Behind Closed Doors

By Cynthia Eaton, November 8, 2007

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • Architecture

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts
  • Social Studies
  • Technology

Lesson Time

Six fifty-minute class periods


This is a visual arts lesson about doors and doorways: doors as an architectural form, doors as an architectural function, doors as a medium for applied and decorative arts, doors as a language metaphor for life. Doors are an ordinary, unexamined, and not consciously considered element of life/structure; when elevated to a level of design awareness in both private and public spaces, a deeper understanding of people, culture, class, civilization, aesthetics, and socioeconomics emerges from something very ubiquitous. Students will read a brief history of "the door," brainstorm types of doors and venues for doors, discuss the function of doors, analyze life quotes using the door as a symbol, and create a final project of a barrier that opens and closes to whatever fantasy or imagined world students would like to find.

National Standards

  • NA-VA.5-8.1 Understanding and applying Media,Techniques, and Processes
  • NA-VA. 5-8.2 Using Knowledge of Structures and Functions
  • NA-VA. 5-8.3  Choosing and Evaluating a Range of Subject Matter, Symbols, and Ideas
  • NA-VA. 5-8.4 Understand the Visual Arts in Relation to History and Culture
  • NA-VA. 5-8.5 Reflecting Upon and Assessing Characteristics and Merits of Their Work and Work of Others
  • NA-VA. 5-8.6 Making Connections Between Visual Arts and Other Connections

Common Core State Standards

English Language Arts Standards Writing 

Grade 6-8

Production and Distribution of Writing:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.5 With some guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on how well purpose and audience have been addressed.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas clearly and efficiently.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.7 Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.9 Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Range of Writing:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for reflection and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.

English Language Arts Standards: Speaking and Listening

Grade 6-8

Comprehension and Collaboration:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade level topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.1.A Come to discussions prepared, having read or researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence on the topic, text, or issue to probe and reflect on ideas under discussion.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.2 Analyze the purpose of information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and evaluate the motives (e.g., social, commercial, political) behind its presentation.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.8.3 Delineate a speaker's argument and specific claims, evaluating the soundness of the reasoning and relevance and sufficiency of the evidence and identifying when irrelevant evidence is introduced.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.4 Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.5 Integrate multimedia and visual displays into presentations to clarify information, strengthen claims and evidence, and add interest.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate. (See grade 8 Language standards 1 and 3 here for specific expectations.)

English Language Arts Standards: Reading Informational Text

Grade 6-8    

Key Ideas and Details:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.1 Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.2 Determine two or more central ideas in a text and analyze their development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.3 Analyze the interactions between individuals, events, and ideas in a text (e.g., how ideas influence individuals or events, or how individuals influence ideas or events).

Craft and Structure:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.5 Analyze the structure an author uses to organize a text, including how the major sections contribute to the whole and to the development of the ideas.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.6 Determine an author's point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how the author distinguishes his or her position from that of others.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.7 Compare and contrast a text to an audio, video, or multimedia version of the text, analyzing each medium's portrayal of the subject (e.g., how the delivery of a speech affects the impact of the words).
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.8 Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient to support the claims.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-7.9 Analyze how two or more authors writing about the same topic shape their presentations of key information by emphasizing different evidence or advancing different interpretations of facts.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.10 By the end of the year, read and comprehend literary nonfiction in the grades 6-8 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

English Language Arts Standards: History/Social Studies

Grade 6-8

Key Ideas and Details:

  • CCSS.ELA-yt54LITERACY.RH.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.7 Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.8 Distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.9 Analyze the relationship between a primary and secondary source on the same topic.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.10 By the end of grade 8, read and comprehend history/social studies texts in the grades 6-8 text complexity band independently and proficiently.


Students will: • apply previously learned art concepts, vocabulary, and techniques to a creative process • explain and apply the concepts of visual arts using arts vocabulary • combine design and art elements to brainstorm about and design an object based on certain criteria • identify and demonstrate how line and value define shape and space • learn a brief history of doors beginning with the first in Egypt • recognize many types and varieties of doors in their environment • understand the door as both utilitarian and decorative architecture and design • understand the door on a symbolic level in language • understand the relationship of architecture to history and culture • understand the form and function of many types of doors


• • (search for doors) • The Metropolitan Museum - all kinds of Doors and Doorways at the MET • History of Doors handout • Visual example of doors from simple to ornate • List of "door quote" for analysis


• white tagboard-8 1/2 x11 or 11x14 • white drawing paper-8 1/2 or 11 x14 • markers/assorted colors and sized • colored pencils • watercolors • rulers • staplers • scissors and exacto knives • magazines • glue sticks


