ARTSEDGE Lessons for Elementary School

Chinese Calligraphy

Writing, painting, or a bit of both? Explore the discipline and beauty of Chinese brush painting


Key Staff

classroom teacher and art teacher

Key Skills

Developing Arts Literacies: Understanding Genres, Applying Vocabulary
Making Art: Producing, Executing and Performing
Global Connections: Connecting to History and Culture


Students will experience the art and culture of Chinese calligraphy and Chinese ink painting through watercolor painting and Chinese instrumental music. In this lesson, students learn basic calligraphy strokes for the creation of Chinese writing as an art form. They will create a painting in the style of Chinese ink painting.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Describe and analyze their work using the vocabulary of art—such as line, value, and balance—in Chinese calligraphy and Chinese ink painting.
  • Identify and describe the differences between Chinese landscape paintings and Western landscape paintings.
  • Use accurate proportion skills of Chinese ink painting to make an original composition
  • Identify and describe the beauty of Chinese ink painting through practicing specific techniques in calligraphy and painting.
  • Identify and describe the differences between Chinese landscape paintings and Western landscape paintings.

Teaching Approach

Arts Learning

Teaching Methods

  • Demonstration
  • Visual Instruction
  • Hands-On Learning
  • Studio Practice

Assessment Type

Informal Assessment


What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Classroom
  • Projector
Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Teacher will need background information about Chinese calligraphic art:

Teacher must be able to demonstrate Chinese calligraphy.

Prior Student Knowledge

Students should be able to locate China on a map.

Physical Space



  • Large Group Instruction
  • Individualized Instruction

Accessibility Notes

Cue up images to be shown. If computer with projector is unavailable, collect images of Chinese calligraphy to show to class.


Resources in Reach

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



1. Distribute and review the Vocabulary handout with students. The handout is available to you within the Resource Carousel.

2. Play traditional Chinese music in the background while students examine Chinese calligraphic art. Some options available online:

3. Display images of Chinese calligraphic landscape artwork; choose one piece and ask students to contemplate it for several minutes. Suggest that students think about being in the place in the picture as they listen to the music. What feeling does the artwork give? How does it fit with the rhythms of the music? Helpful websites:

4. Ask the students to give responses to the artwork, and record them in a list on the board. Ask students what they think the title of the work might be. List these ideas for possible titles on the board or chart paper. Once ideas are given, reveal the actual title, and have the class discuss their responses to the title and the effect it has on their interpretation of the artwork.

5. Return to the Vocabulary handout and discuss the terms in relation to the artwork. Ask students to identify examples of the characteristics of Chinese calligraphic art described in the handout.

Build Knowledge

1. Discuss by direct instruction the ideas and philosophy of Chinese calligraphy and painting. Talk about the meditative quality of these art forms, and the fact that the Chinese practiced calligraphy to promote inner spiritual growth and personal character. Share this quote on the subject:

“The way to elevate one’s spirit starts from the holding the brush; the mind will be enlightened if the operation of the brush is correct. If one’s heart is upright, his calligraphy will inherit the personalities and spirits of the ancient masters and sages. If he practices calligraphy diligently, the spirits of ancient calligraphers will be in the core of the brush with beautiful writings flowing underneath.” -- Liu Shi-Zai, “The Concept of Art”

2. Discuss the history of Chinese calligraphy. Chinese writing was first done vertically on sticks which were then bound together. When the Chinese began to use paper, they wrote on scrolls, continuing to use vertical columns. Chinese used to be read from top to bottom and right to left, rather than from left to right across the page as English is, though now it is read across the page. Many Chinese characters began as pictographs, or representational pictures. Over time, they were stylized into symbols. Chinese writing is logosyllabic, so that each symbol stands for a syllable (and therefore often a morpheme or a complete word) instead of representing sounds as our alphabet does.

3. Emphasize the different types and styles of calligraphy that are produced by various calligraphy artists. Useful websites:

4. Demonstrate calligraphy by painting a Chinese character on chart paper with tempera paint. Tell the students that before the Chinese calligrapher begins painting, he or she clears his or her thoughts through meditation. Sometimes, this includes listening to Chinese meditative music. Emphasize that calligraphy is a process that requires great discipline from the artist.

5. Explain that Chinese calligraphy and painting are characterized by efficient uses of painting strokes. As the artist creates calligraphic writing, he or she makes very definite and careful variations in the painting strokes. It may appear simplistic to the western eye, but the Asian artist uses only the strokes necessary to convey meaning in his or her work. Since calligraphy requires the artist to develop great discipline and persistence, calligraphy artists were often chosen for government positions in China.

