Grades/Level: High School (9–12)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts, History–Social Science
Time Required: 3–5–Part Lesson
Five to six class periods
Author: Justice O'Neil, High School Teacher
Sylmar High School, Los Angeles Unified School District

For the Classroom

Curriculum Home
Lesson Plans

Lesson Overview

Students will consider the challenges of life as an adolescent working in Paris in the late 1800s by analyzing a series of works of art. They will compare the vocations depicted in the artworks with those they might encounter in 21st-century Los Angeles.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
• view and discuss five different artworks (drawings and paintings created in late-1800s France) in terms of what art can tell them about vocations, social conventions, history, style, science, politics, economics, and creativity.
• create imaginary narratives about how the subjects came to be painted by the artist.
• create imaginary narratives about what the artists' private lives might have been like in Europe in the 1880s and 1890s by using historical references.
• learn how to organize information quickly in a visual manner by using various Bubble Maps©.
• conduct research to make study sketches (examples of text or graphic backgrounds).
• create an original work of art.
• write a short essay in which they address the question: What can art tell us about ourselves?


• Reproduction of Figure Studies by Adolf von Menzel
• Reproduction of At the Circus: Entering the Ring by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
• Reproduction of Miss Lala at the Fernando Circus by Edgar Degas
• Reproduction of The Milliners by Edgar Degas
• Additional reproduction of A Bar at the Folies-Bergère by Edouard Manet
• Student Handout: "Bubble Map©" Template
• Student Handout: "Double Bubble Map©" Template
• Student Handout: "Team Evaluation Form"
• Magazines
• Timelines of history (and other historical reference handouts)
• Pencils (graphite, white, colored, water color, charcoal)
• Erasers (vinyl, kneaded)
• Drawing paper (9.5" x 4.75")
• Newsprint (12" x 18")
• Oil pastels and chalk pastels

Lesson Steps

1. Introduce and show the artwork reproductions. Have a class discussion, focusing on the central character in each artwork and emphasizing the vocation of the subject. Ask students these questions:
• What is the subject doing?
• What mood does the subject's expression and/or pose communicate?
• How do you think the character got this job?

2. Ask the students to imagine themselves as the person in the picture and answer these questions:
• Where are you?
• What time of day is it?
• How much money do you earn?
• Where do you live?
• With whom do you socialize?
• Are you married?

3. Prepare students by scaffolding the discussion with information about France in the late 1800s; include references to the ramifications of the Industrial Revolution for France in particular and Europe in general.

4. Inform students that each artwork presents an opportunity to look at someone an artist chose to portray in one unique moment in time. Each one is different, and each one offers a window into a bygone era, allowing us to speculate and wonder about the story each character might have to tell us.

5. Ask students the following questions:
• Looking at the people in these artworks, what challenges do you imagine these people faced in their everyday lives?
• How would you compare those challenges to the challenges you face in your lives today, especially in terms of going out into the world and getting a job?

6. Have students discuss issues such as parental and peer pressures, self-esteem, socio-economic status, and gender. Ask students the following questions:
• How do you think these and other issues impact adolescents in contemporary society?
• Do you think any of the characters you see in the artworks were celebrities in their day and, if so, why?
• Do you think "celebrity" made life any easier? What about now?

7. Inform students that many people in the late 1800s abandoned rural communities to find work in urban centers, causing families to be far flung and suffer harsh adjustments in their lives.

8. Tell students that, while there was a miraculous new age of industrial productivity that enabled many to prosper, many more became enslaved by the very machines that were transforming the world. Some women and children worked long into the night, every night, while privileged employers took advantage of the poor in cruel and merciless ways. Discuss with students how both despair and inspiration can be found in these artworks.

9. Have students create a Bubble Map© [#1] (see template) describing a real-world job they see themselves doing once they leave school. Ask them to write the title of the job in the center, and then write as many positive descriptors as possible about the job in bubbles that radiate from the center.

10. Have students create a second Bubble Map© [#2] in which they describe their fantasy job, writing as many positive descriptors as possible in radiating bubbles. Then ask them to consider the following questions:
• What makes this job a fantasy for you?
• What would it take to make your fantasy job a reality?
• Do you think there are any stresses or rigors involved in your choice?
• Can you satisfy the expectation you have for your future as well as what your father, mother, other family member, teacher, coach, counselor, church advisor, and/or others expect for you?

11. Then have students create a Double Bubble Map© (see template) that compares and contrasts the two jobs [Bubble Map #1 and Bubble Map #2] to see if there are any similarities (common ground).

12. Next instruct students to create a third Bubble Map© [#3] based on information from someone who has given them career advice. Just as in the other maps, students write the job title in the center bubble and positive descriptors in the radiating bubbles.

13. Then have students create a second Double Bubble Map© that compares and contrasts their own vocational expectations [Bubble Map© #1] with the expectations of their "career advisor," (family member, teacher, coach, counselor, church member, friend, other) [Bubble Map© #3], looking for common ground.