  • Swinging door: tension-hinged doors that swing back into place
  • Revolving door: a circular door that self-seals against the outdoor elements
  • Dutch door: a door that is split in half so that the top can be opened while the bottom remains closed
  • French door: a decorative door with glass panels
  • Sliding door: a door that slides back and forth on a track
  • Folding door: a door with hinged sections, that also generally slides on a track
  • Gate/garden door: an outdoor door, traditionally but not always made of wood
  • Trap door: a door in the floor
  • Pet door: a small door usually set into a larger door, that allows pets free access to the outside
  • Metaphor: an implied comparison
  • Symbol: an object with intrinsic and representational value
  • Janus: the Roman god of doors


Day 1 Pass out packets on the history of the door. Have the students read the packets and discuss aloud as a class. Review terms. Introduce the concept of the door as a metaphor, share several quotes and analyze in a large group discussion (i.e. "An open book is an open door," etc.). Brainstorm symbolic meanings of doors as they relate to life (closed door vs. open door) and generate a master list on the board of common and favorite doors in students' lives (bedroom doors, closet doors, locker doors, school doors, front doors, pet doors, etc.). View images of various doors and discuss student’s favorites and why? (It would be helpful to use images of doors from various parts of the world and from various types of buildings.) Discuss how different cultures are shown through the images of the doors. Discuss the predictable expectations of what might be "behind these closed doors" and brainstorm fantasies of what students would like to find. Assignment: As homework, assign a journaling activity for students to record all of the doors they notice in their environment for the next 24 hours, noting function and design. Day 2 Discuss journaling observations as a class. Note how doors that serve different functions have different designs (i.e. a door meant expressly for an animal is made to the scale of the pet; a trap door is hidden in a ceiling and has a string instead of a handle, etc.). Have each student discuss the different functions of the doors they found, and the different designs of the doors due to function. Assignment: For the next few class periods, students will design and draw a device based on the guidelines that it is a “movable barrier for opening and closing an entranceway, cupboard, cabinet, or the like” on a piece of tagboard. The object can be in any shape, style, etc. as long as it meets the guidelines. Do not use the word “door” when describing the assignment to the students. The open-endedness of the guidelines will encourage creativity and out of the box thinking. Once the barrier is designed, students will create a composition of what they hope to find behind the barrier. Pass out newsprint, rulers, and templates for the preliminary designs of the barrier students will be creating. Days 3-4 Continue completion of preliminary drawings. Emphasize the fact that the design must open and close. Throughout the process, remind the students of the criteria of their designs and informally critique students who are getting off track. When the designs are completed, students can cut the openings with scissors or an exacto knife. Pass out and collect cutting tools at the same time, emphasizing safety. Some students will have already begun the composition of what they find behind the opening, but all students should begin working on this by the end of day 4. Days 4-5 Using markers, pencil, collage, and watercolor students will work on the final compositions of what will be revealed behind the opening. Students may glue the drawing paper to the back of the tagboard as work is completed.
Day 6 Students will use rubric elements to discuss each others work. Use this time to review the basic and applied knowledge learned about doors in this unit. Also discuss the possibilities for designing an open ended object.


• Assessment will be formative: Students will need to have the design okayed by the teacher before moving onto the next step. • Students will need to have the composition okayed before it is glued behind the tagboard. • The wrap-up activity will be a peer review and critique (constructive only) • Assessment will also be summative: Projects will be hung in classroom and will receive a group critique. A final grade will be given based on the following elements of the grading rubric: 1. Following directions 2. Meeting of requirements 3. Element of surprise and creativity 4. Use of at least two different media The lesson could be differentiated by giving struggling students a template of a design.

Enrichment Extension Activities

The lesson could be extended by collaboration with a Language Arts teacher who could help students structure a simile, metaphor, symbol, hyperbole, or poem based on the concept of "door". The concept of the door could be incorporated into the opening sentence of a narrative, as well. The lesson could be extended through collaboration with a World Language teacher who could discuss the structure of the door in different cultures and places. The lesson could be applied to a Social Studies unit in a more historical context focusing on a variety of elements. A drafting/technology class could also apply the door concept in a formal technical design project.

Teacher Reflection

• Students loved the assignment and were successful • The assessment demonstrated remarkable fluency of ideas and imagination • The skill of using a variety of mediums fluidly needs to be reinforced • The history of the door provoked discussion and interest because, in isolation, the door as a subject was novel. The door as symbol and quotation word play was fun once students got the hang of it. • The choices of door types will be limited next time to make the time frame more manageable. Given too many options makes deciding which one to choose a timely and unwieldy process for too many students at the middle level. • Eliminate the watercolor option. Too complicated for most.
  1. Lesson plan with numerous facets seems to keep the topic interesting and engaging. I enjoy the ideas of the door as metaphor/symbol and the intrinsic value placed on fantasies behind closed doors.This can be a lesson plan entirely on its own! Open-ended guidelines can promote ownership of ideas and deeper levels of creative thinking and process. Awesome.

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