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How Does Daily Life Inform the Creation of Music?

The National Association for Music Education Connect #11 standard asks students to consider how the experiences of a composer might be heard in a composition. In other words: How can music, without lyrics, be autobiographical? A famous example is Beethoven's Symphony No. 6, or Pastoral. Beethoven drew inspiration from long walks in the countryside. In the Pastoral, he sought to describe that inspiration, and even titled the movements as if they were chapters in a book: 1) Cheerful Feelings on Arrival in the Countryside,” 2) “Scene by the Brook,” 3) Merry Gathering of Country Folk,” 4) Thunder, Storm,” and 5) Shepherd’s Song After the Storm.” You can hear all by following the links.  The movements are represented below by five Smithsonian artworks. Students might match the pictures to the movements, or might choose their own pictures on this site. For info on these, click the pictures or the text box to the right of the rightmost picture.

Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access

Women of Japan

Time- 2 class periods


Using the Project Zero Design Thinking routines  "Parts, People, Interaction", this activity provides an understanding of the system of gender power at stake in the representation of Chapter 34 of Tales of Genji - Kashiwagi catches sight of the third Princess.  It then looks at a modernization of the illustrations and offers a reflection on what the new feminine contemporary perspective brings to the interpretation of the Third princess story. 

In exploring the representations of the tales of Genji, students have the opportunity to discover tales that have become a standard for Japanese culture. They look at the first known literature piece written by a woman, who shares a rare and intimate perspective of a woman on a world governed by men.  Students compare the representation of the tales from the XVIth century with one from the XXth century to identify in what ways they have been interpreted.

Day 1:

Step 1: Have students sketch The tale of Genji, chapter 34; Kashiwagi catches sight of the third Princess

Step 2: Debrief as a whole group

Discuss what the students have noticed.  Do not show the caption to the students yet. The observational drawing is good to help students pay attention to details and unveil the artist's choices. It also encourages them to initiate a first interpretation.

Step 3: Parts, People, Interaction

Once students have discussed the painting, guide them through the routine "Parts, People, Interaction". 

"This thinking routine helps students slow down and look closely at a system ( here the system of gender power.) In doing so, young people are able to situate objects within systems and recognize the various people who participate—either directly or indirectly—within a particular system. 

Students also notice that a change in one aspect of the system may have both intended and unintended effects on another aspect of the system. When considering the parts, people, and interactions within a system, young people begin to notice the multitude of subsystems within systems. 

This thinking routine helps stimulate curiosity, raises questions, surfaces areas for further inquiry, and introduces systems thinking." (PZ)

Step 4: Read the PDF "More about Chapter 34" and go back to the questions 

Have students read the caption, go back and look at the painting and ask them to take notes on how their understanding has shifted from their initial interpretation.

Step 5: Debrief the "Parts, People and Interaction" routine as a whole group:

During the discussion, here are some specific question students may want to address:  

  • What does the illustration of Chapter 34, Kashiwagi catches sight of the third Princess says about the system of power gender in place at the Japanese court in the XIth century? 
  • To what extent the architecture in the painting play a role in facilitating the superiority of men? 
  • How does the system in place impact relationship between men and women?

Day 2:

Step 1: "See, Think, Wonder" - The third princess with her pet cat, Yamato Maki, 1987

Have them do a quick "See, Think, Wonder" to encourages them to reactivate prior knowledge, pay attention to details and reflect on the effects of the modernization of the illustration of The tales of Genji though manga. Identify the audience and the context of the illustration.

Step 2: Read the caption as a group - notice what is important.

Step 3: "Layers"

This routine will encourage students to refine their first analysis of the illustration by looking at it through different angles (Aesthetic, Mechanical, Connections, Narrative, Dynamic). It will allow them to draw upon their prior knowledge and consider the impact of modernization of art on the public. 

Students can work in small group and cover between 3 and 5 of the categories.

