Dyan Branstetter | May 2016

I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold

Are you looking for a culminating arts integration project for the end of the year? Whatever your topic may be, this project could work. The basic idea is this: after examining Charles Demuth’s painting I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold, recreate the artwork to create a book cover with a title such as 5 Facts About ______. For example, my class studies Lancaster County history since we are located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. For this project, students have to choose what they believe are the 5 most important places to visit in Lancaster. This is a writing/research project, so students research places important in Lancaster County’s history. Each page in their book includes an informational paragraph giving information about the important place, and an opinion paragraph about why it made it onto their top 5 list.

This could also be a math project, with each page showing and explaining a different way to make the number 5, or a student-written story problem with the answer of 5. As an extension, the story problems could relate to the painting and poem shared below. Whatever direction you take it, students gain a greater understanding of art history while extending and demonstrating the knowledge they learned.

The painting, poem, lesson plan, and suggested readings are available here: Figure 5 In Gold Resources.

“I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold”  Project Plan

  1. Introduce Demuth’s “I Saw the Figure Number 5 in Gold”. Project it for the class to see.
  2. Do a “close read” of the painting using the “See, Think, Wonder” strategy. (http://pzartfulthinking.org/?p=8)
  3. As a class or individually, have students read William Carlos Williams’ poem “The Great Figure” while the painting is projected. Use the “See, Think, Wonder” strategy with the poem to spark student-led discussion about the poem. (Students will relate the poem to the painting.)
  4. Ask students which they think came first, the poem, or the painting. Have them turn and talk to people sitting close to them why they believe it was the painting or the poem. Then have a volunteer or two share their opinion.
  5. Share with students that you have an article that explains which came first. Before passing it out, explain that students should “read with a pencil”. This means they should read the article 3 times. As they read, they should annotate the text. Students should circle powerful words/phrases, underline words/phrases they don’t understand, place an exclamation point next to surprising facts, write question marks where they have questions, and jot down connections to the text. (Find a poster of what to do on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd read here, and a poster for annotating text here.
  6. Without telling the students they are getting different passages, pass article #1 to half of the class and article #2 to the other half of the class. After students have plenty of time to read and annotate their article, ask which came first, the poem or the painting. Remind students to cite evidence from the text as they explain what they think. (Find the articles in the lesson plan document here.)
  7. This will quickly become a great argument, but allow the students to continue discussing until they realize that they have different articles. Ask why they think they have articles that say conflicting information, and discuss.
  8. Conclude by explaining that we don’t know which came first. It is a great opportunity to point out that when researching, sometimes we find conflicting information, and it’s best to read multiple sources. In this case, even multiple sources don’t solve our mystery, so we present both.

The Project:

Explain to students that they will be creating a book with a number 5 on the cover, inspired by “I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold”. That number will represent the number of facts, pages or chapters in their book. (This book will culminate any topic you are studying, so you would explain your own topic at this point.)

To create the cover:

The following steps are from a combination of conversations with my school’s art teacher and the directions at this blog: http://www.shinebritezamorano.com/2010/10/charlie-5.html)

  1. Demonstrate how to make numbers 0 through 9 visually interesting as block or bubble numbers with a little flair. (Or show a video clip. Option: have students use stencils. (Find stencils here. Have students practice the number a few ways.
  2. Students should draw the number 3 times going from big, medium, to small. (Option: Have students just draw one large number.)
  3. Students should add 3 circles. One should go off the paper and one should be overlapped by a number.
  4. Have students use a straight edge to draw 7 lines, breaking up the background and negative space. These should cut through the number.
  5. Have students trace all lines outside the number with a black marker and erase pencil lines.
  6. Have students add colored pencil to numbers. They should choose to use either warm or cool colors. No two colors should touch at the lines. Then, color over the entire number with a gold pencil crayon.
  7. Have students add color to the circles with colored pencils or crayons, using the same group of colors as are on their numbers. Make circles into spheres by adjusting hand pressure to go from light to dark.
  8. Have students add the opposite group of colors with colored pencils to the shapes made with the 7 lines. Students should go from hard to soft hand pressure to go from dark to light color tints.


CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.3.1: Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.

VA:Cr1.1: Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.




About the Author

Dyan is a fifth grade teacher in a public school district in Lancaster, PA and has over 16 years of classroom experience. With a Masters of Science Education and a passion for dance and music, she strives to integrate the arts into the curriculum whenever possible. Dyan has a background in teaching advanced learners, and is devoted to using project based learning to help her students achieve 21st century learning skills and master the PA Core Standards.