Skip to Main Content

Writing Exercises To Re-engage Your Students

Explore the artworks below and discover activities to reengage your students through writing. This resource is also available as a slide presentation.

The Disney cartoon characters, Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse, fish off a dock in this horizontal painting. The scene and characters are painted entirely flat areas of canary yellow, cobalt blue, tomato red, and white. To our left, Donald leans over the edge of the dock with his feet spread and duckbill hanging open. He has a white body outlined in blue, big eyes filled with a pattern of tiny blue dots, and yellow feet and duckbill. He wears a blue sailor’s hat and jacket with a red bow tie and yellow circles indicating buttons. He holds a fishing pole with an oval, red bobber near the fishhook high over his head. The pole has bent back with the fishhook snagged on the back hem of Donald’s jacket. A white speech bubble over Donald’s head is outlined in blue, and blue text inside reads, “LOOK MICKEY, I’VE HOOKED A BIG ONE!!” Mickey stands to our right, covering his smiling mouth with his left hand, on our right, and holding an upright fishing pole with the other hand. His round face is filled with a pattern of tiny red dots, and his curving hairline and ears are blue. He wears blue pants, a red shirt and shoes, and white gloves. The dock is mostly yellow with a white area on the right. Its planks and three white, round posts supporting it are outlined in blue. Rippling water surrounding the dock is defined by wavy lines and undulating bands of blue against a yellow background. The artist signed his initials in the lower left, “rfl.”

Roy Lichtenstein, Look Mickey, 1961, oil on canvas, Gift of Roy and Dorothy Lichtenstein in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art, 1990.41.1

Completing the Story

Works of art are sometimes narrative, and some can even inspire storytelling in viewers. Write a story that explains what is happening in Roy Lichtenstein’s Look Mickey. What happened just before this scene? What might happen just after? 

Explore more about Look Mickey 


To our left, a young woman sits facing us on a low stone wall at the base of the vertical, black bars of an iron fence and a young girl stands facing away from us to our right in this horizontal painting. Both have pale skin. The woman looks directly at us with dark eyes as she holds an open book, a closed red fan, and a sleeping brown and white puppy in her lap. Her long auburn hair falls down over her shoulders. Her navy-blue dress is accented with white piping on the skirt, collar, and sleeves, and has three large, white buttons down the front and her black hat is adorned with two red poppies and a daisy. The girl wears a sleeveless white, knee-length dress belted with a marine-blue sash tied in a large bow at her back. The girl’s blond hair is pulled up and tied with a black ribbon. She raises her left hand to grasp the bar of the fence she faces. A bunch of green grapes lies on the low wall to our right. A plume of steam fills much of the space beyond the black fence, which spans the width of the painting and extends off the top edge. A few details can be made out beyond the fence, including a stone-gray building with two wooden doors to our left and a bridge along the right edge.

Edouard Manet, The Railway, 1873, oil on canvas, Gift of Horace Havemeyer in memory of his mother, Louisine W. Havemeyer, 1956.10.1

Create a Poem Inspired by Art

Building on your observations, questions, and ideas, write a poem inspired by The Railway using the format below.

One-word title
two action words
three descriptive words
a question you have about the work of art
three descriptive words
two feeling words
one word that completes the statement “When I think of this painting, I think ____”

Explore more about The Railway 

Albert Marquet, Posters at Trouville, 1906, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney, 1998.74.1

Write a Postcard from a Work of Art

Write a postcard to a friend or family member describing your time spent on the beach in the early 20th century, as shown in this paining. Taking a break from sailing or going to a seaside concert? Include a description of what you are wearing, the sites you see, conversations you have, what mode of transportation you used to get there, and your main purpose for being on the shore.

Explore more about Posters at Trouville 

Two angular, cream-white buildings flanking a central, stylized tree are surrounded by brown soil, small animals, and farmhouse objects like watering cans and buckets beneath a clear, azure-blue sky in this square landscape painting. We look straight onto the buildings and slightly down onto the earth in front of us. About a third of the way up the composition, the horizon is lined with trees and mountains in the deep distance. The long, spindly branches of the central tree nearly reach the top edge of the painting and abstracted, sickle-shaped leaves are silhouetted against the sky so no leaves overlap. The far edge of the whitewashed structure to our left is cropped. The façade is pierced by two small rectangular windows and an arched hatch at the top under a winch. The back end of a horse is visible through an open door at the bottom center. Horizontal bands in front of the building suggest furrows in plowed earth, and a single stalk of corn grows up into the scene, seeming close to us. A pen protected by netting stretches out in front of the second structure, to our right of center. That wood-frame building has a triangular peaked roof, and the left half is open, like a lean-to. A goat, rooster, birds, and several rabbits occupy the pen. Watering cans, buckets and pails, a hoe, newspaper, lizard, and snail are spaced around the buildings. A tiny stylized person, perhaps a baby, appears in the distance between the buildings near a well where a woman works. A covered wagon, a round mill, trees, and plants fill the rest of the space between the buildings. A disk-like moon hangs in the sky to the right of the tree. The artist signed and dated the lower left corner,

Joan Miró, The Farm, 1921-1922, oil on canvas, Gift of Mary Hemingway, 1987.18.1

Writing About Place

The Farm shows Miró’s strong connection to the town of Montroig in Spain, but also includes objects from other places that were important to him, like a newspaper from Paris. Write a description of a place to which you feel strongly connected. Use the questions below to develop your ideas.

