Lesson Plans MMoCA Collects

Joseph Raffael: Tree in Spring

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Joseph Raffael, Lizard, oil on canvas, 1971.
Sample image

Developed by Susan Sewell, Columbus School District, Columbus, Wisconsin; art instruction by Bonnie Halvorson, Columbus Elementary School

Summary of Activity

Students will combine art and science as they create a tree in spring using clay and ceramic mosaic. Joseph Raffael's work will be used to inspire students and encourage their use of creativity.

Learning Objectives

Students will learn about the changes that come with the seasons, specifically related to plants. Students will be able to discuss how plants adapt for survival in our area where we have four distinct seasons. Students will learn about the life cycle of various types of plants, specifically annuals, perennials, and biennials.

Students will recognize that Joseph Raffael's work demonstrates his love of nature and his desire to create life-like art.


Discuss Joseph Raffael's art with students. Share examples of his work, which may be found online at www.josephraffael.com. The painting, Lizard, will be used to demonstrate Raffael's love of nature. His painting Eternal Return, Spring, which is available online, also may be used to motivate students for this particular lesson (search the site for recent works by the artist). Students then study changes in nature throughout the season and create a tree illustrating the spring season.


  1. Using pictures and books, show examples of changes that plants go through during each of the four seasons.
  2. Discuss variations in plants and plant adaptations.
  3. Study Raffael's artwork showing plants and discuss the life-like characteristics of his art.
  4. Students will be told that they will create an all-school mosaic, with each grade level creating one portion of the picture.
  5. Students will be given a small hunk of clay and will flatten it out to about a 1/2-inch thickness.
  6. Using geometrically shaped cookie cutters, students will cut out a clay shape. The clay shapes will be fired in a kiln and returned to students.
  7. Students will then paint their clay shapes. Each grade level will be responsible for one color for the mosaic. Various shades of each color will be available, and students will be encouraged to shade their clay shape to give it dimension and make it look more naturalistic.
  8. Clay pieces will be glued onto the plywood with tile adhesive.
  9. Grout will be added between the mosaic tiles.
  10. Create a title plate with the date to hang under the mosaic.

    Note: This makes a nice permanent piece for the school hallway. Hang it low enough to allow students to feel the many textures of the mosaic.

    This mosaic was assembled by parent volunteers to encourage school-wide ownership of this project. We used a border created out of purchased white tiles that were decorated with permanent markers by families during our school carnival. This project is the first in a series of trees that represent each of the four seasons that will be placed near the school entrance.

Curriculum Connections

Art and life science

Grade Level

Elementary, middle


1/2-inch plywood cut to 4 x 6 feet
Acrylic paint
Ceramic tiles
Mastic to attach clay tiles

mosaic: a picture or design made with small pieces of colored material such as glass or tile stuck onto a surface

adaptations: the development of physical and behavioral characteristics that allow organisms to survive in their habitats

habitat: the natural conditions and environment where a plant or animal is naturally found

annual: a plant that completes its life cycle in one year

perennial: a plant that lasts for more than two growing seasons, either dying back after each season, or growing continuously

biennial: a plant that completes its life cycle in two years

life cycle: the sequence of changes each living thing passes through during its life time

Academic Standards

This lesson meets the following Wisconsin Model Academic Standards for science:

Grade 4:

F.4.1 Discover how each organism meets its basic needs for water, nutrients, protection, and energy in order to survive.

F.4.2 Investigate how organisms, especially plants, respond to both internal cues and external cues.

Grade 8:

F.8.2 Show how organisms have adapted structures to match their functions, providing means of encouraging individual and group survival within specific environments.

The lesson also meets these National Science Education Standards:

Content Standard C: As a result of activities in grades K-4, all students should develop understanding of the characteristics of organisms and the life cycles of organisms.

Content Standard C: As a result of activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop understanding of diversity and adaptations of organisms.


Joseph RaffaelLizard, 1971, oil on canvas, 85 x 85 inches. Collection of Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Gift of Susan R. Abrams. 1987.02 © Joseph Raffael. Courtesy Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York.

Elementary, middle

Art, life science