Step 4: Each group of students present their learning to the class 

Anne Leflot

Harlem Renaissance: Style and Subject

This collection is meant to be used as an introductory activity to the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Specifically, it focuses on the different styles employed by artist Aaron Douglas, most notably in his Scottsboro Boys portrait and in his 1925 self-portrait. In doing so, it asks students to consider when and why an artist who is more than capable of creating within the boundaries of classically beautiful art or writing might chose to create in this style at some times and at other times to create in more radical or avante-garde styles. It uses a Compare and Contrast looking technique before revealing to students that all four distinct pieces are created by the same artist. 

Ideally, teachers can end the unit by facilitating discussion of the social change Douglas aims for with his Scottsboro portrait and of the bridge that Hurston creates with her prose narrator before launching into the dialect of her characters that earned her such scorn from the African American community of her era.

This collection was created in conjunction with the National Portrait Gallery's 2019 Learning to Look Summer Teacher Institute.


Lindsay Van Loon

Gilded Age Industrialists v. The Founding Fathers Portrait Battle (and Analysis)


This collection/lesson is designed to compare and evaluate portraiture of Gilded Age Industrialists and of the Founding Fathers. Students will explore different mediums of portraiture and attempt to place these examples of artwork into the legacy that Gilded Age Industrialists hoped to create for themselves. This lesson plan involves close analysis of specific portraits of Andrew Carnegie, a sorting activity, a Google Doc graphic organizer to help students inquire information, and some overarching discussion and analysis questions to help foster class discourse. Each of the sources used in this collection are owned by the National Portrait Gallery, and many - as of 6/27/19 - are currently on display.  Some questions to consider as you and/or your students peruse this collection: What does it mean to have a legacy? How are portraiture and legacy connected or related to each other? Why, in an era when photography is en vogue, would an individual choose to have a painting done of them? What would you want a portrait of you to look like?

Lesson Overview: (See Collection or the link below for Full Google Doc Lesson Plan)

CLASS (SUBJECT & LEVEL): High School American History - for an 80 minute block


  • Students will closely analyze Gilded Age industrialist portraits in both painting and photograph formats, attempting to understand the legacy that these leaders were trying to create for themselves in the future.
  • Students will compare and contrast portrayals of Gilded Age industrialists and the Founding Fathers.
  • Students will argue different ideas about portraiture in U.S. History and reach their own conclusions.

CONTENT:  Gilded Age Industrialists, Founding Fathers, Portraits and Photos, Source Analysis

This collection was created in conjunction with the National Portrait Gallery's 2019 Learning to Look Summer Teacher Institute.


Tyler Hanson

Behind every great man is a woman! Looking at the role the First Lady plays.

Opening:  Class Discussion:  What is a portrait?  What are the Elements of Portrayal?

Show Michelle Obama Portrait- Have students work in pairs to come up with a list of things the artist wants us to know about the sitter.

Discuss answers

Read Washington Post article - Add any ideas to list

Divide class into 6 groups - Each group is given a group of first ladies.  Students should come up with a list of attributes/characteristics/symbols for the group as a whole.

Small groups should then meet together and complete a Venn Diagram to show similarities and differences of the groups to distinguish how portraits may/may not have changed through time.  Does this portray how the role of the first lady has evolved over time?

Further questioning:  What roles will future first ladies (men, husband, partner) play in the U.S.

Extension activity:  Portrait - Create a portrait of someone of importance or even a self-portrait.  What style will it be in?  How will you use the elements of portrayal?

This collection was created in conjunction with the National Portrait Gallery's 2019 Learning to Look Summer Teacher Institute.


Tammy Fitts

Connecting to Great Gatsby's Appearance vs. Reality in Self Portraiture

This lesson, integrated halfway through F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, will address both character analysis and the ever present theme of appearance vs. reality in the text.  By using Thomas Hart Benton's "Self Portrait with Rita" as a starting point students will study the specifics of a self portrait from the 1920s which highlights American dream centered ideals.  As a second step, students will make connections between the painting and the characters from our text.  As a final extension activity, students will further explore the inspiration, the biography, or another work by Benton.


