The Project

Lesson plans are  carefully organized by

  • Subject: English Language Arts or Visual Art
  • Grade Level
  • Standards addressed

In addition, many of these lessons were developed in line with Common Core, Inc.’s thematic units which many school districts use.

Click on “Lesson Plans” above to browse and search the lesson plans.

You can also explore the lessons by browsing the artwork featured in each set of activities.The lessons use a core set of around 20 images from the Nasher Museum of Art’s permanent collection.

Click on “Artwork Gallery” above to browse the artwork.

Visual Thinking Strategies

Visual Thinking Strategies, or VTS, is consistently used throughout Words & Pictures classroom lessons and museum visits. VTS is a facilitated discussion about a work of art that starts with just three questions:

  • What’s going on in this picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What more can we find?

While facilitating discussion, the teacher paraphrases comments neutrally, points at the area being discussed, and links and frames student comments. The teacher does not provide information or their own opinion of the artwork during the discussion.

Based on decades of research in visual thinking and aesthetic education, these methods allow learners of all ages to delve into visual art. Through VTS, students practice careful observation, learn to support their statements with evidence, and consider the viewpoints of others—skills that also form the basis of Common Core standards and 21st Century Skills.

Examples of VTS in action can be found on Visual Thinking Strategies’ website:–2


  • Don’t have time to add another multi-day lesson to your calendar? Look for the one-day version of the lesson plan.
  • Most of the lesson plans ask you to display or project an image of the artwork being discussed; we recommend showing the artwork directly from this website using a smartboard or digital projector. The lesson plan pages feature quick links for display.
  • All of the visual art lessons have suggested activities for classroom extension; these are designed to bolster the ELA components of the art lessons.

Next: Overview

How is looking at a work of art like reading a book?

Visual arts, literacy, and language arts are very natural partners. Words and pictures share equal footing in children’s minds as they begin to read and write. The first books children encounter are “picture books” and, as children learn to read, we encourage them to look at the accompanying illustrations to assist in decoding the story. To understand an artwork or a written text, we use the same skills:

  • Careful observation / close reading
  • Inferring
  • Critical thinking
  • Making meaning

Words & Pictures is a project of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University in Durham, NC in collaboration with visual art and Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade classroom teachers from Durham Public Schools. Together, we have created a collection of high-quality lesson plans to help you bring great art into your classroom while teaching English Language Arts and visual literacy. Built around the Common Core standards, these lessons and activities encourage better reading, writing, looking, and thinking by incorporating multiple modes of learning, encouraging careful observation and supporting statements with evidence, honoring student participation, and celebrating creativity.

Created, tried and tested by experienced teachers, these lessons are available to you to view online, download, or print. They include printable materials, suggestions for differentiation and modifications, rubrics for project assessment, and high-quality digital images of works from the Nasher Museum’s collection that are suitable for display in your classroom.

Ready to get started? You can browse the lessons by subject, grade, or standards.

Words & Pictures is funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and the estate of Dorothy Lander, WC’43.

Next: The Team

The lesson plans on this site were developed and tested during the 2012-2013 school year by a talented team of teachers from Durham Public Schools in collaboration with Nasher Museum education staff and gallery guides.

The Words & Pictures team visits the Nasher Museum's collection in preparation for the program's pilot year.

Forest View Elementary School

  • Susan Heath, First Grade
  • Laura Bailey, First Grade
  • Elizabeth McRainey, Second Grade
  • Evelyn Hallan, Second Grade
  • Linda Seligman, Second Grade
  • Marylu Flowers-Schoen, Art

Hope Valley Elementary School

  • Christy Mullen, Kindergarten
  • Emily Boniewicz, Kindergarten
  • Susan Sinclair, Kindergarten
  • Lauren Finn, Second Grade
  • Kristy Durham, Second Grade
  • Anne Courie-Meulink, Art

Southwest Elementary School

  • Sue Davis, First Grade
  • Rebecca Fox, First Grade
  • Aricka Hawkins, Second Grade
  • Karen Cromwell, Second Grade
  • Kerri Lockwood, Art

Spring Valley Elementary School

  • Melody Martin, Kindergarten
  • Cynthia Watkins, Kindergarten
  • Elizabeth McKeathern, Kindergarten
  • Parminder Kaur Rajpal, Art

Lakewood Elementary School

  • Sadie Alston, Kindergarten
  • Rebecca Dow, Art

Y. E. Smith Elementary School

  • Carrie McMillan, First Grade
  • Kristin Winebrenner, Art

Next: Contact Us

Are you interested in learning more about Words & Pictures?
Do you have a question, comment, or suggestion for us?
Please get in touch!


Mailing Address:

Words & Pictures Coordinator
Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University
Box 90732
Durham, NC 27708