Why have you chosen this particular place, and what makes it important to your identity?

What do you see, hear, taste, smell, and feel in this place?

What are some of your special memories from this place?

What are some of the memorable objects you might find there, and what do they symbolize for you?

Explore more about The Farm 

Clarissa Sligh, She Sucked Her Thumb, 1989, cyanotype, Corcoran Collection (Gift of the Friends of the Corcoran Gallery of Art), 2015.19.4483

Words and Pictures

Many artists, including Deborah Luster, Jim Goldberg, and Clarissa Sligh, combine words with pictures in their art. Examine and compare works by these artists. Why might the artist have used text alongside images? Where did they get their images and text, and why might that matter to the meaning of the work of art? What might the overall message of each artwork be? 

Next, explore their own identity using words and pictures. What do you want to communicate or explore about yourself through art? How will the source of your images and text contribute to the meaning of the work? Following the examples of Sligh, Luster, and Goldberg, you might recontextualize a childhood event or memory, write descriptive and interpretive text, or share a personal story.

Explore more about She Sucked Her Thumb 

A white man in military uniform rides a horse in front of a regiment of five rows of Black troops in this sculpture, which is painted entirely in gold. The artist created a shallow, stage-like space with an arched top so the men are sculpted in three dimensions, though they become more compressed as they move back in space. The men and horse face our right in profile in this view. The man on the horse has a pointed, straight nose and a goatee. He wears a cap with a flat top and narrow brim, a knee-length coat, gloves, and knee-high boots with spurs. He holds a thin sword down by the side of the horse with his right hand and holds the reins of the horse with his left. The horse’s head is pulled upward by the short reins, and its mouth is open around the bit. About twenty soldiers are lined up in rows beyond the horse, and they march in unison. They carry blankets rolled atop knapsacks, canteens, and rifles resting on their right shoulders. However, the details of how their uniforms bunch up around their equipment and the way their caps have been molded and fit is unique to each person. Their ages also vary from young and cleanshaven to bearded, older men. Two men carry furled flags near the back, to our left, and a drummer boy plays at the head of the regiment, to our right. All the men look straight ahead, their lips closed. A woman in a billowing robe floats above them under the arched top of the sculpture with her eyes closed. Her left arm is outstretched, and she holds a laurel branch and poppies close to her body with her right arm. An inscription in the upper right corner is created with raised capital letters: “OMNIA RELINQVIT SERVARE REMPVBLICAM.” A longer inscription is carved into the base along the bottom edge of the memorial, also in all caps: “ROBERT GOVLD SHAW KILLED WHILE LEADING THE ASSVLT ON FORT WAGNER JVLY TWENTY THIRD EIGHTEEN HVNDRED AND SIXTY THREE.” The artist’s signature is inscribed In the lower right corner, in smaller letters: “AVGVTVS SAINT GAVDEN M-D-C-C-C-L X X X X V I I I.”

Augustus Saint-Gaudens, The Shaw 54th Regiment Memorial, 1900, patinated plaster, U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, Cornish, New Hampshire, X.15233

Perspective Taking Through Writing

Imagine yourself a soldier in the 54th Massachusetts. Choose a key moment in the soldier’s life—marching from Boston Common, approaching the battlefield at Fort Wagner, or seeing the Shaw Memorial for the first time. What are you thinking or feeling at this moment?


Write an “I Am” Poem" about [a key moment in the soldier’s life]

I am [two special characteristics you have] I hear [sounds, voices, or words] I wonder [something of curiosity] I worry [something that concerns you] I understand [something that you know to be true] I feel [an emotion)] I dream [something you hope for in the future] I am [the first line of the poem repeated]

Explore more about The Shaw 54th Regiment Memorial 

A woman leans forward to trace the shadow cast by a sleeping young man on a wall in a dimly lit room in this horizontal painting. Both people have smooth, pale skin, long, straight noses, thin lips, and brown hair. The man sits and sleeps on a deep, wood chair. The scene is lit from over our left shoulder so he casts a shadow on the brown wall on which he leans. His right arm, closer to us, hangs by his side with his palm turned to face away from his body. The other arm lies across his bent knee. He wears a harvest-yellow tunic, and a sapphire-blue cloak drapes over his far arm and the thigh closer to us. A long spear rests across one shoulder, and a thin, muted-brown dog, like a greyhound, sleeps on the ground by the man’s side. The woman leans one knee onto the chair and reaches out with a stylus to capture the man’s shadow. She is barefoot and smiles gently at his face. She also wears a dark yellow dress, which exposes one bare shoulder. A mauve-pink cloth wraps over one shoulder and the bent thigh. A deep red curtain bunched up in the upper left corner hides the light source. An urn, nearly as tall as the chair, stands behind the man and another is tipped over behind the woman. An arched opening leads into a darkened room to our right. Rectangles of red and white seen through the top of a pointed arched window there are difficult to interpret. A table and some shelves with more urns are deep in the shadows.

