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Intermediate ELL Activities

Use the following artworks and activities to build your students' comprehension, speaking, and writing skills.

Perkins Harnly, Bedroom, 1940, 1935/1942, watercolor, pen and ink, and graphite on paper, Gift of Albert Lewin, 1947.1.24

Writing Activity: Close your eyes and make a mental list of the things your bedroom, your closet, or a drawer. Think of two objects that mean a lot to you. Write a short paragraph about them in as much detail as possible and explain why they are important to you. 

A young boy with pink and tan-colored skin stands next to a seated woman with an ashen white face, and both look out at us in this vertical portrait painting. The scene is created with broad areas of mottled color in rust and coral red, pale pink, lilac purple, ivory white, and shades of tawny brown. The eyes of both people are heavily outlined with large, dark pupils. To our right, the woman’s pale, oval face is surrounded by a muted, mint-green cloth that covers her hair and wraps across her neck. Her eyes are outlined with charcoal gray, and her heavy lids shaded under arched brows with smoky, plum purple. She has a straight nose, and her burgundy-red lips are closed in a straight line. Her long, rose-pink dress is lavender purple below the knee, and is scrubbed with darker pink strokes across her lap. Her sleeves are tan on the upper arms and cream white on the forearm, over two blush-pink forms that represent her hands resting on her thighs. Along the top of her shoulders, her dress is terracotta red. A rectangular, fog-gray form behind her could be a chair or a half-wall, the top edge of which is higher to our right of her head. To our left, the boy has dark brown, short hair over putty pink, protruding ears. The area between his eyelid and arched brow is filled in with chocolate brown, giving his staring eyes a hooded look. His jawline, chin, and lips are outlined with dark brown. His khaki-brown, knee-length coat has pale, rose-pink sleeves and a black collar. An area of pale, ice blue could be a kerchief or high-collared shirt, and he wears fawn-brown pants. One of his slippers is coffee brown and the other, closer to the woman, is slate gray. He holds a loosely painted, pale, turquoise-blue object in one hand at his waist. The pair are situated against a background painted in areas of coral, ruby, crimson, and wine red. Two vertical, concrete-gray strips behind the boy and woman could be columns. The floor along the bottom edge of the painting is pale pink.

Arshile Gorky, The Artist and His Mother, c. 1926-c. 1942, oil on canvas, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund, 1979.13.1

Reading Comprehension/Writing Activity: Read information about the life of artist Arshile Gorky. Then complete the I am poem worksheet (PDF 31KB), taking on the perspective of either the boy or the woman in this painting. 

A dish of about two dozen figs, a crusty loaf of bread, a tall, black flask, and two wooden vessels are closely gathered on a wooden table or ledge in this vertical still life painting. At the front right, the figs are either deep purple or pale green. The shallow, pale lavender-gray dish in which they are piled has a narrow, scalloped edge. The round loaf of golden-brown bread, with its split top, sits behind and to our left of the figs. In the lower left corner, next to the figs and closest to us, the handle of a knife projects toward us. Its pewter-colored blade angles back away from us. Beyond the bread is a wide-bellied, black, long-necked bottle with a cork. White reflections of windows out of our view to our left glint on the shiny, inky surface. Next to it, to our right, a small wooden barrel is about the size of an American football. At the back right, the cylindrical neck of a copper vessel pokes out of a pile of pale ice shavings, all within a keg-like bucket. The still life is set against a dark brown background.

Luis Meléndez, Still Life with Figs and Bread, c. 1770, oil on canvas, Patrons' Permanent Fund, 2000.6.1

Speaking Activity: Interview two classmates with the following questions about this painting: Have you ever eaten a fig? Do you recognize the type of bread shown in the painting? What favorite foods would you add to the table? Do you eat bread every day? Have you ever baked bread? What foods do you know how to make?

