Grades/Level: Adult Learners
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts, ESL
Time Required: Short Activity
30 minutes
Author: Getty Museum Education Staff

For the Classroom

Curriculum Home
Lesson Plans
Tips for Teaching about Portraits
Tips for Teaching about Landscapes
Tips for Teaching about Narrative Art

Lesson Overview

Students will "read" a visual image very much like they would read words in a story.

Learning Objectives

• Students write about portraits using new portrait vocabulary.
• In groups, students use their written analysis to hypothesize about the story of the sitters in the portrait.


• One of the two portraits below
• Looking at Portraits Vocabulary
• Student Activity Sheet: Personal Letter

Lesson Steps

• Display one of the images and distribute Looking at Portraits Vocabulary.

• Have students highlight the following words:
facial expression

• Explain to students that we can "read" a picture just like we read the words in a story.

• Explain that they will be reading the story of one of the sitters in the image.

• Ask students to work in pairs. Explain that they are each to choose a different person in the same portrait to focus on. They should start by going through the highlighted words, "reading" the image as they think of each word, and then writing one to two sentences on how each word relates to something they see in the sitter. (For example: I think my sitter's facial expression looks sad and frustrated. Her gesture, with her hand on her chin, shows she is worried.)

• Give students time to write their responses. Then ask them to share with their partners their discoveries about the different sitters and to try to figure out the relationship between the sitters. Finally, ask students to discuss what story is being told in the portrait.

• Ask volunteers to share their findings with the class.

• Have students write a friendly letter to one of the sitters asking about his or her life. (Download Personal Letter activity sheet, above.)

• Ask students to act out a conversation between the different sitters in the portrait.

Bonapart Sisters / David
The Sisters Zénaïde and Charlotte Bonaparte, Jacques-Louis David, 1821