Joseph Wright, The Corinthian Maid, 1782-1784, oil on canvas, Paul Mellon Collection, 1983.1.46

Inventing Myths

The Corinthian Maid illustrates the origin of relief sculpture. Choose a natural phenomena or human custom, and to research the myths about its origin. Write an imaginative explanation of some phenomenon (rainbows, why people shake hands, why we wear black to funerals).

Explore more about The Corinthian Maid 

David Alfaro Siqueiros, Self-Portrait, 1948, oil on hardboard, Andrew W. Mellon Fund, 1970.29.1

Craft a Three Minute Speech

David Alfaro Siqueiros wrote: “The artist must paint as he would speak. I don’t want people to speculate what I mean, I want them to understand.” What does this self-portrait say to you?

Take up a political or public issue you care about. Conduct research to find out more about this issue. Using your research, write a three-minute speech to express your point of view and argue for political action.

Explore more about Self-Portrait 

We look slightly down onto a crush of pedestrians, horse-drawn carriages, wagons, and streetcars enclosed by a row of densely spaced buildings and skyscrapers opposite us in this horizontal painting. The street in front of us is alive with action but the overall color palette is subdued with burgundy red, grays, and black, punctuated by bright spots of harvest yellow, shamrock green, apple red, and white. Most of the people wear long dark coats and black hats but a few in particular draw the eye. For instance, in a patch of sunlight in the lower right corner, three women wearing light blue, scarlet-red, or emerald-green dresses stand out from the crowd. The sunlight also highlights a white spot on the ground, probably snow, amid the crowd to our right. Beyond the band of people in the street close to us, more people fill in the space around carriages, wagons, and trolleys, and a large horse-drawn cart piled with large yellow blocks, perhaps hay, at the center of the composition. A little in the distance to our left, a few bare trees stand around a patch of white ground. Beyond that, in the top half of the painting, city buildings are blocked in with rectangles of muted red, gray, and tan. Shorter buildings, about six to ten stories high, cluster in front of the taller buildings that reach off the top edge of the painting. The band of skyscrapers is broken only by a gray patch of sky visible in a gap between the buildings to our right of center, along the top of the canvas. White smoke rises from a few chimneys and billboards and advertisements are painted onto the fronts of some of the buildings. The paint is loosely applied, so many of the people and objects are created with only a few swipes of the brush, which makes many of the details indistinct. The artist signed the work with pine-green paint near the lower left corner: “Geo Bellows.”

George Bellows, New York, 1911, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, 1986.72.1

Nouns, Verbs, Adjectives

What nouns, verbs, and adjectives can you list in looking at this painting? Using the Nouns-Verbs-Adjectives worksheet, write as many words as you can think of, then compile a list as a class.

Explore more about New York

We look down at a cluster of three farm buildings and across grassy fields that stretch into the distance in this horizontal landscape painting. A parchment-yellow road angles from the lower center of the composition into the upper right corner, where it meets the horizon line just below the upper edge of the painting. Closest to us, the buildings flank the road, with two barns to our left and a house to our right. The buildings all have burgundy-red roofs. The barns have brown siding, and the house has paler, tan siding. The buildings are surrounded by blue or red fences. The barns to our left have large doors and two windows are visible on one of the sides facing us. A two-story, turquoise-blue bird house is affixed to the side of the barn closer to us. To our right, the house has windows piercing both levels, and a porch facing the road, to our left. Birds gather on the roof of the house, and an American flag flies beyond the back corner of the house. A black horse and two red horses, four cows and bulls, two dogs, a dozen chickens, and two pigs occupy different areas of the fenced-in spaces around the buildings. A man stands near the dogs next to the house, and a person wearing a red-edged black garment and a red cap stands on the road between the structures. In the fields beyond, people ride horses or hunt, horses graze, and a cow frolics with a dog. More buildings dot the landscape, which is farther divided into plots of land by stone walls, black fences, and more roads. Rows of stylized trees grow in straight lines in a grove to our left. Birds and deer walk or stand among the trees, and two people stand nearby, holding rifles. The slopes of indigo-blue hills rise along the horizon, at the top of the painting.  The sky to the left of blue hills is mauve pink, streaked with black clouds. The rest of the sky is pale shell pink and ivory. Many of the animals and the architectural elements are outlined in black and filled in with flat areas of color. The weave of the window shade on which this is painted is visible in many areas.

American 19th Century, Mahantango Valley Farm, late 19th century, oil on window shade, Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch, 1953.5.93

Imagining Farm Life

Write a journal entry imagining you live on this farm. What daily tasks and chores would you help with on a farm? How would you dress? What would you eat? What would you do for fun? How would you get around?

Explore more about Mahantango Family Farm