How do you lead an open-ended discussion with your students focused on a work of art? What questions can you ask to encourage them to look closely and think critically? Will sharing information about the art and artist stifle students’ imaginative responses? Whitney educators have some tips and suggestions to offer as you plan your inquiry-based lesson.
Students on a guided tour at the Whitney are encouraged to slow down, take time to look closely at a work of art, and share their observations. Here are some tips and examples of questions that Whitney educators often pose to encourage close looking and discussion. You can use them in the classroom too.
Ask students to list words or ideas that come to mind when they look at this work of art. Why does the work of art make them think about those words or ideas? Again, ask them to be specific and use the visual evidence found in the work to support their opinions.
After the discussion, you may ask students if their initial impression about the work has changed or shifted. What helped to inform, expand, and change their first impression?
Whitney educators often integrate information about the art and artist during an inquiry-based discussion. We integrate information that is relevant and meaningful to the discussion while still encouraging students to share their personal and imaginative responses to an artwork. Here are some ideas to consider.
Whitney educators ask different types of open-ended questions to elicit varied responses to a work of art. Some questions ask students to look closely and focus their attention on the visual elements in the work. Other questions encourage students to share personal interpretations and individual experience. Below are different types of questions that you may consider asking your students while looking at a work of art at the museum or in the classroom.
Questions that support close looking:
Questions that build upon prior knowledge and connect to experience:
Questions that encourage critical thinking and engagement:
School Programs at the Whitney uses a theme-based approach to teach in the galleries. This approach allows us to connect different types of artwork focused on a specific theme and discuss topics and issues that are relevant to the world we live in. Our artist-centered themes encourage students to think like artists and challenge them to consider the multi-faceted role that artists play in American culture and society.
Whitney educators put a lot of thought into planning a one-hour guided visit that connects with classroom learning. Museum educators consider the following ideas as they choose and sequence works of art:
Learn more about our four artist-centered themes.