Paint a Picture of History

Discover Historical Artwork

Get ready to ponder the past and explore art and history with a fun, flexible social studies activity your whole class will love. In this social studies project, students will research a historical painting that depicts an important person or event from history and share their findings with the class. This activity is super versatile and is a perfect combination of social studies, art, reading, writing, and speaking skills. Read on to find out more!

An Easy and Adaptable Social Studies Activity

Social Studies Art Project

We love educational activities that are not only easy to do but can be adapted in a variety of ways to meet the needs of your class. This social studies research project checks all the right boxes! You can use this activity with your third grade, fourth grade, or fifth grade students and adapt it for any number of social studies units: Colonial America, the American Revolutionary War, the Founding Fathers, U.S. Presidents, and more. However, this social studies project isn't limited to American history; students can explore European artwork, Native tribal art and artifacts, and other historically significant works from practically any time period or location they are currently learning about in their lessons. 

Before you begin the activity with your class, think about how much guidance and direction you want to provide for the project. Here are a few points to consider:

  • Do you want to assign specific works of art to your students, or would you prefer they research historical paintings and choose one of their own using age-appropriate books and/or educational websites? 
  • Will your students share their discoveries through written responses, give a presentation to the class, or both?
  • Do you want your students to answer specific questions about the piece of artwork they choose, or would you rather they share their findings with an open response?

Your preferences for the activity will depend on the age and grade level of your students, as well as the unique needs and abilities of your class. 

There is no right or wrong way to do this social studies activity with your class. If you prefer a more structured activity, we offer a few guided questions to consider, next. 

Guided Questions for Historical Artwork Project

Art History Project

Here are a few questions you may want your students to answer about the piece of artwork they choose:

  • What is the title of the painting and the name of the artist? What year did he or she create the painting? 
  • Describe the artwork. Who or what is the subject of the painting? If it is a portrait of a historical person, tell us about that person, including why they are important in history. If it is a scene, tell us what is going on and why it is an important event or moment from the past. 
  • If there are people in the painting, what are they doing? How might they be feeling? What do you think they are thinking about?
  • How does the painting make you feel about the person or event that is pictured? Do you have a different view of that person or event after studying this piece of artwork?
  • Where can we find this work of art today? 

Tips for a Successful Historical Artwork Project

Historical Artwork Activity

Here are some tips for helping your students get the most out of this social studies research project:

  • Guide your students to the appropriate print or online sources you would like them to use in their research. Art institutes and museums, like the National Gallery of Art and the National Museum of American History, feature their collections and exhibitions on their website and may help you and your students refine your search by historical time period. 
  • Be sure to display each student's chosen artwork for the class as the student presents his or her discoveries, whether by overhead projector, SMART board, or other means. 
  • Provide an opportunity for the whole class to respond to each student's painting with questions or observations. 

There are so many ways to make this social studies activity your own! Use these suggestions to guide your students through the discovery process as they explore historical artwork that brings to life the people and events you cover in class. 

How do you incorporate artwork and other historically significant materials into your social studies lessons? We want to hear from you! Please leave us a comment below. 

Remember to tag @superteacherworksheets on social media so we can check out your social studies adventures!

Looking for more awesome social studies activities to try with your class? Visit the Super Teacher Worksheets Social Studies Collection

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