Portraits of Value


Ms. Paula Liz

Grade Level:

Upper elementary or Middle


Drawing & Painting

Objective: Students will create a portrait that tells someone else’s story.


Classroom Conversation: This should be entirely student led. Simply ask the question and have students respond. I had students come in and silently write a response in their sketchbook before sharing out loud with the class.
Learning Activity: This is where you provide information and act as a guide for students. The conversation should still be student led at this point.
Art Activity: This is where you will create a demo or share with students what they will be making that day.

Prelude: Inform students of the project. Let me know that they will be interviewing Seniors ath SOME’s Kuehner House and creating a portrait that helps to tell their story. SOME (So Others Might Eat) is a community-based organization that exists to help those in need in our nation’s capital. They meet the immediate daily needs of people with food, clothing, and health care. The Kuehner House is a Senior day center where senior citizens come together for activities and services that support their independence, and reduce their isolation and loneliness. Students had worked with SOME in the past as part of the “Empty Bowls” project. As a result, students had background knowledge surrounding issues such as food insecurity and poverty. During ELA, teachers worked with students to develop questions to ask for their interviews. If classroom teachers are unable to participate, spend time developing these questions during art.

Day 1:
Students visited the Seniors at Kuehner House. They were each paired with a senior with the goal of getting to know them as individuals. Students interviewed their partner and asked them a series of questions to help better understand their life story. The seniors then either provided a meaningful photograph or the students took a photograph of the seniors.

Day 2:
Classroom conversation: What is poverty? Students share what they know about poverty. Oftentimes certain myths and false narratives arise. (Ex. Poor people just don’t work hard enough.) Be ready to dispel those myths and guide students in this conversation.
Learning Activity: Provide students with a chart of monthly basic living expenses in your city. Inform students of the current minimum wage where you live. Have student’s calculate how many hours a week an individual would need to work to meet those basic monthly living expenses. Explain how the average work week is only 40 hours long. Often an individual will need to work two full time jobs in order to meet just their basic needs. Ask students to share their thoughts.
Art Activity: Have students review their interview and choose a photo reference. Students will create a sketch for their portrait that includes elements from the interview.

Day 3:
Classroom Conversation: Ask students “Why do POC experience poverty at higher rates than whites?” Poverty Rate by Race/Ethnicity
Learning Activity: Watch “Systemic Racism Explained" and discuss how the video relates to the previous question.
Art Activity: Students will begin a full scale drawing of their portrait using contour lines.

Day 4:
Classroom Conversation: Present Norman Rockwell's painting “The Problem We All Live With.” Have students respond to the painting (See, Think, Wonder)
Learning Activity: Watch or Read “Separate is Never Equal” by Duncan Tonatiuh
Art Activity: Students will finish a full scale drawing of their portrait and background using contour lines.

Day 5:
Classroom Conversation: Present students with paintings by the artist Amy Sherald. Have students respond to the paintings (See, Think, Wonder)
Learning Activity: Watch Amy Sherald talk about her work: Why does she paint her subjects in grey scale?
Art Activity: Students will learn how to create value with a pencil. Students will begin to add shading to their portraits.

Day 6:
Classroom Conversation: Have students reflect on their initial interview. What did they learn from listening to their stories? How can students use what they learned to help visually tell an individual's story?
Art Activity: Students will begin to work on the background and adding elements to help tell their person’s story.

Day 7:
Classroom Conversation: Have students share their work and individuals story with one another in small groups.
Art Activity: Students will add final details and complete their portraits.

Day 8: Students will bring their portraits and a letter with them to visit the Seniors at Kuehner House. Note- Students wrote a letter during ELA class, you can have students write a letter during art. The letter details what they learned about their person’s story and how they translated that visually into their portrait. Once at the center, students present their artwork and letter to the individual they were partnered with. Instead of having them do this all at once, another option is to have each student read their letter outloud to the group and present their portrait. This way all students and individuals in attendance are recognized and have the opportunity to hear about each person’s story.

Reflection: Allow a time for students to reflect on their experience. Some questions to ask include:
What was something they learned? What did they feel was successful? What was the most challenging part? How can they use their new understandings to challenge others to rethink their ideas or misconceptions regarding poverty and race?

Artists & Inspiration

Portraits by Amy Sherald