Part 2: Expressive Sculptures

Children will explore emotions.

Lesson Objective

Children will create an expressive self-portrait in clay.


What You'll Need

  • Nontoxic white air-dry clay – 1 softball-sized piece per child, plus 1 for demonstration and extra clay
  • Sponges – 2 for teachers to use during clean-up
  • Disposable foam plates with children’s names written on them – 1 per child
  • Wide craft sticks – 1 per child
  • Wet wipes – 2 per child
  • A large, color reproduction or digital image of Monumental Head of Pierre de Wissant by Auguste Rodin - from the North Carolina Museum of Art website
  • Damp paper towels – 1 per child, plus a few extra (for students who may want to clean off their hands during the lesson)

What To Do

Note: This is PART 2 of a two-part lesson and should be taught AFTER the lesson, Part 1: Expressing Emotion, found on this website.

Prior to beginning the lesson, cut 1 softball-sized piece of clay per child, plus 1 extra for demonstration. Keep additional clay available for children who need more. Place the clay rolls on a tray, and cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap. If preparing the clay more than 1 day in advance, wrap clay carefully to prevent drying out.

  1. Display Monumental Head of Pierre de Wissant. Have the children review expressing emotion as they did in the lesson, Expressing Emotion.
  2. Tell the children they will be making a self-portrait sculpture from clay, showing themselves making an emotion.
  3. Distribute a piece of clay on a plate and a damp paper towel to each child.
  4. Demonstrate kneading the clay until it is soft, and then have the children knead theirs.
  5. Have the children form their clay into a ball shape by patting it between their hands and rolling it on the plate.
  6. Demonstrate how to form the clay into facial features by pinching, poking, pulling, pushing, and scraping.
  7. Have the children use their fingers to poke eyes, pinch a nose, and push a mouth into the ball, demonstrating their emotion.
  8. Distribute craft sticks. Demonstrate using your fingers to smooth the clay and the craft sticks to add texture for hair. Have the children do the same.
  9. When sculptures are complete, place them on the foam plates to air dry, distribute wet wipes, and clean up.

Guiding Student Inquiry

  • Explain what you did to the clay to make the emotion in your self-portrait sculpture.
  • Explain how you know this sculpture is . . . (happy, sad, surprised, angry, scared, excited, etc.).
  • Describe what you did to the clay to form the eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Describe what you did to the clay to make the hair.

Explore, Extend & Integrate

  • Once the tables have been cleaned up, teachers should lead a “gallery walk” around the tables to view the sculptures. As children walk past each sculpture, have them imitate or name the expression on it. Articulate childrens’ responses to the artwork, such as “I see Carlos making an angry face. Carlos, did you see an angry sculpture?” etc. During the gallery walk, remind children to look with their eyes but not to touch fellow artists’ work.
  • Discuss the scale of the sculptures compared to the size of the children’s heads. Have the children look for things that are very large and very small. Have them use words to describe their sizes. Draw pictures based on these descriptive words about size; for instance, have them draw pictures of themselves as giants.
  • Have the children look for art at school and see if they can explain the different expressions they see.

Check for Children’s Understanding

  • Could children explain how they formed the clay to make an emotion in their self-portrait sculpture?
  • Could children manipulate the clay as demonstrated?
  • Could children describe the emotions depicted in the sculptures?
  • Could children describe how they formed the clay to make the different facial features and hair?


Did You Know

A self-portrait is an artist’s creation of an image of him- or herself. Self-portraits can be paintings, drawings, or sculptures. When an artist creates an image of somebody else (as Rodin did in his Pierre de Wissant sculpture), it is called a portrait.
A sculpture is something that an artist builds with his or her hands. Sculptures show emotions or ideas. Sculptures can be abstract, meaning without objects you can name, or representational, meaning the artwork shows something you can name, like a tree or a house. Creating a sculpture is an artistic process of making three-dimensional artwork using clay, wood, stone, metal, paper, or any combination of these. Sculptures are different from paintings because paintings usually hang flat on a wall. Sculptures are usually objects that can be walked around and viewed from all sides.

Auguste Rodin was a famous artist from France. His artwork includes illustrations and paintings; however, he is most well-known for his sculptures. In fact, Rodin is considered to be one of the most important sculptors of his time (1840–1917). He is best known for his piece, The Thinker, which is among the most recognizable sculptures in the world.

Vocabulary: Child-Friendly Definitions

  • expression – the way someone’s face looks at a particular moment that shows how he or she feels.
  • emotion – a strong feeling, such as love, sadness, or fear.
  • self-portrait – a descriptive representation of oneself, especially a painting.
  • sculpture – the art of making statues by carving, chiseling, or molding.
  • clay – a kind of wet earth that becomes hard when heated. Clay is used to make bricks, pots, and other things.
  • knead – to mix by pressing, folding, and pulling.

Lesson Tips

  • Keep extra clay available for the children as they are making noses and mouths in their sculptures.
  • Once children are finished sculpting with the clay, they will need soap and water to completely clean their hands.
  • Cover tables or work spaces with newspaper or butcher paper to make clean-up easier. Encourage children to keep their clay on their plates during the lesson.


  • Clay (Threads) by Annabelle Dixon
  • I Am America by Charles R. Smith Jr.
  • Glad Monster, Sad Monster by Ed Emberley and Anne Miranda
  • The Way I Feel by Janan Cain

Home School Resources

Home educators: use these printable lesson PDFs to teach this lesson to your home schoolers. They're available in English and Spanish.

Home/School Connections

Las Conexiones a la Casa

While we believe that the books and resources recommended may be of value to you, keep in mind that these are suggestions only and you must do your own due diligence to determine whether the materials are appropriate and suitable for your use. PNC has no sponsorship or endorsement agreement with the authors or publishers of the materials listed.

Content Provided By

Common Core State Standards Initiative – These lessons are aligned with the Common Core State Standards ("CCSS"). The CCSS provide a consistent, clear understanding of the concepts and skills children are expected to learn and guide teachers to provide their students with opportunities to gain these important skills and foundational knowledge [1]. Visit the CCSS