Leslie Reinhart

Edward O. Wilson: Ant Biologist

What is an entomologist? Through the study of the Edward O. Wilson portrait, our students will explore the career of an ant biologist, study the plants and insects in our community, and create a self-portrait demonstrating their understanding.


  • Students will be able to define the role of an entomologist.
  • Students will understand the concept of biodiversity.
  • Students will be able to classify a living creature as "insect" or "not an insect."
  • Students will observe and be able to describe local insects.
  • Students will understand the concept of habitat.
  • Students will observe and be able to describe  native plants.

Assessment: Students will create a self-portrait with a variety of native insects and plants similar to the E. O. Wilson portrait.

This collection was created in conjunction with the National Portrait Gallery's 2019


Jill Johnson

Civil Rights Movement- Selma

This collection was created in conjuncture with the National Portrait Gallery's 2019 Learning to Look Summer Teacher Institute.The following collection showcases images of key figures such as Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X from the Civil Rights Movement, particularly on the issues of voting in Alabama. The images and activities showcase the struggle of the march from Selma to Montgomery in an effort to make voting an equal right among all people. This lesson can be used in the social studies classroom for the subjects of Civil Rights, Voting, and Federal Government VS State Government.  In addition to the images there are in class activities and thought provoking questions that go along with the visuals to provide for a more engaged learning experience. #NPGteach

Rakul Arza

Haiku - connection between Text and Art

Using  Project Zero Design Thinking "Making Moves" [ressource 4], this activity explores multiple haikus from the Edo period in Japan. Through an analysis of these haikus, students will gain an understanding of: the different topics explored in haikus, their structure and, how text and image are intertwined. This will lead the students to create their own illustration of haikus from the Edo period. 

Step 1: Notice everything

Have students silently notice every details on the four works of art [ressources 1-3] and take notes - they don't have access to the captions nor the descriptions.

“Notice everything” is a learning move that supports design sensitivity; refer to “Making Moves” [resource 4] for more information.

Step 2: Juxtapose

Have student compare and contrast the works of art with one another and draw conclusion on recurrent patterns, topics, questions they want to further explore.

Step 3: Zoom in on Seated Monk 

Have the students discover the meaning of the text (Japanese and English version) and its structure 5/7/5. [Ressource 5]

Step 4: Envision and Hack 

- First, have the students illustrate one of the four haikus of their choice and explain their design in a Pair and Share activity. You will find in Ressource 6 (haiku.pdf) four different haikus for this activity. Ressources 7 and 8 are examples of student work.

- Then, have the students create their own haiku based on the illustrations of the 2 other works of art (Ressources 2 and 3 - Bats in moonlight and The actors Nakamura Utaemon III as Konobei and Nakamura Matsue III as Shiokumi Kofuji). Once they have finished, have them compare their text with the original haiku.

Step 5: I used to think... now I think...

To wrap-up the lesson, students go back to their initial thoughts about Haikus, text and image and, reflect on what they have learned. 

Anne Leflot

Metadata and Tagging Activity

This activity, designed as a group exercise, asks participants to assume the role of a college student researching American women's work in the early 20th century, as an entry point to consider what is useful when tagging, searching, and creating digital resources. The collection includes the images that participants considered, followed in each case by a PDF of their responses. For the activity instructions, see the second tile of the collection.

This activity was conducted at the inaugural meeting of the Smithsonian Digital Resources Steering Committee, a group convened to share knowledge and explore best practices, issues, and strategies that arise in using and creating digital cultural museum resources.  

Kayo Denda, Librarian for Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Rutgers University and Visiting Fellow at the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access, created the activity reproduced here.  As a Fellow, Ms. Denda is exploring how libraries, museums, and archives develop metadata for content on women in American history.  