Two men, a woman, and three children, all with brown skin, gather around a table in a house in this horizontal painting. A bespectacled, white-haired man sits to our left, wearing a black coat and suit. He looks up and to our right, his chin slightly lifted. A black top hat and a book sit near his feet, and a gray umbrella leans against the back of his worn wooden chair. Opposite him, to our right, a younger man has short black hair and a trimmed beard. He props one elbow on a cigar box on the table and rests his chin in that hand. With his other hand, he grasps the lapel of his slate-blue jacket, which is worn over a cream-white shirt. There is a patch in one elbow of the jacket and on one of the knees in his tan-colored pants. Two small children gather around him. The smallest child turns away from us as they rest their folded arms and head on one of the man's knees. That child wears a knee-length, dress-like garment striped with parchment brown and beige. Behind the man, to our right, a slightly older boy kneels on a bench on the far side of the table and rests his elbows on the white tablecloth. That boy wears an aquamarine-blue shirt and dove-gray pants. Both children are barefoot. On the far side of the table, near the older man, a woman stands and leans forward to spoon food into the white dish he holds. She wears a red kerchief tied around her head and a fog-blue apron over a white shirt patterned with a muted indigo-blue grid. A young girl, the oldest child, stands on the far side of the table between the younger man and woman. Seen from the chest up, the girl's face and body are angled to our right, toward her father, but she looks to our left from the corners of her eyes. She wears a coral-red, high-collared garment with white polka dots. On the table is a serving bowl, cup, and a kettle. Behind the woman, one door of a tall  brick-red cupboard is ajar. Plates and vessels line the shelves within. A fireplace to the right has an opening as tall as the stooping woman. The mantle is lined with a manual coffee grinder, a white jar painted with a blue design, and clothes irons. A circus poster hangs behind the open door of the cupboard. A string of dried red chilis hangs next to a window between the poster and fireplace mantle. A banjo rests on a stool in front of the table, and a white cat licks a pie plate near the father's feet. The aritst signed and dated the painting in the lower right corner, "Richd. N. Brooke. 1881 (ELEVE DE BONNAT - PARIS)."

Richard Norris Brooke, A Pastoral Visit, 1881, oil on canvas, Corcoran Collection (Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund), 2014.136.119

Writing Activity: Focus on one person depicted in this painting. How would you describe that person? What is he or she doing, feeling, thinking? Complete the Step Inside worksheet (PDF 47KB) to imagine what your chosen person is thinking and feeling. 

Shown from the knees up, a woman with smooth, pale skin and rosy cheeks wears a satin gown and densely pleated, wide collar in this vertical portrait painting. She stands with her body angled to our left but turns to look at us from the corners of her luminous brown eyes. She has curved, black brows, a straight nose, and her strawberry-red, bow-shaped lips turn up in a slight smile. Her honey-brown hair is tightly curled under an elaborate pearl, gold, and feather headdress in the shape of a bouquet of flowers. The pearl earring in the ear we can see rests against the lace-edged ruff, which presses up against the back of her head and extends to the width of her shoulders. She wears a long-sleeved, champagne-white satin gown trimmed with gold and jewels. A white satin cloak with amber-gold lining falls open from the elbow of each sleeve. The cuffs are edged with layers of narrow lace, and she holds a mostly closed fan in her right hand, farther from us. Both arms hang by her sides. Behind her head and shoulders, cranberry-red drapery billows down from above over forest-green marble columns. Light shines from our left, illuminating a brown pillar and mantel behind the woman, along the left side of the canvas.

Sir Peter Paul Rubens, Marchesa Brigida Spinola Doria, 1606, oil on canvas, Samuel H. Kress Collection, 1961.9.60

Speaking Activity: Imagine that Marchesa Brigida Spinola Doria, depicted in this painting by artist Peter Paul Rubens, can look out from the painting. Where do you think she is? What might she see? What could she hear that might distract her? What could she smell? What might she like to eat?

