Teaching Tools and Resources

How-To Guides for Teachers

How to Read an Artwork as a Primary Source (PDF)

Learning to Look: Integrating Social Studies and the Visual Arts (PDF)

Teaching Posters

Mrs. James Smith and Grandson (PDF)

Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way (PDF)

A Visit From the Old Mistress (PDF)

Storm King on the Hudson (PDF)

In the Garden (Celia Thaxter in Her Garden) (PDF)

Bar and Grill (PDF)

Dust Bowl (PDF)

The Library (PDF)

Preamble (PDF)

Tar Beach I (La Playa Negra I) (PDF)

Teacher Guides by Subject

Explore dozens of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s free educational materials. Teacher guides are listed with corresponding standards and grade levels. Student worksheets and other printable resources are also available. Discover how to integrate art into your classroom—whatever subject you teach!

American Art Museum Content Links

All of the content links listed below contain interactive and/or media-rich content. Features such as Catlin Classroom, Oh Freedom! and Picturing the 1930s have been created specifically for a K-12 audience. Some web features, such as online exhibitions, contain sections created for educators and students, while other features contain primary sources such as artist interviews.

  • William H. Johnson – How can the work of William H. Johnson help us to understand the Harlem Renaissance, segregation in the Army, the rural South, and the history of civil rights in the United States?
  • Picturing the 1930s – Explore the 1930s through paintings, historical documents, music, and video in this virtual 3-d movie theater. Virginia Mecklenburg, Chief Curator of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, guides your visit.
  • The Civil War and American Art – Explore an interactive timeline of the Civil War to see how America’s artists represented the war and its aftermath.

Smithsonian Teacher and Student Resources

Collecting Their Thoughts: Telling a Painting’s Stories  – Smithsonian Education

  • In this activity your students can express their unique responses to art by writing stories inspired by paintings in an art museum. Before they put their imaginations to work, each person will have a chance to get to know a painting by observing it closely, making a list of its details, and writing a description of it. Such an exercise will help them understand the value of careful observation as a precursor to descriptive and creative writing. It may also help them learn how to look at and truly see a work of art for the first time.

Art to Zoo: Using Museums to Inspire Student Writing – Smithsonian Education

  • In this resource Art to Zoo, students tap into the tales stored in museums. Teachers will find ideas for using museums and other community resources (such as nature centers, historic buildings, public sculpture, and landmarks), as springboards for various forms of writing. Includes worksheets, a bibliography of resources, and a pull-out page in English and Spanish.

Beyond the Frame – Smithsonian Education

  • These lessons encourage students to delve into the meanings of artwork and the history of the artists and their subjects. Features pieces from Smithsonian collections.

Additional Reading

Embracing the Common Core with Art 
By Carol Wilson, Lunder Chair of Education, Smithsonian American Art Museum

  • “Citing evidence in a text is an important goal for students under the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which call for close reading of a text, making logical inferences, and citing pertinent evidence to support an interpretation. As exposure to a variety of texts is encouraged, reading a work of art as a visual text can aid in the development of these reasoning skills. As students make observations about a painting or sculpture, dig deeper to form evidence-based interpretations, and compare art with primary source documents, art becomes a natural partner for exercising these critical thinking skills and Common Core concepts. . . .”

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