Philippa Rappoport

Slow Looking: Untitled, by El Anatsui

In this collection, students will explore an artwork by El Anatsui, a contemporary artist whose recent work addresses global ideas about the environment, consumerism, and the social history and memory of the "stuff" of our lives. After looking closely and exploring the artwork using an adapted version of Project Zero's "Parts, Purposes, and Complexities" routine, students will create a "diamante" poem using their observations of the artwork and knowledge they gained about El Anatsui's artistic influences. Additional resources about El Anatsui, how to look at African Art, and Project Zero Thinking Routines are located at the end of the collection.

This collection was created for the "Smithsonian Learning Lab, Focus on Global Arts and Humanities" session at the 2019 New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association (NJPSA) Arts Integration Leadership Institute. 

Keywords: nigeria, african art, textile, poetry, creative writing, analysis

Tess Porter

Cultural Appropriation or Appropriateness?

Is cultural appropriation as bad as it seems? #TeachingInquiry

Are we all overly sensitive or is it important to have set boundaries in place?  Can we borrow and learn from other cultures through imitation in a harmless way? 

Tracy Fenner

MUSIC: Dance to the Beat!

Talk with Me!

Having conversations with young children contributes to their thinking and language development. All conversations are good, but research shows that the quality of words children hear matters more than the quantity. Further, what’s best is an exchange; in other words, talk with children, not at them.

The Talk with Me Toolkits give parents and caregivers thematically organized high-quality, authentic materials to make children their conversational partners in discussions that matter. Each online toolkit features captivating videos and real-world photographs, as well as intriguing paintings and other artworks to observe and discuss through conversation prompts.  Hands-on activities and books complete each toolkit. Simple instructions appear right in the toolkits, so you can jump right in. See what interests your child and get started. There’s a lot to talk about!

This collection explores Music. All children, including young children, have musical potential! For more information, check out the National Association for Music Education and their statement on music in early childhood here:

This series of four Smithsonian Learning Lab collections is funded as part of the Smithsonian Year of Music. #SmithsonianMusic 

Talk With Me Toolkit

The nature of Japanese Ceramic


This collection, based of the exhibition "Imperfectly Beautiful: Inventing Japanese Ceramic Style" is integrated in a unit on Francis Ponge’s collection of poems called The nature of things, 1942, France. In his poems, Ponge has a unique way of focusing on everyday life objects and symbols that he describes in very tiny details. The goal is to explore how Ponge’s perception of objects and symbols can be used as an entry point for an exploration of key components of other cultures. This collection is an opportunity for the students to understand how micro perspectives can lead to global and intercultural understanding.

The collection represents tea pots used for the Japanese tea ceremony (chanoyu). Through slow looking techniques, students explore them and write poems using the thinking routine "Creative Comparison".

Step 1: choose one of the tea pot and sketch it

Step 2: Pair and Share - Explain your choice. What did you notice? what do you notice in your classmate's choice/object?

Step 3: Creative Comparison

The thinking routine " Creative comparison" encourages metaphorical thinking – central to the work of any artist and to creative thinking in any discipline. Metaphors provoke our imaginations to create comparisons between dissimilar things, often leading to deeper and richer understanding of each." (PZ)

Step 4: Pair and Share (with someone else) - Explain your choice. What did you notice? what do you notice in your classmate's choice/object?

Step 5 : read the description of the exhibition and the caption. Answer the questions: 

  • In what way this new information influences your interpretation? 
  • What does it confirm? What new ideas do you have? 
  • What could you do to integrate them in your poem?

Step 6 : write a poem, using Francis Ponge's approach to objects.

Possible extension:

Ask the students to reflect on ways to curate their poems, using the thinking routine "Layers".

For instance, my students decided to do a a pop-up exhibition. They turned their poems into bilingual bookmarks for the school fair. It was a good opportunity for us to talk about translation.

Anne Leflot

History Mystery

Students investigate images of historical artifacts and generate questions about each image using the inquiry model.

April Valencik

Summer Institute 2 shoe lesson etc


Myra Warne

I'm taking my ball and going HOME!