14. Divide the class into groups of four. Ask them to take 30 minutes to discuss among themselves the discoveries they have made as a result of creating the Bubble Maps©, and what, if any, conclusions they made about their vocational futures. Have the groups select a timekeeper and a note taker. Each student in the group is limited to 5 minutes to summarize his/her information. Then spend 10 additional minutes discussing commonalities that exist among the profiles presented in each group.

15. Have each group present their findings to the class. The group may decide whether to present one student's story or summarize all four conclusions in one brief story. Instruct students to complete a "Team Evaluation Form" (see Student Handout) in which each member of each group assesses the group experience, including the group's class presentation.

16. Have each student make a sketch on newsprint depicting either their fantasy job or the real-world job they see themselves doing. Provide students with magazines, timelines, and other historical visual evidence for inspiration. Inform students that they can make the sketch in the style of an artist discussed or in their own style.

17. Have students work on their final designs. Provide different choices of media from the Materials list. Inform students that their final artwork can be in color, black and white with a color accent, or simply black and white.

18. Using the Bubble Maps© as references, ask students to write a short expository essay (five paragraphs) entitled, "What Can Looking at Art Teach Us about Ourselves? A Reflection on the Experience."

Figure Studies / von Menzel
Figure Studies, Adolf von Menzel, 1872


Students will be assessed on their preparation of the five Bubble Maps©, participation in class discussions, completion of the "Team Evaluation Form" student handout, sketches and final artworks, and their written essays.


Show an art film or clips from art films, such as Goya's Ghosts or Vincent. Lead a class discussion about the art and the artists depicted in the film(s). Have the class discuss analogies between past and present by asking the following questions:
• What has not changed today from the artworks you have just seen?
• What evidence of the Industrial Revolution is present in the artist's work?
• Was there evidence of the social, political, and economical changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution in Western Europe depicted in the film(s)?

Ask students to find comparisons between the Industrial Revolution in Europe in the 1800s and the technological revolution the world is experiencing today.

Standards Addressed

Common Core Standards for English Language Arts

Grades 9–12

Comprehension and Collaboration
1. Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
2. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas
4. Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

Visual Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools

Grades 9–12 Proficient
1.0 Artistic Perception
1.1 Identify and use the principles of design to discuss, analyze, and write about visual aspects in the environment and in works of art, including their own.
1.3 Research and analyze the work of an artist and write about the artist's distinctive style and its contribution to the meaning of the work.

2.0 Creative Expression
2.6 Create a two- or three-dimensional work of art that addresses a social issue.

3.0 Historical and Cultural Context
3.3 Identify and describe trends in the visual arts and discuss how the issues of time, place, and cultural influence are reflected in selected works of art.
3.4 Discuss the purposes of art in selected contemporary cultures.

4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
4.1 Articulate how personal beliefs, cultural traditions, and current social, economic, and political contexts influence the interpretation of the meaning or message in a work of art.
4.2 Compare the ways in which the meaning of a specific work of art has been affected over time because of changes in interpretation and context.

English–Language Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools

Grades 9–10
1.0 Writing Strategies
1.1 Establish a controlling impression or coherent thesis that conveys a clear and distinctive perspective on the subject and maintain a consistent tone and focus throughout the piece of writing.

Listening and Speaking
1.0 Listening and Speaking Strategies
1.1 Formulate judgments about the ideas under discussion and support those judgments with convincing evidence.

Grades 11–12
1.0 Writing Strategies
1.1 Demonstrate an understanding of the elements of discourse (e.g., purpose, speaker, audience, form) when completing narrative, expository, persuasive, or descriptive writing assignments.

2.0 Writing Applications (Genres and Their Characteristics)
2.3 Write reflective compositions:
a. Explore the significance of personal experiences, events, conditions, or concerns by using rhetorical strategies (e.g., narration, description, exposition, persuasion).

Written and Oral English Language Conventions
1.0 Written and Oral English Language Conventions
1.1 Demonstrate control of grammar, diction, and paragraph and sentence structure and an understanding of English usage.
1.2 Produce legible work that shows accurate spelling and correct punctuation and capitalization.
1.3 Reflect appropriate manuscript requirements in writing.

Listening and Speaking
2.0 Speaking Applications (Genres and Their Characteristics)
2.1 Deliver reflective presentations:
a. Explore the significance of personal experiences, events, conditions, or concerns, using appropriate rhetorical strategies (e.g., narration, description, exposition, persuasion).
b. Draw comparisons between the specific incident and broader themes that illustrate the speaker's beliefs or generalizations about life.

History–Social Science Content Standards for California Public Schools

Grades 9–12
Historical and Social Sciences Analysis Skills

Chronological and Spatial Thinking
1. Students compare the present with the past, evaluating the consequences of past events and decisions, and determining the lessons that were learned.
2. Students analyze how change happens at different rates at different times; understand that some aspects can change while others remain the same; and understand that change is complicated and affects not only technology and politics but also values and beliefs.