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Wide Awake Dreaming

For Grades 3–5

© 2010 Successió Miró / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Table of Contents

Featured Work
Show the Image
Dreams and Shapes—Surrealism
Student Activities
New York State Learning Standards and Core Curriculum

Featured Work

Joan Miró
(Spanish, 1893–1983)
Carnaval d'Arlequin (Carnival of Harlequin), 1924–25
Oil on canvas
26 x 35 5/8 inches (66 x 90.5 cm)
Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery
Room of Contemporary Art Fund, 1940
Background Information for Educators


  • Students will learn that Surrealist artists like Joan Miró were interested in using the subconscious and dreams to inspire their creations and artistic process
  • Students will learn about biomorphic and geometric shapes
  • Students will use biomorphic and geometric shapes to create and write about their own imaginary animals
  • Students will work individually or in groups to create environments/settings for their imaginary creatures
  • Students will learn about the Italian theater character Harlequin and the Spanish religious celebration called Carnival and discover how these are depicted in Miró’s painting


  • Paper
  • Drawing materials
  • Image for class display


Joan Miró (pronounced “Zho-ahn Mee-row”) said he tried to create without thinking about what he was painting on the canvas. Then he looked at what he had created, thought about it, and completed the painting, making connections between all the elements and creating fantastical creatures that do not exist in the real world.

Ask your students:

  • Can you find at least nine “living” creatures in the painting? Can you describe them? What real living things are they most like?
  • What might these creatures say to each other?
  • Can you describe the shapes Miró uses to build his creatures? The colors?
  • What is the setting of the painting—the place it depicts? Are the creatures indoors or outdoors? Explain your answer.
  • What are some of the other objects in the painting? Can you find a ladder, a table, a window, a mountain, a sun, a star, a die, a jack-in-the-box, a growing plant, some string, and a globe?
  • Are there some things in the painting that you cannot identify? Describe them. Try to decide what these things might represent.


At the same time Miró was becoming an artist, scientists were beginning to study and understand dreams. Dreams occur in a part of your mind called the unconscious. When you are awake, the part of your brain that is working the most is called your conscious mind. How are your unconscious mind and your imagination different? How are they the same? What part of his brain do you think Miró was using when he made his paintings?

During the 1920s and 1930s, artists who used dreams and the unconscious as inspiration for their writing, drawing, and painting called themselves the surrealists and described their work as surrealism. The word surreal (meaning “dream-like”) comes from the French word “sur” (meaning “above”), which is added to the word real.

Artists talk about two kinds of shapes: biomorphic shapes (also called organic shapes) and geometric shapes. Biomorphic shapes are irregular, curving shapes with no straight lines. Geometric shapes use only straight lines. Perfect circles and ovals are shapes that belong to both categories—they contain curving lines, but are also used in geometry. Have students draw their own shapes and identify them as biomorphic, geometric, or both. Revisit the transparency and see if students can categorize the shapes used by Miró.


Have your students use the enclosed worksheet to invent their own dream-like creatures. These can be displayed in several ways:

  • Tack colored paper on the bottom half of a bulletin board to create a classroom dream space. Cut out the creatures and arrange them in this dream-like setting.
  • Ask students to read their descriptions of their creatures. Have them draw and cut out dream-like food, furniture, plants, and other objects, and place these items in the dream space. Students can draw items for other students’ creatures or their own creature.
  • Display each student’s creature with his or her description.
  • Shuffle the descriptions and have students try to match them with the creatures.

Show students the transparency again and tell them that the title of the painting is Carnival of Harlequin. Explain that Harlequin is a character who wears a mask, a small hat, and a diamond-covered tunic. Can they find Harlequin in the painting? Can students decide what emotion he is feeling? Why might he be feeling that way? Also explain that although most American children think of a carnival as a place with games and rides, in other parts of the world, including Miró’s native Spain, a carnival is a long holiday with partying and costumes that ends on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. During Lent, Christians give up eating certain foods (originally meat) and make other behavioral changes to remind them of Jesus’ suffering. Lent ends on Easter Sunday. Some of your students may celebrate Lent.

Activity Sheet (PDF)


  • New York State Learning Standards for the Arts (Visual Arts, including the museum visit, and Theater Arts) 1, 2, 3, 4
  • New York State Learning Standards for Math, Science, and Technology 3
  • New York State Learning Standards for Mathematical Practice 1, 4 (geometric shapes)
  • New York State Learning Standards for Social Studies 1, 2, 3, 5
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language 1, 2
  • College and Career Readiness Core Anchor Standards for Reading 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 11 (New York only)
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing 2, 4, 11 (New York only) (plus 5 and 6 if drafts and presentations are developed from the writing)


  • Audio for Younger Students

  • Audio for High School Students

  • Audio Description