A Calm at a Mediterranean Port/Vernet

Welcome to the beginning level of the J. Paul Getty Museum's innovative Language through Art: An ESL Enrichment Curriculum! We hope that you and your students will find these lessons and materials rewarding as you explore together the ways in which looking at and expressing ideas about art helps to improve language skills.

Historically, education departments in art museums have focused on using works of art to engage with art history and artistic practices. In recent years, museums have been reconsidering the relevancy of an art historical focus to their local communities. In Los Angeles, where the J. Paul Getty Museum is located, current student demographics indicate that 41 percent of students are English language learners, 94 percent of whom are Spanish speaking. Through Language through Art: An ESL Enrichment Curriculum, the Museum's Education Department seeks to address the needs of this audience by using the universal language of visual art to bridge language barriers. The curriculum uses art objects as a catalyst to enhance language skills, develop new vocabulary, and expose diverse visitors to a variety of world cultures and experiences.

The curriculum provides important resources for English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers, while engaging English language learners. In 2008, a research project was designed to evaluate the effectiveness of both the beginning and intermediate/
advanced levels
of the Language through Art curriculum by speaking with 160 teachers who had implemented these materials in their classrooms. One of the key findings of this study was that the beginning level of the curriculum, written in 2005, was too advanced for lower-level ESL students. We therefore repurposed the former beginning-level materials for the intermediate level, and then wrote this new set
of beginning-level lessons in response to teachers' recommendations. The full evaluation can be found online.

Using the Lesson Plans

The materials are divided into three themes: People, Things, and Places.

Within each theme, there are three lesson topics with student activities for each of those lessons. In addition, we have suggested other ideas for extended enrichment activities for the lessons.

  • Each lesson focuses on artworks from the Getty Museum's collection. The objectives or language goals that each lesson addresses, along with the materials needed to implement the lesson, are listed at the beginning of each lesson plan. Also listed are the names of artworks and artists. More information about the artworks and artists is provided on downloadable information sheets for each lesson. Please familiarize yourself with the artworks and artists before each lesson.

  • Student activity sheets for each lesson are provided as downloadable student handouts. They are for photocopying and handing out to your students at the time of each lesson.

  • The materials can be taught consecutively, but each activity can also be used on its own. You may adapt the lessons as best fits the structure and skill level of your class. While the activities and topics correspond roughly to the goals and objectives for the curricula of students learning English, teachers can decide which lesson(s) to use depending upon their students' needs and abilities.

  • You may find that students ask questions for which you will not have the answers. When this happens, inform students how they can do further research (going to the library, using Internet search engines, visiting getty.edu, etc.) to learn more about art objects. It is important to let students know that our understanding of art and artists is an ongoing discovery in which we rarely have all the answers.

The J. Paul Getty Museum Education staff wrote this curriculum under the guidance of a Teacher Advisory Group. For their invaluable assistance with this project, we would like to thank Misty Cho, Glendale Community College; Quinn Harmon-Kelley, Venice Community Adult School; and Karen Vallejo, University of California, Irvine.

Language through Art

Curriculum Home
Lesson Plans
Image Bank
Art Vocabulary (PDF, 3MB)