Lesson: Report on a Scene

  • Grades: 4–12
  • Subjects: English Language Arts, Social Studies

Students will examine a painting and use context clues discovered within the artwork to write a newspaper article revealing the scene through words. Students must use visual details to infer a time period and imagine interviewing characters portrayed in the painting.


  • Students will use context clues to describe the setting, personality traits of individual characters, and overall mood of the scene and will imagine dialogue to develop a story.
  • Students will explain their ideas and their own interpretation and understanding of the scene in written form.
  • Students will write a three-paragraph newspaper article incorporating three imagined quotations.

Vocabulary: Reporter, headline, byline, satire (important for Blythe’s work), archive, investigate, mood


Eight people from the 1800s–men, women, and children–crowd around a Post Office door. Off to the right and left of the door, men are standing on the steps reading while young children attempt to get their attention to sell them newspapers. 
David Gilmour Blythe, Post Office, c. 1859-1863, Carnegie Museum of Art

Begin by showing students Post Office by former Pittsburgh resident David Gilmour Blythe. Take two minutes to quietly observe the artwork. Do not provide any background information while the students observe the work.

Lead a discussion with students by asking the following questions:

  • Where might these people be located? What details do you see that make you say that?
  • Notice what these people are wearing. When might this scene have taken place? What details do you see that make you say that?
  • Look at their poses and actions. What might these people be doing?
  • Describe the overall mood of this scene. What details do you see that make you say that?

Focus the discussion so that students are reading the painting closely. Ask students to focus only on the young person without shoes in the bottom-left corner. Ask students:

  • Who might this person be? What do you think they are doing and why? What details do you see that make you say that?

Now tell students they are reporters for a newspaper, such as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and they have been sent to cover this scene for the newspaper. Their boss is requiring that the story be three paragraphs in length and include at least three quotes from characters on the scene. An example of a quote is:

  • Mrs. Emily Fairfield of Pittsburgh stated that she was, “waiting on a letter from her husband who was fighting overseas in Belgium” in what some people are describing as a world war.

Allow their investigative and interpretation skills to guide their writing.

In addition to being three paragraphs in length and using three quotes from the scene, students’ stories should also include a headline and a date. For inspiration, students can access the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette archive.

When students are finished, invite them to share their articles. Discuss the similarities and differences between the settings, character development, moods, and dialogue that they imagined.

Extensions for this lesson:

  • Each student picks a character in the painting and writes from that character’s perspective. Who are they and why they are at the post office?
  • Assign individual characters from the story to students. What if you were a reporter interviewing this person? Create a list of questions that you would ask. Imagine their responses!