Lesson: A Day in the Life

  • Grades: K–8
  • Subjects: English Language Arts, Social Studies

In this lesson, students will be observing and discussing the visual details such as color and action found in Pittsburgh Memories (1984) by Romare Bearden. Students will then write a “day in the life” story about one of the characters in the collage.

Objectives

  • Students will explain their own ideas and understandings in discussion and in writing.
  • Students will use context clues to make interpretations.
  • Students will write a “day in the life” story based on their observations and knowledge of the historical context in which the piece was produced.

Vocabulary: collage, social worker

Steps

Collage depicting abstract city scape with figures and smoke stacks
Romare Bearden, Pittsburgh Memories 1894, collage on board, Carnegie Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ronald R. Davenport and Mr. and Mrs. Milton A. Washington, © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
  1. Begin by showing students Pittsburgh Memories by Romare Bearden. Based on the age and abilities of your students, you may want to explain to them that the artist is showing them both the outside and inside of the building. You may want to also give a little background on Romare Bearden and/or a pre-lesson on Pittsburgh history (especially labor history) since the piece is entitled Pittsburgh Memories.

    Brief Background

    Romare moved to Pittsburgh from New York City with his grandparents and lived here for only a few years. This is where he got his first drawing lessons from a neighbor and completed high school before eventually going off to college. He returned to New York City to attend NYU, later becoming a social worker and working artist. (Other supplemental material: The Quilt of Romare Bearden’s Life, The Nation, and from the Bearden Foundation).

    Lead a discussion with students by asking the following questions, following-up each one with “What do you see that makes you say that?”:

    • Where do you think these people are?
    • What is each individual doing?
    • This piece is entitled Pittsburgh Memories. (Based on your knowledge of Pittsburgh history…) What time period do you think this is?
    • What or who are the two heads in the top floor? What or who do they represent?

  2. Now have students focus on the man seemingly walking out the door holding something silver. Students will be writing their “day in the life” story about this character. You could get them started by asking:

    • Where do you think this person is going?
    • How old is this person?
    • What are they holding in their hand?
    • What do you think their day is going to be like?

  3. Now have students start writing their “day in the life” story. The length of their writing should be based on students’ abilities. Make sure they give this character a name. Ask them to give as much details as possible based on what they see in the collage and their knowledge of Pittsburgh labor history. When students finish have them share out their answers.

Lesson: Art and Authors

  • Grades: K–8
  • Subjects: English Language Arts

Students will interpret and discuss mood, body language, etc. of a piece/portrait based on their observations. Students will then discuss how authors create characters similar to artists. Teachers will then pick a character from a book the class is reading and have students do a compare and contrast of the person in the painting they are observing and the character in their book/story they are/have read in the form of a graphic organizer, such as a Venn diagram.

Objectives

  • Students will explain their own ideas and understanding in discussion and in writing.
  • Students will make inferences about mood, body language, etc., based on their observations.
  • Students will compare and contrast a character in a painting with a character in a book/story they are reading or have read.

Vocabulary: non-verbal communication, portrait

Steps

Painting of a bearded man with hands folded and resting on his knee
Paul Cézanne, Self-Portrait, c. 1885, oil on canvas, Carnegie Museum of Art, Acquired through the generosity of the Sarah Mellon Scaife Family © Public Domain
  1. Begin by asking students, “How do you know what your parents are thinking without them saying it (nonverbal communication: use of visual cues such as body language, touch, etc.)?” Have them give specific details. If there is time, have students give examples of non-verbal communication and have the rest of the class interpret what their mood is: mad, happy, excited, etc.

    Find a painting with a person present—preferably a piece/portrait where one could do interpretations of mood, body language, etc. Generally, paintings where the artist knows the sitter are considered portraits, otherwise one would refer to the person(s) as figure(s) or character(s). Some examples include A Munich Boy (ca. 1873–77) by Joseph Frank Currier, Henry Rushbury (1927) by Gerald L. Brockhurst, or Self-Portrait (ca. 1885) by Paul Cezanne.

    Have a short discussion which could include:

    • Describe this person/character’s physical appearance.
    • How old do you think they are? What do you see that makes you say that?
    • Are they from the past or present? What do you see that makes you say that?

    The teacher can generate a list of answers.


  2. Discuss the subsequent questions, following up with “What do you see that makes you say that?” after each one:

    • What is this person(s) mood?
    • What is he/she/they thinking about?
    • What is the setting?

  3. Artists create characters by providing details; this is similar to the way an author creates characters in text. Refer to a text students are currently reading in their class. Discuss how authors create characters: setting, conflict, plot, mood, tone, etc.

    Hand out a Venn diagram with the name of a character in a current book you are reading or have read recently in class and the name of the next portrait students will be observing. Have them find similarities and differences in each. Perhaps include vocabulary words like mood, tone, theme, etc. Have students share out their answers.