John Singleton Copley, Nathan Hyde, Squire of Hyde, 1777. Oil on canvas. Gift of Merle J. and Emily N. Trees 1945-1-1
Yu Haibo, Oil painting village in Dafen, China (September 2005), 2005. Digital chromogenic print. Gift of the artist 2014-15-1


  • None 


Suggested Artworks 

  • Any artwork with multiple figures (people or animals) that can be in conversation with one another. 

  • Even artworks with only one figure can be used if a suitable “conversation” can be devised with another artwork.  

  • George Romney; Jane Maxwell, Duchess of Gordon and Her Son, George Duncan, Marquess of Huntly, 1778 

  • Thomas Gainsborough; Portrait of the Honorable Anne (Batson) Fane, ca. 1786 

  • John Singleton Copley; Nathan Hyde, Squire of Hyde, 1777 

  • Yu Haibo, Oil painting village in Dafen, China (September 2005), 2005. (photograph)



  • CCSA.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively. 

  • CCSA.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively and orally. 

  • VA:Re8 Construct meaningful interpretations of artistic work. 



  1. Ask students to share one word they would use to describe their best friend or a family member they are close to. 

  1. Once you have heard several answers, explain that many of these words are character traits. Character traits are descriptions of a person or character’s identity or personality. One person can have many character traits. 

  1. Portraits are pictures of people. Portraits may be paintings of people or a picture of someone. Oftentimes, we can get a sense of the person’s character traits through visual details in the portrait. These details may be how the person is sitting, what he or she is wearing, the setting, or other objects in the scene.  



  1. Let’s look at some paintings and see what choices the artist made and what they might tell us about the people in the painting. Have students turn to a partner and discuss their thoughts in pairs. 

  • What does the artwork tell about the figure(s) being portrayed? If they come to life, what would they be like? How would you describe them? 

  • Consider the person’s body language. How is she sitting? How do she hold her head? What is she doing with her hands? 

  • How would you describe her facial expression? What might she be thinking or feeling? 

  • How does the subject’s clothing help you to know something about him or her? 

  • Does the setting give us any information? Are there any other objects in the scene? What might these details reveal to us about the sitter? 

  1. After a few minutes, have pairs share out the highlights of their discussion. As partners share, ask them what evidence from the painting supports their conclusions. 

  1. Other pairs can question or debate if they disagree with the characterization presented by one group, using evidence from the artwork to support their argument. 


Walking Activity 

  1. Tell the students that they are going to make a fashion “runway” where they bring the subjects of the portraits to life. 

  1. Ask a student to walk up and down in front of the artwork, as he or she would imagine the person being depicted would walk. 

  • Refer back to the adjectives that the student chose (e.g. if he/she chose “proud,” what might a proud walk look like?). 

  • What about the person’s portrait inspired you to walk in this way? The artwork shows a frozen pose. How can a frozen pose suggest the subject’s movement? 

  1. Repeat this process for other people in the various artworks.  

  1. Ask students to compare and contrast the different characters and how they walk. 


Talking Activity 

  1. Ask the students to consider how the subject(s) would talk. 

  • Depending on the level of the group, you may have them turn and talk to a friend and begin a conversation in the character’s voice, or you can give them this sentence stem: Hello, my name is_____________________ and I love ___________________. 

  • Give them one minute to practice speaking in the character’s voice. 

  1. Then give students a chance to share their sentence or a piece of their conversation. After each sharing, ask the performer, “What about the artwork (age, gender, physical appearance, clothing) made you think that the person might speak that way?” 

  1. Ask the students, if the people in this artwork could talk to each other, what do you think they would talk about? 

  • What is the relationship between the subjects of the artwork? 

  • What would they want to know about one another? 

  • What is something exciting that might happen between the two characters?