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Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible
Making Thinking Visible

Arts Integration

Arts Integration
Arts Integration

Klimt & Katze: A Literacy and Art Project Story


I can remember it like it was yesterday. Instead of teaching the American Revolutionary War with a textbook, Mr. Zabel decided we would settle the matter with a court case. Each of us chose an identity to adopt. I was on the colonist side, and I chose Patrick Henry. We researched the events leading up to the war, worked as a legal team to form a case. We searched for evidence to prove our right to independence. I remember the moment I discovered an article about King George and porphyria. I was on top of the world. Here was evidence that the king could be suffering from hysteria, hallucinations, psychosis and depression. We brought the article to court and won our case for the colonists!

It's the first memory I have of learning coming alive for me. I was in seventh grade. When I think about my two years in his 7th and 8th grade classroom, I remember being a consistently engaged learner. Why? Because we did projects, we had choice, and our learning opportunities often meshed together multiple subjects. 

As teachers, we know that our students learn best when they are able to hook new learning onto what they already know. Mr. Zabel knew this, and so do I. It's why I love multidisciplinary projects so much. When I'm faced with teaching something that feels a bit "dry," I look for unique ways to connect the dots for my students.

I was beginning a unit on nonfiction text and needed to teach text structures. Because I was a student who loved the arts, it's a not-so-secret passion of mine to incorporate it into everything I do in my classroom. I had recently read a book I picked up at a used bookstore about artists and their cats, and it reminded me of a famous photo I had seen of Gustav Klimt with his favorite feline, Katze. That's how it all began. We started by reading a couple of picture books about Klimt. We also read a biography that I wrote about Klimt. We did this to get acquainted with the artist and his art. 

Then we looked at some of his art. We used visible thinking routines called "Color, Shape, Lines" and "10X2." The pieces I chose for our art response activity were "Portrait of Emilie Floge," "The Kiss," "The Tree of Life," and "Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer." The visible thinking routines help students really dig into a painting. It was interesting to listen in on their discussions as they dissected what they were seeing. They noticed the gold leaf and patterns of symbols right away. They also noticed how the patterns seem to repeat from painting to painting. 

For the next session, we read a series of short nonfiction articles about Gustav's beloved pets, the cat. I wrote each article so that it would model these text structures: Problem-solution, compare-contrast, sequence, description, and cause-effect. We spent a couple of days discussing these articles. Finally, students used what we had studied in our nonfiction unit to identify the text structures of each passage. They proved their claims by using textual evidence. 

We had a blast in the next two phases of the project. Each student chose a cat photograph. Using the photos, we played The Explanation Game in small groups. This thinking routine is a game-like discussion strategy that teaches students how to elaborate. Then students completed two more pre-writing activities about their chosen pictures. 

Finally, we began to write our poems about cats. I taught them how to write a Rictometer poem. This poetry form is like a cross between haiku and cinquain. This format is tons of fun. I modeled writing one for my students: 

The One That Got Away
My snack,
Tender whiskers,
Toes and tails, button eyes, 
He'll squeak and scurry while I play
Mouse hockey with my velvet paws,
Until my claws, unsheathed and sharp, 
Pounce and swat 'til he streaks
Behind the couch.
My snack. 
By Tracy Willis

Our final part of the project was to create a Klimt-inspired cat. Students used cat outlines that I copied for them on cardstock. The only other thing I had to buy was metallic gold Sharpies. I bought enough so that I had one marker for each pair of students. They also used colored pencils, Crayola markers, and black Sharpies. We looked at Klimt's art again before beginning, and I encouraged them to choose one painting as the inspiration for their cats. This part of the project took about two sessions. 


My students voted for this as their favorite project from the whole school year! What I love about it is that I don't lose rigor or student engagement because I implemented the arts and meshed reading, writing and art together in one unit. In fact, my students developed their critical thinking skills and had fun...imagine that!

Art is a line around your thoughts.
                                                          -Gustav Klimt

If you're looking for multidisciplinary projects for your classroom, check these out. These particular projects bring reading, writing, and art together and teach critical thinking skills. Click the images below to learn more!



























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