Grades/Level: Lower Elementary (K–2), Upper Elementary (3–5), Middle School (6–8), High School (9–12), Adult Learners
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts, ESL
Time Required: Single Class Lesson
1-hour class period
Author: J. Paul Getty Museum Education Staff

Language through Art Contents

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Art Vocabulary (PDF, 3MB)

Lesson Overview

This lesson focuses on people doing leisure activities as depicted in a work of art. Students practice using vocabulary related to people and leisure. Activities emphasize oral and written descriptions of the people portrayed in the work of art, using action verbs. Students are challenged to infer what leisure activities individuals are doing based on such clues as their pose.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
• use action verbs related to leisure activities in oral discussions.
• write sentences using the present progressive.
• use simple descriptive adjectives.


• Reproduction of Dance before a Fountain by Nicolas Lancret
• Information for Teaching about Dance before a Fountain by Nicolas Lancret
• Teacher Resource: "Art Vocabulary"
• Images of people doing leisure activities, such as pictures from magazines or related Getty artworks: Portraits of Serafino and Francesco Falzacappa by Pier Leone Ghezzi, Card Players by Josse van Craesbeeck, and The Billiard Room, Mentmore by Roger Fenton
• Student Handout: "What Are They Doing?"
• Pencils

Lesson Steps

1. Divide the class into student teams. Explain that leisure refers to fun or relaxing activities that people do when they are not working. Action verbs are used to describe activities. Distribute images of people doing leisure activities—one image per student team. Have each team look at their image and share the activities they see. If necessary, you could provide a list of related vocabulary words beforehand.

2. Ask questions related to the activities being depicted, such as "Who has someone playing?" Teams that have the corresponding image can reply: "We have a man playing a guitar," or "We have a woman playing cards." As students respond, write the leisure vocabulary words on the board.

3. Display a reproduction of Dance before a Fountain. Invite students to share what they see in the painting. Write their responses on the board. (See the Information for Teaching about Dance before a Fountain by Nicolas Lancret.)

4. Introduce the Art Vocabulary word foreground. Draw students' attention to the foreground of the painting and ask them if they see anything else. Write their responses on the board. Introduce new vocabulary as necessary.

5. Repeat step 4 with the Art Vocabulary words middle ground and background.

6. Review or introduce the Art Vocabulary word pose. Invite a team of students to pose as the group of people in the foreground of the painting. Discuss how the figures' poses help students infer what the individuals are doing. As students are posed like the figures in the foreground, take turns tapping each student on the shoulder. When you tap on a student’s shoulder, have him or her state what he or she is doing, using the present progressive, such as:
I am holding a guitar.
• I am waving a fan.
• I am playing with my friends.

As students respond, generate a class list of the leisure activities that are depicted in the artwork.

7. Invite a second team of students to pose as the group of people in the middle ground. Take turns tapping each student on the shoulder, and ask students to state what they are doing, using the present progressive, such as:
I am dancing in a circle.
• I am watching the dance.
• I am talking with a friend.

As students respond, add to the list of leisure activities.

8. Point out that the trees and sky are in the background of the painting. Ask students to describe them using simple descriptive adjectives. Note student responses on the board.

9. Distribute the student handout "What Are They Doing?" and allow students time to complete it. When finished, have them exchange their handouts with a partner. Ask students to point to the figure described in each of their partner's sentences and read their descriptions of the trees or sky.

Dance before a Fountain, Nicolas Lancret, about 1730–35


  • For basic beginning-level students, have the class work in pairs to ask each other the following questions:

    Student #1: What do you like to do?
    Student #2: I like to _____[activity]_____.
    Student #1: Who do you like to _____[activity]_____ with?
    Student #2: I like to _____[activity]_____ with _____[person/people]_____.

  • Have students draw a picture of what they like to do for fun and who they like to spend time with. Inform students that they can use stick figures for their drawings. Have students consider how to pose the people in the drawing in order to provide clues about what they are doing. Then go around the room and have students ask their classmates, "What do you do for fun?" A student can show his or her drawing while another student guesses by stating, "He/she likes to __________." Students can answer in the affirmative, "Yes, I like to __________," or in the negative, "No, I do not like to __________." Once a student guesses correctly, have him or her write down any new leisure activities on the class list.

  • Have students cut out newspaper or magazine pictures of people doing leisure activities. Distribute plain white pieces of paper and glue sticks and have students glue the figures onto the paper in foreground, middle ground, and background groupings, with larger figures in the front and smaller figures in the back. Students can add additional details of appropriate size to describe what the people are doing.

  • Have students work in teams of three to draw a picture of a modern-day party. Encourage them to take inspiration from the painting but update it to reflect the type of parties they like to attend. Have each student draw a group of figures engaging in leisure activities in the foreground, middle ground, and background, respectively.