Lesson Plan

Thomas Cornell, Snapping Turtle, 1969, etching and aquatint

Lesson plan developed by Ann Kohl-Re, art educator, Madison, Wisconsin

Grade Level

Grades 6 to 8

Summary of Activity

Digital Presentation of a Contemporary Environmental Artist

"I want to create a living image of the good."
—Thomas Cornell

Thomas Cornell sought to create paintings and prints about a world so beautiful and compelling that people would be inspired to make a better world by changing the way they lived their lives. In this activity, students will investigate contemporary artists who draw attention through their art to issues related to the natural environment. Students will use their research to create a digital slide presentation that will educate others on environmental issues and their chosen artists’ response to it.

Learning Objectives

Students will present research on a contemporary environmental artist inspired by Thomas Cornell’s aim to make compelling art that would encourage viewers to create a better world.  Students will use technology to research and create a visual presentation on a contemporary topic. 

Guiding Question

What kinds of work are contemporary artists doing to draw positive attention to the natural environment? How are contemporary environmental artists communicating their passion for conservation or activism?

Curriculum Connections

Social Studies, Science, and Language Arts: Conducting research and forming an increased awareness of environmental issues and the legal, artistic, social, and economic factors involved in both conservation and exploitation of the environment.


MMoCA Art on Tour image of Snapping Turtle, in Art on Tour (original image and poster illustration)
MoMA presentation on printmaking (link found on Thomas Cornell’s Art on Tour page)
Computer tablets, Chrome Books, or computers for research
PowerPoint, Google slides or other format for slide presentation


Ask the students to take a careful, quiet and focused look at Snapping Turtle, 1969. Tell them to be aware of their feelings and thoughts as their eyes take in the image of the turtle. Next, ask them to notice the material and process Thomas Cornell used in Snapping Turtle, his sensitivity to drawing and to the animal itself, as well as his mastery of the printmaking process—all of which provides marvelous implied textures and tonal values. Ask them to recall that Thomas Cornell was interested in inspiring viewers to wish for and work for a world in which humans and nature were in harmony. Encourage the students to delight in the turtle’s tranquility as it floats in the water and to consider what interpretations Thomas Cornell might have wanted them to make, in depicting the turtle in this way.

Many contemporary artists and filmmakers are making work that teaches us about the natural environment by exposing us to its exploitation or, like Thomas Cornell, inviting us to engage and delight in its mystery and beauty. Many of these artists work collaboratively and/or exhibit their work in their communities. This aspect of contemporary art can encourage people to join together and inspire interest in compelling issues. 


After doing some close reading and analysis of Snapping Turtle, students will find or be assigned a work partner for their research.  These work partners will also be part of a sharing cluster of two more groups. Work partners will take three to five class periods to choose a contemporary environmental artist whose work they want to present to the class. (The artists listed on Greenmuseum.org is a good place to start.) At the end of each class period, partners will share and discuss their research with their cluster. Research will be guided by the worksheet below.  You may be able to contact your artist directly, if there is contact information on their web site. Final presentations will be shared with the entire class and turned in for assessment.


SLIDE 1 Paste a powerful image of one of your artist’s environmental artworks.  Include the artist’s name.
SLIDE 2 Biographical information on your artist: Where do they work and exhibit?  What is their chosen media?  Where did s/he study art?  What prompted her/him to make environmental art?
SLIDE 3 Another example of the artist’s work, and three probing questions that you hope it asks of its viewers.
SLIDES 4-6  More examples or views of the artist’s work with explanation of her/his process, and/or intent.
SLIDE 6 Text that explains the following:  This art has caused me to think about...
SLIDE 7 Final examples of the art, sources for your research, and if possible, information on how and where this artist shares her/his work.


  • Write a five-paragraph essay on a contemporary environmental issue that you feel strongly about.
  • Think of a personal plan to reduce your negative impact on the environment.
  • Create a piece or series of environmental art on your school grounds or at home. Document the work if it is ephemeral.
  • Compose a song or spoken word poem about your feelings about an environmental issue.

Common Core Standards

8th grade Common Core Standards for visual arts
VA:Cr2.3.8a, VA:Pr6.1.8a, VA:Re7.1.8a, VA:Re7.2.8a, VA:Re.8.1.8a, VA:Re9.1.8a  VA:Cn11.1.8a

8th grade Wisconsin Visual Arts Standards
A.8.3, A.8.5, A.8.6, B.8.5, B.8.6, E.8.2, F.8.6, G.8.1, G.8.2, G.8.3, I.8.3, I.8.4, I.8.6, J.8.6, J.8.7. J.8.10, K.8.1, L.8.6

Thomas Cornell (American, 1937–2012), Snapping Turtle, 1969, etching and aquatint, 22 x 31 inches. Purchase, through funds from the Brittingham Foundation. Collection of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. © Thomas and Christa Cornell.

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