a Painting To Life
plans were developed by CAP (Curriculum Arts Project) at symphonyspace
and are reproduced here with their permission.
Overview | For
For this activity, you will need to show the painting “The
Last Moments of John Brown”.
All students will also need the Character Questionnaire if you
want them to develop their character in writing. If so, print
it out and make a copy for each student.
can use the questions from Activity A and read them to the class.
If this is your preference, you only need a copy for yourself.
Read through the Character Questionnaire and decide which method
would work best for your class.
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Before the Lesson
teacher will need to do the following before beginning this lesson.
Review materials list and make sure you
have located, and, if necessary, printed and copied those necessary
for this lesson.
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here for websites
providing supplementary information for students on John Brown,
the Raid on Harper's Ferry, Abolition, and the Civil War. These
websites are not essential to the lessons that follow.
in the Extensions section, there are
follow-up reading, writing and looking activities, some of which
reference these websites.
Every website we link to was visited by our team before we activated
the link to make sure it's appropriate for children. But we
do not monitor or control these sites and they can change. In
addition, many of these sites may have links to other sites,
which we have not reviewed.
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A. Who Am I? ( 1–2 periods / Writing/Drama
1: Show the painting “The Last
Moments of John Brown.” (see Materials)
Once they all can see the picture, have them get a paper and
pencil/pen ready, and then read the following steps to them
one at a time:
carefully at this painting and each person in it. Don’t
forget to look inside the doorway and by the left elbow and
hand of the soldier standing closest to the front on the left
side of the stairs. See if you can find at least 18 people.
Maybe you will find more.
one of the people you see in the painting.
that you are that person, standing in that place at that moment.
Use your imagination to give the person (“character”)
that you have chosen a full life and background. On your paper,
write down the following questions and then answer them. (Teachers
– instead of reading them these questions you can print
this out (Character Questionnaire in PDF
format) and make a copy for each student.
What is your character’s age?
b. What is your character’s occupation?
c. What kind of a house does your character live in?
d. Whom does your character feel good about in the painting?
e. Whom does your character NOT feel good about in the
f. What does your character hope will happen next?
if we could hear what that person was thinking in the picture!
Well, now YOU are that person. Please write down what that
person might say or think – as if they were talking
– in the moment that the painting shows us. They might
talk or think about someone else in the picture. They might
talk or think about how they’re feeling about what’s
happening. Remember to write as if you were that person, so
use “I”, as if you were really talking. (For example:
“I am holding a gun because. . . ” or “I
wish my feet didn’t feel so cold”.) On the other
side of your paper (or on the back of the questionnaire),
write a few sentences or a whole page. What you have written
is called a “monologue”. A monologue is when one
character speaks to the audience and tells them what’s
on his or her mind.
2: Once everyone has finished writing, each person should read
their monologue, without saying who their character is. After
the monologue is finished, the rest of the class should try
to guess which character in the picture the monologue belongs
to. Give reasons for your answers.
Are you talking to me? (1-2 periods / Writing/Acting Exercise)
A (Who Am I?) must be done before doing this activity. (You
will also need to show them the example of a scene with character,
dialogue and stage directions in Step 1 (#3) below. You can
write it on the board or on a large pad of paper.)
1: Tell students to work with a partner, making sure that the
partners wrote about two different characters in Activity A.
Once they all have a partner, have them get a paper and pencil/pen
ready, and then read the following steps to them one at a time:
pair is going to write a “dialogue”, a conversation
between two people. In this case, the two people are your
chosen character and your partner’s chosen character.
Your partner and you should share the background information
(the name, age, occupation ,etc.) of your characters. Read
your monologues to each other.
Now think of something that your two characters would be talking
about that has to do with the event and/or characters in the
painting. It will be more interesting if one of the characters
is trying to convince the other to do something that he or
she doesn’t want to. Maybe they’re having an argument
or perhaps it’s just a discussion. But the point is
that there is a problem or a conflict. That makes it into
drama. The scene you are about to write doesn’t need
to happen in the exact place or time shown in the painting.
It can happen anywhere or anytime, as long as it relates to
When you are writing a dialogue, it should be in the following
form. We’ll pretend that the two characters are named
Jim and Mary. You and your partner will use your characters’
names and will write a conversation that they would have.
or “Stage Directions”)
did you come here today, Mary?
grabs her by the arm)
wanted to see John Brown.
it’s dangerous. Look at those guns! I want you to
go home at once.
I’m staying here.
her back on him.)
you write the dialogue between your two characters. It can be
as short as the example above or as long as you like.
2: Once everyone has finished writing, tell them to practice
performing their scene. Each pair should perform their scene
for the rest of the class. Discuss each scene and the issues
that are raised.
3: Look at the painting again and ask the class whether they
have any additional thoughts about it, having done the scenes.
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Reading, Writing, and Looking Activities (1-2 periods each)
Have your students write a short newspaper article, which expresses
a negative opinion of John Brown.
Students can click on Newspaper
Articles in the Student Resource Section to read some other
newspaper reports of the event or on opinions about John Brown
to learn how people from John Brown's time, both famous and
relatively unknown, felt about him.
In the Student Resource Section, students can also view another
painting of John Brown, right before his execution, by a
20th Century African-American artist, Horace Pippin, as well
as photos and prints of John Brown at different times in his
Students can research material on John Brown, the Raid on Harpers
Ferry, Abolition and the Civil War by going to the websites
listed in the Internet Resource Directory. Your knowledge of
the online resources is very important. Review the online materials
from the websites, and if appropriate, print out and photocopy
student copies of the online material.
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| For Students