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Getting Started: Talking About Art with Students

Why should students discuss a work of art before writing about it?
Discussing a work of art as a group generates interest in and ideas about the image. Given the integral relationship between speaking, listening, and writing, these discussions also prepare students for successful writing by allowing them to rehearse the language they will use in their written work.

Must all of the suggested looking/writing activities begin with group discussion?
No. Most of the activities will benefit from group discussions prior to writing, but you can decide what will work best for your class.

What questions should I ask to facilitate the discussion?
Look. Begin by asking everyone to look at the image quietly for a few moments. This gives them an opportunity to digest the visual information.
Describe. Next, have students describe what they notice about the work of art. What do we see? What more can we find? Perhaps write the observations on the blackboard.
Think. Next, ask more analytical questions. What do we think about what we see? What do our observations tell us about the story, idea, mood, or feeling of the work of art? Select looking questions from those provided to guide your discussion, or ask questions of your own.
Discover. If factual questions arise, read the text on the reverse of the image card for more information. Then ask the group to consider what new thoughts they have.
Respond. Last, invite personal responses. How does the artwork relate to your own life experiences and prior knowledge? The suggested writing activities can build on these responses.

What if I don’t know all of the information about a work of art or artist?
Don’t worry! Having a discussion about art is about sharing ideas, not giving a lecture. You do not have to be an art expert to facilitate a discussion with your students. The idea is to observe and respond together. The primary objective of this teaching resource is to use art as an inspiration for writing, not to learn art historical facts. If you want information about a work of art, read the reverse of the image card. If looking at a work of art inspires further investigation or research, that’s terrific!

What if everyone has a different opinion or understands the artwork differently?
Art is multilayered in its meaning and everyone comes to it with their own life experiences. Therefore, everyone will respond a little differently. It is important to validate all ideas equally and without judgment. If visual details are misunderstood, it is fine to clarify for clarity’s sake.

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