Lesson plan

Black Artists: Basquiat

This lesson plan teaches students about Jean-Michel Basquiat and his life as a child. First, students will listen to a story and figure out the main topic and details. Next, students will be asked to think deeply about what it means to be an artist and some of the types of art they like to create. Perfect for first graders and second graders, the lesson Black Artists: Basquiat highlights reading informational texts and building vocabulary.
Grade Subject View aligned standards
  • Students will be able to recall information from experiences to answer a question.
  • Students will be able to identify the main idea and details after listening to a story read aloud.
(5 minutes)
  • Gather the students together in a comfortable space.
  • Display Basquiat's artwork so all students can see.
  • Explain to the students that Basquiat is a famous artist. Instruct students to turn and talk to a partner, explaining what it means to be an artist.
  • Allow a few students to share their ideas aloud. Explain to the students that everyone can be an artist and what's so special about creating art is that it allows us to express ourselves in our very own, unique ways.
  • Provide some background about Basquiat, elaborating that he was a famous painter during the '80s who had a loose, improvisational method. Elaborate that when we improvise we create something without preparing for it or thinking about what we will create beforehand. Relate this to performers or speakers who improvise instead of prepping before getting on stage.
  • Explain to the students that Basquiat began his career in art as a graffiti artist who was struggling with homelessness. He became famous because of his unique art and incredible talent in his very short lifetime.
  • Explain to the students that today they will learn about Basquiat's life as a child.
(20 minutes)
  • Get out the book Radiant Child and show students the cover of the book.
  • Explain to the students that the cover shows a picture of a young Basquiat.
  • Read the "About This Book" section of the book prior to reading the story to provide background information about the author and artist who wrote the book, Javaka Steptoe.
  • Read the story and ask students prompting questions as you read, such as:
    • Where did Basquiat grow up? How do you know?
    • What did Basquiat dream of being when he grew up?
    • How did Basquiat ensure that his dream came true?
    • Who inspired Basquiat to be an artist?
    • Where does Basquiat go with his mom? How do those trips influence his art?
    • What challenges does Basquiat face in his life?
    • The author writes, "His art is still not neat or clean and definitely not inside the lines, but somehow still beautiful." What does this sentence mean to you?
  • After reading the book, read the "Motifs and Symbolism in Basquiat's work" located in the back of the book if time allows.
(15 minutes)
  • Pass out the Main Idea and Details worksheet to students and display or project your copy on the whiteboard.
  • Complete the worksheet together as a whole group, guiding students to share their ideas as you go along.
  • Possible main ideas for the story include (but are not limited to):
    • Basquiat faced many challenges in his young life and went on to become a famous artist.
    • Basquiat's experiences as a child influenced his art.
  • Encourage students to discuss different ideas and refer back to the text to help them support their ideas with evidence.
(15 minutes)
  • Pass out the We Are All Artists worksheet, as well as coloring and creative materials to students.
  • Read through the directions on the worksheet and allow students to complete the worksheet independently.
  • Rotate around the classroom and guide students as needed.


  • Allow students to work in partnerships during guided instruction and independent work.
  • Have students sit near the front of the classroom during the read-aloud.
  • Define tricky academic vocabulary for students prior to reading.
  • Provide students with a short introduction about Basquiat prior to the lesson.
  • Teach a lesson about finding the main idea and important details prior to this lesson.


  • Provide students with access to age-appropriate websites about Jean-Michel Basquiat, as well as a variety of other children's books. Have students compare/contrast their findings in writing.
  • Collect the worksheets and use them to assess students' ability to recall information from an experience to answer a question.
(5 minutes)
  • Have students place their completed artwork on their desks.
  • Conduct a "gallery walk" where students walk around the room and look at the artwork their classmates completed.
  • Bring the students back together and write the following paragraph by the author and artist of Radiant Child on the whiteboard:
    • "Most important, I hope that young readers will see that Basquiat's artwork is more than just bright colors or intriguing composition or text. It is thoughtful, powerful, and interesting, and like all artwork, it is not something 'good' or 'bad.' His art was his voice."
  • Read through the paragraph a couple times, and discuss what Javaka meant by "his voice." Connect this to students' creations from today and explain to them that one way to share the things we believe are important or special to us with others is through creating art.
  • Ask students to turn and talk to partners and answer the following question:
    • If you could create a caption to go along with your art, what would it say?

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