawings, including drawing letters for messages, symbols, etc.
4. Pass out cardboard squares, thin cardboard rectangles, and squares of foil. Instruct students to form their coins by doing the following:

  • Cut the head and shoulders out (the bust) from your self-portrait drawing (worksheet).
  • Tape this bust to a small rectangle of thin cardboard (i.e. from an old cereal box).
  • Cut out the bust from cardboard, and recycle the scraps.
  • Remove your pencil drawing from the cardboard bust cut-out, and students tape the cardboard bust to cardboard circle.
  • With the sharp wooden tool, trace the circle into your foil square. Cut out foil circle.
  • Put the cardboard circle with the cardboard bust face-down into the foil circle, and fold the foil over so that the front of the cardboard circle is covered in foil. Push down the foil in the back with your fingers or a scissor handle, and tape down all of the foil edges on the back of the cardboard circle.
  • With a paper towel, gently rub the foil on the front of the coin, until your bust cut-out can be seen clearly. With a sharp wooden tool, outline the bust, then outline into the foil everything that you drew onto your worksheet (facial detail, hair texture, writing, designs, etc.)

Day 4:
1. Instruct students to finish their coins by doing the following:

  • Finish indenting or “drawing” on the coins with the sharp wooden tools.
  • Dab a few drops of black paint on top of the coin, with a paper towel underneath to minimize mess.
  • Use a paintbrush to push paint into every crevice and indent on the coin’s surface.
  • Rub the coin with a paper towel so that black paint remains to add outlines and texture to the coin, but no longer covers it.

2. Clean up: paint brushes go into soapy water, and remaining paper towels are used to clean table tops.
3. Reflection: Students fill out a written assessment answering the following:

  • Write a few sentences on what you learned in doing this project.
  • What’s one thing that you liked about the project, and why?
  • What’s one thing that you found challenging about the project, and why?

4. Have students stand in a circle for a critique, holding their coins in front of them. Who wants to say what they like about someone else’s coin? Have students go around in the circle and explain the message that they tried to convey in their coins.


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