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Museum Home Education Search Lesson Plans All Curricula About Life: The Photographs of Dorothea Lange Curriculum Lesson Plans Images of Children in Dorthea Lange's Photographs
Images of Children in Dorthea Lange's Photographs

Grades/Level: Lower Elementary (K–2), Upper Elementary (3–5)
Subjects: Visual Arts
Time Required: 3–5–Part Lesson
3–4 class periods
Author: Susie Newman,
Dean of Academic Affairs,
Marquez Charter School, Los Angeles,
with J. Paul Getty Museum Education Staff

Lesson Overview

Students study how Dorothea Lange tells stories related to children. They practice telling their own written and visual stories in response to Dorothea Lange's images.

Learning Objectives

• Students will look carefully at two photographs by Dorothea Lange for elements of art and narrative content.
• Students will use descriptive language when speaking and writing about Lange's photographs of children's lives.
• Students will use their own art making or photography to portray themes from their own lives.


• Journals or sketchbooks (or several sheets of paper stapled or bound together with yarn), pencils
• Cameras or drawing materials (e.g., paper, pencils, markers, crayons, colored pencils, etc.)

Lesson Steps

Day 1: Begin with a discussion about students' daily activities, listing their various responses. How do they begin their days? Are there certain routines they follow? How are their schedules at home different from their schedules in school? Bring their attention to any similarities among their schedules. Do they have a favorite part of the day?

Show students the Lange images Indonesia and Pledge of Allegiance. Use the following photo-analysis questions to guide the discussion of the images.

• What do you see in each image?
• What sorts of things can you tell about the people in the photographs?
• What do they seem to be doing? How can you tell?
• Where are they? How can you tell?
• How are the images alike?
• How are they different?
• What patterns can you find in the pictures?
• What textures do you notice?
• What lines and shapes stand out?

Discuss the stories that each image might tell.

Grades 3-5: Provide photocopies of the images for each student. Have students paste their copies of the Lange images inside their journals or sketchbooks. Give students about thirty minutes to write a story to go along with each of the images. Questions to guide their journal entries might be: Where are the people in the image? What are they doing? How are they related? What mood are they in? How do you know? Ask students to base their stories on the visual evidence in the images.

Day 2: Have students revisit their journals. Give them ten minutes to review their entries and ask them to add any additional thoughts they might have had since the last time they saw the images.

Have students share what they wrote and discuss their responses. Are all of the stories alike? Why or why not? What are some similar ideas that emerged in their stories? What are some differences?

Provide background information about each image and draw connections between what the students picked up through their visual analysis of the images, and their creative writings.

Days 3 and 4: Review some of the stories that students wrote to go with the images. Return to the visual evidence in the photographs. How did the artist tell each story? Is the artist standing close to or far away from her subjects? Discuss the different viewing angles the artist used when taking her photographs. One image shows a close-up view of children's feet standing on the pavement. The artist must have pointed her camera straight down at the pavement when she took that photograph. Another shows a group of children standing together and facing forward. The photographer was facing the children and standing some distance from them.

Students will prepare to make their own artworks about typical events and moments in their daily lives. Begin by reviewing the list of activities they mentioned during the discussion on day one of the lesson. Students will make several sketches in their journals of scenes that reflect typical moments in their daily lives. Encourage students to experiment with point of view—for example, showing certain things close up, as Lange did with her image Indonesia, and to think about playtime versus worktime.

Students will use two of their sketches as the basis for final drawings or photographs (students can share disposable or Polaroid cameras to capture typical moments or scenes at school). If drawing, students should use lines, colors, shapes, and patterns to help tell their stories. If photographing, students should experiment with viewing angles. When students have completed their work, display it together and discuss it as a class. Have students talk about the particular moments their fellow-classmates may have been trying to show in their art, and then have the artists explain this for themselves.


• Teacher observation of student discussion and time on task.
• Students should be able to use expressive language to discuss and write about Lange's images.
• Students should be able to connect moments depicted in Lange's work to their own daily activities.
• Students are able to explain how their own images relate to their daily lives.

Standards Addressed

Visual-Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools
Grade 1
Artistic Perception
1.3–Identify the elements of art in objects in nature, in the environment, and in works of art, emphasizing line, color, shape, and texture.
Creative Expression
2.8–Create artwork based on observations of actual objects and everyday scenes.
Historical and Cultural Context
3.2–Identify and describe various subject matter in art (e.g., landscapes, seascapes, portraits, still life).

Grade 2
Historical and Cultural Context
3.1–Explain how artists use their work to share experiences or communicate ideas.

Grade 3
Creative Expression
2.1–Explore ideas for art in a personal sketchbook.

Grade 4
Historical and Cultural Context
3.1–Describe how art plays a role in reflecting life (e.g., photography, pottery, quilts, architecture).

Grade 5
Creative Expression
2.7–Communicate values, opinions, or personal insights through an original work of art.

National Standards for Visual Arts
Grades K-4
Understanding and Applying Media, Techniques, and Processes
Students use different media, techniques, and processes to communicate ideas, experiences, and stories.

Grades 5-8
Choosing and Evaluating a Range of Subject Matter, Symbols, and Ideas
Students use subjects, themes, and symbols that demonstrate knowledge of contexts, values, and aesthetics that communicate intended meaning in artworks.

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