This collection will serve as the basis for a series of activities designed to promote global competence and to teach for understanding . Specifically, these activities focus on building competence in the domains of investigating the world and taking action. All of these experiences and tasks will use the concept of "HOME" as their point of nucleation or seed, and as a through-line to connect the students to the material and help them extend the material beyond the classroom. 

Resources in this learning lab include:

  1. A collection of global thinking routines to be applied during these encounters, as well as the rationales and goals for their use. 
  2. An example of thinking routines designed to foster global competence based on Homer's Odyssey (I use the Fagles translation) and the work of contemporary Korean-born artist, Do Ho Suh. 
  3. Suggestions for expansion, further interrogation, and fractal extension, including extension into further abstraction.
  4. A series of journal entries charting some of the thinking leading to the production of this learning lab. 
  5. A padlet including documentation of my thinking process and some photos of other pieces by Do Ho Suh: 


  • This learning lab collection was originally conceived to be used in an English/Language Arts or composition class. As such, it favors written expression. These writing assignments could be altered, shortened, or dispensed with altogether. 
  • The timeline I had in mind when building this learning lab was about two or three weeks of class time. Obviously it could go longer or shorter, depending on the circumstances of teachers using it. 


Mathieu Debic

When Marian Sang: Using Portraiture for Pre-reading and Post-reading Activities

In this collection, portraits are used for both pre-reading and post-reading activities in connection with reading a biography of Marian Anderson. The pre-reading activity uses Betsy Graves Reyneau's oil on canvas portrait, Marian Anderson, to begin to reveal Anderson to students. Post-reading activities include the use of photographs, video and William H. Johnson's oil on paperboard Marian Anderson to enhance understanding of Anderson's 1939 concert and to informally access student learning.  

When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson: The Voice of a Century is a picture book written by Pam Munoz Ryan and illustrated by Brian Selznick. This biography shares the story of opera star Marian Anderson's historic concert of 1939 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to an integrated crowd of over 75,000 people. The book recounts Marian's life as a she trains to become an opera singer and as she struggles with the obstacles she faces in pre-Civil Rights America. This picture book is an excellent choice to use in the upper elementary classroom in the context of a unit that focuses on "challenges and obstacles."

This collection was created in conjunction with the National Portrait Gallery's 2019 Learning to Look Summer Teacher Institute. 


Katie Oxnard

Identity and stereotypes


This was for the June 2019 NPGTeacher institute 

Nia Reyes

How Can Music Connect to Other Interests and Experiences?

That is a question the National Association for Music Education Responding standard asks students to consider. Grades 1-5 discuss a piece selected for them. Older students do the selecting. Presented here is an example for the older students, and perhaps a selection for the younger: Beethoven's Symphony No. 6, or Pastoral, which reveals Beethoven's love of nature and the sounds he heard on long walks in the country. The five movements are in public domain:  I., II., III., IV., and V. At times the music is imitative, most strikingly toward the end of  II. "Scene by the Brook," when he reproduces the calls of a nightingale (flute), a quail (oboe), and a cuckoo (clarinets). As a fun exercise for any grade, see if students can identify the three birds in the music. Recordings of their calls are also in public domain:  nightingale, quail, and cuckoo. (A composer reviewing this exercise heard one of the birds, the cuckoo, "repeating a descending major third, D# to B." Try it on piano!)

Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access

Poetry and war


The goal of this collection is to focus on the ways artists like Shimomura denounce the impact of World War 2 on individuals. The collection is integrated in a unit called Paroles. It is the name of the collection of poems by Jacques Prévert written in 1946 that partly deals with the topic of war. Prévert is famous for taking strong political positions in his poems, using a simple, sometime surrealist and often sarcastic writing [ressources 6 and 7].

In integrating the study of  Diary: December 12, 1941 that addresses the Japanese-American Incarceration, students have the opportunity to both understand the uniqueness of Shimomura's style and the global magnitude of his topic by reflecting on the similarities and differences between his work of art. and Prévert's poems.

