Developing the Higher Order Skill of Analyzing Visual Mediums Through Words (Day 1 of 2)

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SWBAT identify the basic facts and main ideas in visual mediums by analyzing paintings.

Big Idea

Ecphrastics: Giving Voice to Silence.


10 minutes

Introduction to Ecphrastics

Our district Unit 2 assessment will ask students to look at the painting, Persephone, and read a the poem, Demeter, carefully, noting both similarities and differences between the mediums.  Then they are to answer questions,  using evidence from the texts to support their answer.

To prepare my students for these questions on the unit assessment,  I designed these lessons.


First, we discuss the meaning of Ecphrasctics after students write the definition of Ecphrasis (a verbal or written description of visual art) in their journals. This aligns to the L.9-10.4 which asks that students determine and clarify the meaning of unknown words that relate to grade 9 topics. 

Building Knowledge

20 minutes

For this part of the lesson I  model the skill of observing and analyzing a work of visual art and make comparisons to a poem which describes the art.  The standard I am addressing is RL.9-10.1 which asks students to cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text. The text is the poem which describes a painting. I project the painting from Degas and then read the poem, Evaluation.

Next, using a think aloud strategy, I model reading the poem and comment on the paintings setting, colors, artist's style, what is happening in the scene, my feelings or mood, etc..  I then make a few verbal comparisons to both the painting and poem. 

I ask students to do the same by describing the tone, mood, the known and imagined images they see in the painting and make comparisons to the poem.  I use the checking for understanding technique, Cold Call, to collect information about student understanding by asking the following questions:

  • What details are emphasized in the painting?  
  • In what ways is the painting similar to the poem?
  • In what ways is the painting different to the poem? 

Being intellectually curious is an essential skill in this lesson. We discuss "what we see" verbally as a whole class because I want them to feel comfortable with this higher order task because they are being asked to take some intellectual chances by expressing themselves while using their critical thinking skills. 

Student Learning Activity

35 minutes

Using my Ecphrastic power point presentation,  I project on a screen a variety of styles of visual art including landscape, abstract, portrait, still life, etc.

Ecphrastics: Giving Voice to Silence

Working individually students’ observe and then comment in their journals on each painting’s colors, artistic style, describing what they see is occurring in the scene, feelings they have, etc..  I also include a black and white sample.

When my students begin this observation exercise I encourage them to  push themselves to write several sentences for each painting, without talking so that reactions will be individual.

While they observe and write in their journals I circulate among them, prompting focus on the activity.

Wrap Up

10 minutes

Report Out

As I project a painting on the screen,  I use the checking for understanding technique, Cold Call, to ask students to share one comment they wrote about the art.  In having them express their thoughts in a clear and organized manner I am addressing the common core speaking and listening standard SL.9-10.4 which focuses on presenting information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, and concisely.