Zoo Art Lesson Plan

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

With this lesson plan, your students are going to conduct a full-day art project at the zoo. They will practice sketching live animal subjects and create a finished pastel composition.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Conduct rapid sketches of live, moving subjects
  • Translate sketches and observation of a live subject into a final composition
  • Consider how artists capture the behaviors or personalities of animals in art


Full day

Curriculum Standards


Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that probe reasoning and evidence; ensure a hearing for a full range of positions on a topic or issue; clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions; and promote divergent and creative perspectives.


Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.


  • Access to a zoo (Alternatively, this lesson plan can be adapted to a virtual zoo field trip using internet-capable devices.)
  • Regular-size sketchpads, drawing pencils, colored pencils
  • Large-size drawing paper/pads, pastels

Instructions and Activities

  • Start with a discussion about animals in art. Ask students to discuss the goals of this kind of art.
    • How do artists capture the personality or characteristics of an animal in art?
    • What are the challenges of working with live animal subjects?
    • What would be the difference between drawing live animals in the wild versus drawing live animals in containment?
  • The rest of this lesson will be a full-day activity at the zoo, divided into two parts.

Part One: Rapid Sketches

  • For the first part, students will require a sketchpad, sketching pencils and colored pencils. Depending on the maturity and size of your class, you may choose to do this as an entire class or divide the students into smaller groups. You may also consider make part of this activity an individual exercise.
  • Take students around the zoo, looking at various animals. Try to select a range of animals and habitats, including creatures of different sizes, species and levels of activity. At each stop, students will spend five minutes conducting rapid sketches of the animal. Ask students to spend no more than sixty seconds on each sketch. As they are sketching, they should consider:
    • The appearance of the animal from multiple sides and perspectives.
    • The basic shapes contained within the figure of the animal.
    • The textures and colors of the animal.
    • The relationship between the animal and the setting of its enclosure. How does it interact with the rocks, ledges, plants, etc?
    • The behavior of the animal at this moment.
  • Try to get through roughly 30 different animal exhibits in the zoo, spending five minutes at each.

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