Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Let's Call it Automatic

Mary Tomczak


This activity exhibits the art room's version of “Pop-Up” video. The students create two products that are done automatically. In each activity, the students draw or write whatever “pops up” in their minds in a timed session.


The student knows how different subjects, themes, and symbols (through context, value, and aesthetics) convey intended meanings or ideas in works of art.

The student understands and uses information from historical and cultural themes, trends, styles, periods of art, and artists.


-Pen or pencil
-Art Journal or four sheets of 8 ˝” x 11” paper per student
-Musical selection (See Preparations)
-Crayons, colored pencils and markers
-Poster of the Exquisite Corpse game (See Preparations)


1. Prior knowledge: Display the Exquisite Corpse game poster and some of the students' works from the previous activities. (See Beacon Lesson Plan, Fantasy Visualization)
2. Have a musical selection ready for the day's activities.
3. A ream of white unlined paper may be made available, along with some type of writing instrument for the activity.
4. Set out crayons, colored pencils, and markers so that the students have the opportunity to color their automatic drawings.
5. Place a copy of the grading rubric on the board. (See Assessments)


1. Once the class is settled, lead the students in a review of Surrealism from the previous day's activities. (See Beacon Lesson Plan, Fantasy Visualization)

2. Expose students to another form of brainstorming. This is another way of letting go of the conscious much like what the Surrealists did as demonstrated in the game, Exquisite Corpse. (See Beacon Lesson Plan, Fantasy Visualization, for an explanation of the game)

3. Ask students to get out a writing utensil and paper or their art journals.

4. The class starts with Automatic Writing as the first activity. Ask the students if they have seen the show [Pop-Up Videos] or [The Drew Carey Show]. In both of these examples during the scene, whatever “pops up” into the creator's mind is exhibited on the screen for the viewers. Ask the students to think of their writing classes. Did they ever want to write whatever came into their mind just to do it instead of the assignment? Explain that now they have that opportunity in art class. This is another brainstorming technique the Surrealists used. The end result may have shocked the viewer, but it gave the artist the opportunity to free himself/herself up and to let out whatever idea came into the mind. As a class, we will do one without music and then we will experiment with different types of music during a short timed session to see what “pops up.”

5. Instructions: In Automatic Writing, a student writes as quickly as possible without lifting the pen from the paper, hoping that the stream of consciousness will come straight from the inner mind. Students are encouraged to write whatever pops into their heads during the timed session.

6. To ease the students, have a practice session of three minutes without music. You may even use yourself as an example to your students and do the activity. When you are finished, read your writings to your students. They may get a laugh out of your nonsense. After the practice session is done, stop and have the students read over their entries before going to the timed musical session. Play around with your choice of music. Classical, country, showtunes, rap, R & B, and other selections may give you different responses.

7. Instructions: In Automatic Drawing, the student draws without lifting a pen from the paper and without looking at the shapes formed. Mention to the students that they may have experienced this activity in some of their classes. This is a tried and true activity teachers use to fill up time and keep the students busy. I have seen this in elementary classes when the teacher is in need of an art activity, and this gives the student some creative freedom.

8. When the time is up in this session (say, two to three minutes), the student examines the lines for “hidden” and unintended shapes and figures. The students can even color their drawings.

9. Stop and have the students examine their writings and drawings. As the teacher, circulate and show some of the examples, give them feedback and compliment the students on their venture into being a Surrealist.

10. Collect and assess the work. (See Assessments)


The grading is based on effort and understanding. I sometimes assess these class activities a little easier than an actual project. I also use these as a way of giving the student a way of improving his or her grade.

-The MASTERPIECE/EXCELLENT piece receives a grade of 90% based on the student eagerly following and demonstrating an advanced understanding in the written word and drawing.

-The ACCEPTABLE/SATISFACTORY piece receives an 85%, and it shows the student followed the instructions and demonstrated basic interest and understanding which was reflected in the written work and the drawing.

-The ACCEPTABLE/FAIR PIECE receives a 79%, and it demonstrates the student barely following the instructions, shows a low interest in doing the project, and just did the assignment to get by.

-The NOT THERE/WHAT WORK? piece receives 70%. Here the student demonstrated no evidence or effort of doing the work.

When looking over the written work and the drawing, the instructor should be looking to see if the student was able to communicate personal or cultural events in the written exercise. For example, the student may comment in their writings about something in their own lives, something that may have struck them about a particular artist that we were talking about, or make reference to current events. In their drawings, a strong compostition may have the student's individual style or the student may try to mimic the Surrealist style. The instructor needs to look for experimentation on the student's part in either of their projects.


1. Repeat and simplify the instructions for students.
2. Read the directions orally.
3. If possible, make accommodations for the ESOL student to write in their native language and translate later.

Web Links

Web supplement for Let's Call It Automatic
Art History

Web supplement for Let's Call It Automatic
Salvador Dali Museum

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