Students will closely observe one portrait, identify the depicted emotion, provide evidence for their perspective, and free write to discover connections and memories. Writing may provide fodder for future creative projects.
National Core Standards
Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences
One class period, or portion of class
Images of portraits
Show portraits to students and use as prompts for writing. Employ any of the strategies listed below.
If you gave the character an identity and a voice, what would s/he say? What concerns her? Remember to connect the character’s thoughts to the details in the image and use vocabulary and tone that reflects the character’s background and values. (adapted from Weisman Art Museum’s educational resources)
Dialogue / Conversation
Select two characters from two portraits. Create a conversation between them. Are they family members? Friends? Enemies? What could they have in common? What might they fight about? What do they wonder? What kind of words would they use? Students can practice dialogue conventions and punctuation while constructing a narrative between similar or very different characters.
Imagine you are a time-traveling journalist, able to hop to past centuries and interview sitters in portraits. Brainstorm a list of questions you would ask the main character. If possible, research the person and situation before beginning the interview. Then conduct an interview, in Q and A format, imagining how the sitter would respond. Does the conversation flow? Do the questions relate to one another? (adapted from Weisman Art Museum’s educational resources)
Pretend you are the sitter’s biographer and want to capture a detailed description of the person for your audience. Describe the sitter’s physical appearance, clothing, location, gestures, props, and any other details that would convey a sense of personality and mood. Write a descriptive paragraph based on these observations, focusing on details.
Characters in Conflict
Conflict and tension creates drama. Review the basic types of conflict: man vs. nature, man vs. man, man vs. supernatural, man vs. self. Students can choose a hero from a historical event and create a written portrait of that hero at the moment of crisis. Show not only her appearance but also emotions and actions.
Given only the portrait image, students write as much as they can conjecture about the sitter. Create a full description of who she is, where she is from, interests, occupation, values, and what she may have contributed to culture. Then research the “facts” about her life and compare students’ initial judgments with their research findings. Do they align?
Who Am I Really?
Closely observe a portrait. Write at least five questions about the sitter or the surroundings. Probe the portrait to see if it offers any clues to answer the questions.
Write a letter in the sitter’s voice, to another character, or to the viewer. What might have happened recently that she would want to share? Would she write, type, or text?