6. Demonstrate for the students the character "light" and allow students to practice making the symbol, using a black felt pen or calligraphy felt pen. (Find this character on the ThinkQuest website.) Once the students achieve some control, they may use black watercolor paint to create the Chinese character. As students practice, continue to play Chinese musical selections, in order to foster the meditative mood of the Chinese calligrapher. Give the students a few minutes to practice the skill and technique of this way of painting.

7. Demonstrate on the easel or chart paper the character for "peace." (See this ThinkQuest Web page for reference.) Point out that this symbol is actually made up of the two separate symbols: those for "roof" and "woman." Explain that when more than one Chinese character is written in a group, the characters together make a new word. Multiple uses of the same character used in a group also can create a new word. The word "forest" is an example of this—three characters of "tree" make the word "forest." Demonstrate the word "fire" as a single symbol. Then add another "fire" symbol to create the new word "blaze." Another possible character combination to demonstrate would be "mountain" and "fire," which create the word "volcano" when written together. Additional words can be demonstrated and practiced accordingly if time allows. Point out that these words are like compound words such as “dragonfly” and “housefly” in English. In Chinese, however, one character might be paired with 50 or more other characters to create compound words.

8. Tell students to choose a character or a word to practice. Continue to listen to Chinese folk music selections as students practice and work in the technique of Chinese calligraphy. Students should use art paper for this part of the lesson. This item will be evaluated by the Assessment Rubric, located within the Resource Carousel.

9. Have the students divide into small groups to share and discuss their compositions with fellow students. In their discussions, students should use the appropriate art vocabulary, such as “line,” “value,” “balance,” and “composition” or other related art terms.

10. Have the students give short presentations (using the vocabulary of art) to describe their chosen composition of Chinese calligraphy.


1. Return to the examples of calligraphic artwork and find pictures of bamboo. Bamboo is traditionally the first subject painted by artists learning Chinese brush painting. If students have never seen bamboo, show photographs; a gallery of bamboo photographs is available within the Resource Carousel.

2. Demonstrate traditional Chinese bamboo brush painting using the Bamboo Stroke and Leaf Stroke. Include in the demonstration the basic steps of painting a bamboo stalk and the technique of painting adjoining leaves in a pleasing aesthetic composition. Step by step instructions are available:

3. Allow students to paint a Bamboo-style Chinese ink painting. They should use the bamboo stalk stroke and leaf stroke techniques as they create their paintings.


1. Show and compare examples of Western landscape painting and traditional Chinese landscape painting. Consider showing works by Impressionist painters Claude Monet, Eduoard Manet, or Edgar Degas, or by Western landscape artists such as Nicolas Poussin, Claude Lorrain, Marco Ricci, Francis A. Silva, or Thomas Moran. Then show students examples of Chinese landscape paintings that incorporate calligraphy by ancient master landscape painters Zhao Wei and Tung Panta, or modern landscape masters such as Li Xiongcai and Huang Binhong. As a class, discuss the differences between Western and Eastern landscape painting. List students' ideas on chart paper. Useful websites:


The assessment will be conducted throughout the lesson by teacher observation and monitoring through practice, pair share, and presentation activities. Assess the projects with 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
Visual Arts

Grade K-4 Visual Arts Standard 1: Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes

Grade K-4 Visual Arts Standard 2: Using knowledge of structures and functions

Grade K-4 Visual Arts Standard 4: Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and cultures

Grade K-4 Visual Arts Standard 5: Reflecting upon and assessing the characteristics and merits of their work and the work of others

Visual Arts

Grade K-4 Visual Arts Standard 6: Making connections between visual arts and other disciplines

National Standards in Other Subjects
Grades K-4 History

Grades K-4 History Standard 7: Understands selected attributes and historical developments of societies in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe



Rebecca Haden

Jan Morrow
Original Writer



  • Bjorksten, Johan. Learn to Write Chinese Characters. Yale University Press, 1994.
  • Topol, Cathy Weisman. Painting with Children. Worcester, MA: Davis Publications, 1992.


  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Soundtrack). Dun, Tan (composer). New York: Sony, 2000.
  • Ma, Yo-Yo. Silk Road Journeys: When Strangers Meet (Audio Recording). New York: Sony, 2002.


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Related Resources

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Grades K-2 Lesson


Audio Series

Video Series


Use this collection of resources and articles to devise an approach for supporting individual needs in the classroom: from English Language Learners or students with disabilities, to conflict resolution and giving feedback.



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