Education: Lesson Plan

Nikki S. Lee, The Seniors Project (28), 1999.
Fugiflex print on paper, 34 in. x 23 7/8 in.

Lesson: Portraits and Identity




Discussion: Find pictures of people all around the classroom and around the school. (You’ll be surprised how many there are!) In looking at these pictures, ask students to think about such things as what the subject is wearing, how the subject is posed, where the subject is placed (setting), what objects surround him or her (attributes), and what the subject’s facial expression is. Is the person real or imaginary? Why was the picture made, and who was meant to see it? Discuss what pictures were most appealing to students and why.

Extension Activity: Students can create a graphic organizer that compares and contrasts two portraits. Venn Diagrams, Compare and Contrast Tables, and Brainstorming Webs are all appropriate. Younger students can use graphic organizers but comment using drawings instead of words. Teachers may find Jennifer Jacobson and Dottie Raymer’s Big Book of Reproducible Graphic Organizers, published by Scholastic, helpful.

Discussion: Textbooks are filled with portraits. Social Studies and Science textbooks in particular contain reproductions of portraits depicting people who have shaped our world. Give students time to browse their books and find a portrait that they find striking. What attracts the student to that image? What is the subject wearing? How is the subject posed, and what surrounds them? Does the portrait capture the importance of this scientific/historical figure?

Extension Activity: Ask students to invent a famous person who will shape the world. Perhaps they are a future president of the United States, or they will invent something revolutionary. Students should then create a fictional portrait of their invented person and attempt to convey what will make that person famous. After students complete their work, have them pair up and attempt to ascertain information about their partner’s invented person from his or her portrait. Have students switch partners many times until theey have shared their portraits with multiple students.

High School:
Discussion: Ask students to discuss a picture of themselves (a snap shot or a school or family portrait, for instance), that they love. Why do they love it? Who have they shown the picture to? What makes them proud of the picture? Now discuss a time when a picture was made of them that they wanted to destroy. What was wrong with the picture? Why was the picture so bad? Discuss cultural phenomena like social networking web sites, such as Facebook and Myspace. How do students choose which pictures of themselves to display on these sites?

Extension Activity: Ask students to bring in their favorite CD covers that display performers (no Parental Advisory titles.) Students may alternatively print out a picture of a performer from the Internet. Students should write a two-page paper describing the artists’ clothing, the setting of the picture, the performers’ poses and facial expressions, and what connects the picture to the performer’s music. Students may share their work and CD cover with the class.

K-4: Download Worksheet (Adobe PDF Format)
Have students look at a variety of portraits displayed throughout the museum. As they look, have them try to spot some of the following objects:

  •  A letter
  •  A pet
  •  A flower
  •  A musical instrument
  •  A pen
  •  A toy
  •  A book
  •  A pillow
  •  A ring
  •  A letter
  •  A Frisbee
  •  Dancing slippers
Discuss: What do these items say about the sitters? Why do you think the artist included them? What objects would you want to include in a portrait of yourself?

5-8: Download Worksheet (Adobe PDF Format)
Have students look at a variety of portraits displayed throughout the museum. As they look, have them consider the following questions:

  • How big is the picture?
  • How large is the sitter, relative to the size of the picture as a whole?
  • Does the artist’s use of color and line create a mood in this portrait?
  • Does the sitter meet your eyes? Is his/her expression friendly? Haughty? Stern? Sweet? How do you feel about this person?

Discuss: Based on you answers to the questions above, where do you think each portrait was originally meant to be displayed? Who do you think the audience was supposed to be? What was the portrait supposed to tell viewers about the sitter?

High School: Download Worksheet (Adobe PDF Format)
Divide students into small groups. Have each group select a portrait, and answer the following questions:

  • What can you tell about the sitter based on his/her costume, pose, attributes, setting and expression?
  • How does the size and style of the portrait affect how you view the sitter?
  • What does this portrait tell you about the world this sitter lived in? How is it different from your own world?

Have each group present their portrait and discuss their answers with the class as a whole.

Ask children to create a self-portrait. Before they begin they should think about the following questions: Which direction will I face? Will viewers be able to see my arms, body, and legs? Will I be smiling, or will I look serious? What will the setting be? Will there be any objects in the picture? What do I want the viewer to know about me?

After students are done, they may present their portraits to the class. The audience should give feedback that begins with the following statement, “I can tell from your self portrait that you…”

Ask children to create a self-portrait.  Ask them to think about what they want others to know about them by looking at it.  Students will have to think about how much of themselves to portray (bust or full length), what clothing they’ll be wearing, what they’ll be surrounded by, how they’ll be posing, what they’ll be doing, etc.  They should also be thinking about what the colors and styles of representation they choose to work in (bright or muted/naturalistic or abstract) will say about their personality, state of mind, and the overall mood of the artwork.

High School:
Ask students to select a personality based in literature and/or history that they have studied at school. Students will pretend that the person chosen has hired them to create a portrait. Students should write an essay about what their portrait would look like. Artistic students may create their portrait visually. Make sure that students write justifications for everything that appears in their portrait. (Why was certain clothing chosen? Why was a certain setting chosen? Etc.)