Sunday, March 21, 2010

3rd Grade Exquisite Corpse Drawings

I was trying to get all my classes back on the same schedule before Spring Break.  That meant coming up with a 1 day project for my 3rd grade students to do, 2 days for my Tuesday classes that were ahead of schedule due to snow days.  I did a quick, modified exquisite corpse to kind of help students brainstorm imaginary animals when I was student teaching and had always wanted to do a regular exquisite corpse project.  I decided it was the perfect time!

I gave the students a VERY quick introduction to Surrealism.  I showed them Salvador Dali's "The Persistence of Memory" because I figured if they were familiar with any Surrealist art, it would be that painting.  Next, I showed them the Exquisite Corpse website that has a great picture of the artists involved, artwork, and interesting information about the drawing style.  I never knew, or forgot if I did know at one point, that Exquisite Corpse started out as writing!  Here is an excerpt from the website.
Among Surrealist techniques exploiting the mystique of accident was a kind of collective collage of words or images called the cadavre exquis (exquisite corpse). Based on an old parlor game, it was played by several people, each of whom would write a phrase on a sheet of paper, fold the paper to conceal part of it, and pass it on to the next player for his contribution.
 I told the class that we were going to make exquisite corpse drawings working with the group of students at their table.  To make it easier, I made sure that each table had the same number of students.  In a couple classes, I participated to make things even.  I passed out 9x12 inch drawing paper and we folded it to achieve one section for each person at the table.  I found out that it is very hard for 3rd grade students to fold a paper into 5 sections.  I kept trying a different approach with the next class to make it easier but at the end of my 5th class, I still had students who went a little crazy and ended up with about 10 sections.  I told the students that the sections did not need to be exactly the same size we just wanted to have the right number.  I modeled measuring with my fingers to get about the right size and then counting as I folded, 4 creases = 5 sections.  I made sure they knew to count as they folded and the students who listened carefully didn't have any trouble.  I asked the students who got confused or carried away with their folding to combine smaller sections into one and draw dividing lines.  As long as you have one section for each student, it will work!

Folding the paper was the hardest part of the project. I calculated how much time we had to work after folding the paper and divided that by the number of students at each table.  I said when to start and when to rotate so that every section would be filled and the original student would get their drawing back.  It averaged about 2-3 minutes for drawing on each section.  Some students drew something in about 30 seconds and thought they were done so I encouraged them to keep adding details.  This is how the drawing process worked:

  1. Each student writes their name on the back of the paper they folded.
  2. Time starts and each student draws something, anything school appropriate, the more random the better, in the top section of their paper.  They make a tiny part of the drawing overlap the crease.
  3. When time is up, the first section is folded backwards so only blank paper and the tiny overlapping part is visible.*  Rotate.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 with the next section, moving down the paper.  No peaking at what the previous student drew! Students can use the tiny visible part of the drawing to influence their drawings.
  5. When the paper returns to the original artist, unfold and admire the artwork!
*Tip: I tried to get the students to kind of open the paper when they folded each section back so there were only 2 layers of paper to draw on.  If you don't suggest this, you'll likely end up with papers folded like an accordion and not so easy to draw on.

When the students unfolded their papers, it was like opening a present on Christmas morning!  They really enjoyed seeing how the artwork came together and finding "their" section on the other students' drawings.  Most of the students really enjoyed the process of the project but I had one or two perfectionists that didn't really buy into the collaborative process.  I guess other students just don't live up to their standards! :)  I told the students that even though we worked together, the paper with their name on the back would be their artwork.  My Tuesday class had an extra period to work on the papers so they added color.  I really like the colorful artwork, the pencil line drawings don't photograph very well.  I would definitely do this project again.

Another project I started was a whole class Exquisite Corpse drawing.  I put out a long roll of paper on the floor and called one student at a time to add to it.  I decided to use the number order in place in their classroom for organization.  We'll work on the drawing a little at a time (if we have extra class time) until the paper is filled.

Check out the artwork below and feel free to visit my students' Exquisite Corpse drawings in our Artsonia exhibit!


  1. Thank you for this fun art lesson. I explored the exhibit on surrealism at the Vancouver Art Gallery this morning and one section was devoted to exquisite corpse. I thought it would be fun to do this with my Gr. 7s in the fall and found your lesson by doing a Google Search on this subject. I'm happy to have discovered your blog and look forward to reading about your other lessons.

  2. Thanks for sharing the process and the students' work! I've been working on exquisite corpses for years now with a wide range of artists from professionals to students to homeless people to people who didn't consider themselves artists. ( is our latest project) I'm currently a high school teacher, but it's great to see that third graders can buy into the process as well!