A woman plays an upright piano as two boys play checkers at a table in this horizontal painting. The scene is loosely painted with areas of flat color and pattern. The people have pale, peachy skin and dark brown hair. Their facial features are painted with dots or short strokes of black. The piano is against the wall to our left. The woman wears a short-sleeved, lemon-yellow dress with a long skirt. A music book is propped on the music stand, and loosely painted objects line the top of the instrument. The wall behind the piano is patterned with white and pale yellow flowers under and around arches against a cranberry-red background. The table where the boys play is in the middle of the room. The players sit in wooden chairs and wear black and white striped jackets with white collars. The boy to our right looks at the board while resting his left cheek, closer to us, in his hand. The other boy looks on with his arms on the table in front of him. The checkerboard sits on a red and white striped cloth, which has lines of black dots in the white strips. Beneath the table is a floral rug with blue and black flowers against a red background. The border is painted loosely with leafy shapes against bright white. Beneath the area rug the floor or another carpet is garnet red with a diamond-shaped grid painted in orange. A petal-pink, upholstered chair sits in front of a tall wardrobe in the back corner of the room. A picture with two violins against a blue background hangs on the side of the furniture to our right. A chest of drawers next to the wardrobe holds a few bowls or objects and a white statue, about half human height. The statue is of a person standing with one knee bent in front of the other, one elbow tucked by the side with that hand held to the chest, and the other bent elbow raised overhead. Pictures hang on the wall around the statue, and the wallpaper there is ivory white with a dark yellow pattern. The artist signed the work in the lower right corner, “Henri Matisse.”

Henri Matisse, Pianist and Checker Players, 1924, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, 1985.64.25

Speaking Activity: Look at this painting for a few minutes and write down five sentences in your native language describing what you see. Then share and compare your responses with a partner in English.

Shown from the lap up, a young woman with pale skin, wearing a goldenrod-yellow dress, sits reading a small book, facing our left in profile in this vertical painting. The deep, scooped neckline of her rich yellow gown is edged with lace and decorated with a mauve-purple bow at the bust. Her chest is covered by sheer white fabric under a ruffled, pleated collar. The ruff is tied at the back with another mauve bow, and a ribbon of the same color ties up her chestnut-brown hair. She has a delicate nose and rosebud mouth, and she tips her head down to read the book she holds in one hand. She sits against an oversize pillow streaked with pale lilac and deep rose pink. Her left arm, closer to us, is draped over a railing that extends across the width of the canvas. The background behind her is streaked with tan and muted teal blue. A vertical strip of light caramel brown along the right edge of the canvas suggests another wall against which the pillow rests. The artist’s loose, lively brushstrokes are visible throughout.

Jean Honoré Fragonard, Young Girl Reading, c. 1769, oil on canvas, Gift of Mrs. Mellon Bruce in memory of her father, Andrew W. Mellon, 1961.16.1

Speaking Activity: Look carefully at the young girl depicted in this painting and imagine how she feels. What would you would like to ask her? Write down five questions and then exchange with a partner. Answer each other's questions, and act out the conversation. 

Near a verdant riverbank against soaring, hazy cliffs, a nude, chubby baby sits in a golden boat on a bed of pink and white flowers in this horizontal painting. A winged angel wearing a white robe with a glowing starburst hovering overhead stands behind the child with one hand resting on the tiller of the boat. The angel and child both have pale skin and blond hair. The baby holds up handfuls of flowers and looks forward. The bow of the boat is angled to our right as it glides along the glassy surface of the river. The boat seems to be made of or carved to look like a mass of gold, winged angels clustered to make the vessel. They reach toward a single angel thrust forward from the bow, like a masthead, who holds up an hourglass. The boat has just emerged from a dark cave at the base of rocky, rose-pink cliffs that reach off the top left edge of the canvas. The jagged peaks become pale pink as they march into the distance. A spit of the lush riverbank fills the lower left corner of the composition; it and the far bank are dotted with white waterlilies and a profusion of yellow, blue, pink, purple, and red flowers. Celery and moss-green growth carpets the boulders on either side the cave mouth and the ground stretching beyond the riverbank. The growth becomes mauve-purple as it recedes to the horizon, which comes a third of the way up the composition and is lit by a golden glow. Petal-pink and gray clouds float among the cliff-tops against an otherwise pale blue sky. The artist dated and signed the lower left, “1842 T. Cole Rome.”

Thomas Cole, The Voyage of Life: Childhood, 1842, oil on canvas, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund, 1971.16.1

Speaking Activity: Look at this painting for three minutes, then turn your back and make a list of objects, colors, and shapes in the painting. Work in pairs and compare your perceptions, then turn back to the painting to see what you remembered and what you didn't.