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Ansel Adams and the Elements of Art

Grades: 4, 5
Related Subjects: English - Language Arts, Visual & Performing Arts
Medium: Drawing, Photography
Class time required: 1 X 50 minute session
Author: Museum of Photographic Arts

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In this one-session lesson, students will be introduced to the works of Ansel Adams while learning about the Elements of Art. By viewing selected images from the works of Ansel Adams, students will recognize and describe patterns found in the environment and in works of art to create their own interpretation and piece of original artwork.



Roots, Foster Gardens, Honolulu

Roots, Foster Gardens, Honolulu
Ansel Easton Adams

Trailside, Near Juneau, Alaska

Trailside, Near Juneau, Alaska
Ansel Easton Adams

Saguaro Cactus, Sunrise Arizona

Saguaro Cactus, Sunrise Arizona
Ansel Easton Adams

Vine and Rock, Island of Hawaii

Vine and Rock, Island of Hawaii
Ansel Easton Adams

Teachers Preparation

  • Familiarize yourself with the life and works of Ansel Adams and the Elements of Art
  • Print the images listed above onto overhead transparencies or use a document camera.
  • Write the vocabulary words (without the definitions) on the board, poster, or overhead transparency. You will refer to this throughout the lesson.
  • Familiarize yourself with Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS.) Read this overview of Visual Thinking Strategies (PDF 16 kb) written by Abigail Housen and Philip Yenawine at Visual Understanding in Education. VTS is not essential to the lesson, though is a recommended method of verbal questioning and response to imagery.


1. Begin a discussion with the students about photography: What is photography? Where have you seen photographs? Who has used a camera before? What do you like to take pictures of? Why do people take photographs? Define the term ‘Photography’ and write it on the board.

2. Show the students one of the photographs. Use the following questions to guide the discussion:

  • What’s going on in this picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What more can you find?
  • Where do you think this photograph was taken? Why?
  • Have you ever seen a place that is similar to the one in the photograph? Where was that place? Were you actually there or did you see it in a photograph, TV, movie, etc.?
  • What does this photograph remind you of? Why?
  • Would you like to visit the place in the photograph? Why or why not?

3. Introduce the phrase ‘Elements of Art’ to the students. Explain the definition. Have the students read aloud the different Elements of Art. Show the students the same image once more. Use the following questions to guide the discussion:

  • Do you see any lines in this photograph? Where? Which types of lines do you see?
  • Do you see any shapes in this photograph? Where? What is the name of that shape?
  • What colors do you see in this photograph? What colors do you think the artist saw when he photographed this scene?
  • There are many different textures in this photograph? What do you see in the photograph that has texture? What do you think it would feel like if you touched it?
  • How can you tell what is far away in the photograph? How can you tell what is close up? Do you see any overlapping shapes?
  • Do you notice any patterns in the photograph? Where do you see them?

4. Use the discussion questions with one or more or the photographs.

5. Explain to the students that they are going to create a landscape similar to one they saw in the photographs. This photograph can be an interpretation of one of the photographs, a landscape they have seen in real life, or an imaginary landscape.

6. Hand out the paper and art materials.

7. Once the students have finished their landscapes, have each write a sentence/paragraph describing the landscape.


Visual Arts: This activity can also be done as a photo-collage. You will need scissors, glue, and magazines featuring landscapes (i.e.: National Geographic.) Students can use the Elements of Art to make a landscape collage in commentary to the images made by Ansel Adams.

Visual Arts and Language Arts: Students can use the Elements of Art worksheet (PDF 12kb) to demonstrate their comprehension of the elements covered in this lesson. One option is to have the students draw their interpretations of each element. A second option is for the students to find magazine images that demonstrate each element. A third option is for the teacher to print copies of the Adams photographs used in the lesson and allow the students to cut and paste portions of the photographs that demonstrate each element. Lastly, the students can write a definition, in their own words, for each element.


Kindergarten Visual Arts
1.1 Recognize and describe simple patterns found in the environment and works of art.

1.3 Identify the elements of art (line, color, shape/form, texture, value, space) in the environment and in works of art, emphasizing line, color, and shape/form.

3.3 Look at and discuss works of art from a variety of times and places.

4.2 Describe what is seen (including both literal and expressive content) in selected works of art.

First Grade Visual Arts
1.1 Describe and replicate repeated patterns in nature, in the environment, and in works of art.

1.3 Identify the elements of art in objects in nature, in the environment, and in works of art, emphasizing line, color, shape/form, and texture.

