ARTSEDGE Lessons for Elementary School


Students grow their knowledge of sunflowers through science and art


Key Staff

This lesson can be taught by the classroom teacher or with the help of science specialists and arts educators.

Key Skills

Making Art: Producing, Executing and Performing
Developing Arts Literacies: Analyzing and Evaluating - Critique


In this lesson, students grow both sunflowers and their knowledge of sunflowers in science and art. After exploring the work of Van Gogh and other artists using sunflowers as their subject, students create their own sunflower-based artwork.

Additionally, they observe and record the growth of a sunflower, journaling its growth with their personal life experiences during that same time period. They reflect on this growth experience through creative writing.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Observe the growth of a sunflower from seed to mature plant
  • Record the growth of a sunflower from seed to mature plant
  • Understand the life cycle of a sunflower plant
  • Journal their own life experiences over this growth period
  • Explore the sunflower-based artwork of Van Gogh and other artists
  • Create their own sunflower-based artwork
  • Write creatively in two voices about the sunflower and their personal life experiences

Teaching Approach

Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Discovery Learning
  • Hands-On Learning
  • Information Organization
  • Direct Instruction
  • Guided Practice

Assessment Type

Performance Assessment


What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Classroom
  • Internet Access
  • Speakers
  • Projector
Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

  • Review the sunflower-growth video tape
  • Review the sunflower artwork of Vincent Van Gogh
  • Review the audio tour of the Van Gogh artwork at Philadelphia Art Museum
  • Review the sunflower artwork of other artists
  • Obtain a copy of and review Van Gogh and the Sunflowers (Anholt's Artists Books for Children) by Laurence Anholt
  • Obtain a copy of and review From Seed to Sunflower (Lifecycles) by Gerald Legg
  • Print copies of the parts of a sunflower from the Nebraska Sunflower Project (page 15)

Prior Student Knowledge

Height measurement skills

Line graphing skills

Physical Space



Large Group Instruction

Accessibility Notes

Students with visual problems may need to watch the sunflower-growth video tape on a personal computer. Deaf/hard of hearing students may require a transcript of the audio tour of the Van Gogh artwork at Philadelphia Art Museum.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.

Build Knowledge


1. Talk about seed growth. If available, share a video with students. Ask students:

  • What does it look like right after seeds are planted?
  • What emerged first?
  • What do seeds need to grow? (water, sunlight, food source)

Share with students that the growth of a sunflower plant is just the same. Sunflowers have fascinated artists for many years.

2. Visit the Philadelphia Art Museum to view one of Van Gogh’s sunflower paintings. Allow the docent to explain the artwork to the students (use audio).

Build Knowledge

1. If you have a copy, read 'Van Gogh and the Sunflowers' (Anholt's Artists Books for Children) by Laurence Anholt. Use the book to introduce Van Gogh and his artwork to students.

2. Explore sunflower artwork of Vincent Van Gogh using the gallery in the Build slide in the Resouce Carousel above. Using a few pieces of Van Gogh’s artwork, ask students:

  • What is similar in these paintings?
  • What is different?
  • Why do you think Van Gogh found sunflowers to be art-worthy?
  • Why do you think he painted similar pieces?

3. Discuss the life cycle of a sunflower. If available, From Seed to Sunflower (Lifecycles) by Gerald Legg to explain the lifecycle. Have students complete the 'Parts of a Sunflower' worksheet located within the Resource Carousel from the Nebraska Sunflower Project.


1. Plant sunflower seeds. In one or more containers suitable for the size sunflower selected, grow a few sunflower plants. Follow the instructions on the seed packet. Because sunflowers require space and deep soil, it is best not to have each student plant his or her own plant, unless there is an outdoor garden plot available.

2. Observe and record the growth of a sunflower. Using the Student Journal Worksheet located within the Resource Carousel, have each student observe, measure, and record the growth of the sunflower each day. Concurrently, have the student journal about his or her own activities each day.

3. Create a growth graph. Plot time on the x axis and height on the y axis. This can be created during the recording process or at the completion of recording growth.

4. Create sunflower artwork in the style of Van Gogh. Place a vase with several sunflowers (real or artificial) inside it in the center of the room. Arrange desks or tables in a circle around the vase. Have students fold a 12” x 18” piece of art paper in half, creating two drawing areas, each 9” x 12”. Using pencils, colored pencils, charcoal, or pastels, have each student draw the vase and sunflowers from a location in the classroom. After a given period of time, perhaps 15 minutes, have students rotate to a new desk or location. From this new location, each student will create a second piece of artwork in the second area on the art paper. After the second drawing, ask the students:

  • How are your two drawings the same?
  • How are they different?
  • Did Van Gogh’s work (or the work of another artist) influence your artwork?


1. Write a poem in two voices. Ask the students to use their 'Student Journal Worksheets' referenced earlier as a guide. The two voices will be the sunflower and the student. The voices will alternate with each line. For example:

The sun warmed my soil.

I grew impatient waiting for your arrival.

I emerged but was all alone.

I learned to dance on my toes today.

I danced in the sunlight.

I watched you reach for the sun.

I am growing quickly.

Today I measured you and me. We’re both sprouting!

…and so on.

2. Create a sunflower exhibit. Post the artwork and poetry for students to view. Ask students:

  • How are the sunflower art pieces the same?
  • How are they different?
  • What similar things did you observe about the growing sunflower?
  • What different things did you observe?
  • What role did your personal journaling play in your creative writing?
  • How did it feel to write a poem in two voices?
  • What other living things could you observe and write about in a similar manner?
  • How does knowing scientific information about your subject make your artwork stronger?


Assess your student's work using the Assessment Rubric located within the Resource Carousel.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education
National Standards in Other Subjects



Karen Smith
Original Writer

Carol Parenzan Smalley

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