In this collection, students use the thinking routine "Think, Feel, Care" to uncover Shimomura's work of art. It also encourages a comparative study of the ways the two artists approach this global issue and how their work is shaped by culture and by their context of production. This analysis lead them to a broader discussion on how art can be used as a powerful way to give a voice to the unknowns and educate people. 

Step 1: Sketch the painting  [ressource 1]- it helps student pay close attention to details, specifically to the superman shape on the background, but also the woman's body language and the architecture of the room - Do not show the caption yet.

Step 2: Think, Feel, Care [ressource 2] in small group

  • First, name the person involved in the painting (the American superhero, the Japanese woman, the painter, the public, the American authority).
  • Then, analyze the painting using the 3 steps of the routine "Think, feel, care": 

"This routine encourages students to consider the different and diverse perspectives held by the various people who interact within a particular system" (in this painting, the students can identify several systems, from the system of the house to the system of power gender or immigration). My advice is to let them explore one of the system they identify. The additional information provided in step 3 will help them broaden their understanding afterward. 

"The goal of this routine is to help students understand that the variety of people who participate in a system think, feel, and care differently about things based on their positions in the system. This routine fosters perspective taking, raises questions, and surfaces areas for further inquiry." (Agency by Design, Project Zero)

  • Debrief with the whole group
  • Take notes individually on the questions and puzzles that remain

Step 3: Provide additional information on the context of the painting - use the caption and the entry of the diary [resource 3], , Shimomura and his grandmother [resource 4]) and Pearl Harbor [resource 5].”

  • Let the students take notes individually
  • In small group, answer these questions: what was the artist's intent? What is the artist's impact? In what ways do the symbols used in the painting contribute to influence the public's perspective? What are the similarities and differences between Prévert and Shimomura's approach to World War II?
  • Debrief as a whole group

Step 4: Imagine what poem Prévert could have written to raise awareness about Japanese Incarceration.

This activity is an opportunity for the students to reactivate prior knowledge about Prévert's writing style while  rephrasing Shimomura's intent. 

Tips: Using ressources 6 and 7, the students can use the Thinking routine "Connect, Extend, Challenge" before they write their poem. This activity will allow them to reflect on the differences of style of the two artists. 


After the analysis of Diary: December 12, 1941, invite the students, in small groups of 3, to find another work of art of their choice in the Learning Lab that denounces the consequences of war on individuals. 

Use the Visible thinking routine "Layers" to help them justify their choice and connect it with Shimomura and Prévert's work.

Use the Global thinking routine "The 3 Y's" to help them understand the global impact of the work of art they have chosen.

Each group present the work of art to another group.


The students write a poem on the work of art of their choice mimicking Prévert's style, instead of writing a poem on Diary: December 12, 1941

Anne Leflot


This collection was created for my 8th grade students to use prior to viewing the 2003 HBO Documentary Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narratives. My goal is for the students to expand their knowledge of slavery and its brutality. Using the Think-See-Wonder strategy, students will first view the photograph of Gordon. They will then compare and contrast it with the woodcut image from Harper's Weekly. Other images in the collection complement the documentary. 

I have included a link to the Library of Congress that explains the history of the Slave Narratives as well as a Teacher's Guide to the HBO documentary.

While viewing the documentary, the students will take notes on the worksheet provided. As a culminating activity, the students will use their notes and each create a one minute oral history for Gordon.

This collection was created in conjunction with the National Portrait Gallery's 2019 Learning to Look Summer Institute. 


Kathleen Young

Who creates identity?

This activity will be used to reinforce close reading and analysis of visual text in either a pop culture unit or an identity unit in AP English Language and Composition. The idea is to examine how iconic popular images can be remixed to create new meaning and conversation about identity. 

The collection was created in conjunction with the National Portrait Gallery's 2019 Learning to Look Summer Teacher Institute.


Cheryl Chambliss
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