2.8 Create artwork based on observations of actual objects and everyday scenes.

3.2 Identify and describe various subject matter in art (e.g., landscapes, seascapes, portraits, still life).

Second Grade Visual Arts
1.3 Identify the elements of art in objects in nature, the environment, and works of art, emphasizing line, color, shape/form, texture, and space.

2.2 Demonstrate beginning skill in the use of art media, such as oil pastels, watercolors, and tempera.

2.3 Depict the illusion of depth (space) in a work of art, using overlapping shapes, relative size, and placement within the picture.

Kindergarten English-Language Arts
1.0 Students write words and brief sentences that are legible.

2.1 Describe people, places, things (e.g., size, color, shape), locations, and actions.

First Grade English-Language Arts
2.2 Write brief expository descriptions of a real object, person, place, or event, using sensory details.

2.4 Provide descriptions with careful attention to sensory detail.

Second Grade English-Language Arts
2.1 Write brief narratives based on their experiences.

2.1 Recount experiences or present stories.



The Visual Classroom: Integrating Photography into the School Curriculum. Education Department: Museum of Photographic Arts, 2000. To order, call 619-238-7559x236 or E-mail edudept@mopa.org to order. It is $25. Additional shipping charges may apply.

Burns, Rick. Ansel Adams: A Documentary Film, PBS Home Video, Sierra Club and Steeple Chase Films, Inc. 2002

A History of Photography: From its beginnings till the 1920s.
Essays on how photography began and information on some of the most significant processes used during the early days of photography. Includes an alphabetical list of significant people and their contribution to photography.

Housatonic Museum of Art: Ansel Adams Lesson Plans
Kindergarten through sixth grade lesson plans integrating Ansel Adams photography with other content areas.

Library of Congress: American Memory
Sixty-two collections of photographs and prints from the Library of Congress American Memory project. Includes Ansel Adams and photos from the Civil War.

Photography for Kids: Photography Projects, Ideas and Resources
A list of good Web sites for helping kids learn photography techniques, projects, cameras and optics, and history of photography. Includes book and software reviews.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: Ansel Adams at 100
Explore the world of ideas behind Ansel Adams's photography through archival footage of the artist at work, audio commentaries by art historians, and words from Adams himself. This interactive multimedia feature was developed in conjunction with the exhibition, Ansel Adams at 100, on view at SFMOMA from August 4, 2001, through January 13, 2002.

Teaching Digital Photography: Showing Kids How to See With the Camera's Eye
A site that introduces digital camera and photography techniques, and helps kids understand media images and observe the world around them.

The Columbus Museum: Ansel Adams Celebration of Genius Educator Guide (PDF)
This Educator guide includes a biography on the artist, images of photographs, and K-12 lesson plans using Adams' photographs as inspiration.

The Museum of Photographic Arts
Permanent collections and current exhibits at the Museum of Photographic Arts, Balboa Park, San Diego, CA.

The Sierra Club
An organization dedicated to the preservation, responsible practice and promotion of the environment.

Vue: A Solution to Education's Challenges
Visual Understanding in Education (VUE) conducts educational research focused on aesthetic and cognitive development that results from interaction with art. Based on its findings, VUE develops programs for schools and museums, principally Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS).


Bidner, Jenni. The Kids Guide to Digital Photography. Lark Books, Ashville, North Carolina.2004.

Dunlap, Julie. Eye on the Wild: A Story about Ansel Adams. Carolrhoda Books, Minneapolis, Minnesota. July 1995.

Gibbons, Gail. Click! A Book about Cameras and Taking Pictures. Little, Brown and Company, New York, New York. 1997.

Haslam, Andrew. Photography: Make it Work. Two Can Press, Minnetonka, Minnestota 2000.

Johnson, Neil. National Geographic Photography Guide for Kids. National Geographic Society, Washington, DC. 2001.

Kostick, Anne. My First Camera Book. Workman Publishing, New York, New York.1989.

BetterPhoto for Kids and Teens
A site dedicated to kids and young adults interested in the art of taking pictures. Includes sections on pets, friends and family, vacations and more.

Photography as a Fine “Arf”
An exhibition of photographs in which dogs behave like people and people are transformed into dogs! This exhibition presents a selection of historical photographs that also explore the complex relationships of people and dogs. Most were made a century or more before Wallace Wegman, and some hark back to the earliest years of photography, when technical challenges made any image of an animal a rarity.


Museum of Photographic Arts
Mingei Museum Timken Museum of Art

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