Teacher's Guide Introduction


According to yourdictionary.com, "essence" refers to the intrinsic or indispensable properties that serve to characterize or identify something. Essence Bags provide an opportunity for students to learn more about historical and contemporary figures who have made significant political, social, and artistic contributions to society.

  • Essence Bags are an innovative way to present information about sitters represented in an exhibition or online.

  • Essence Bags begin as empty plastic "zip lock" bags. These bags are then filled with objects that represent clues to the essence of the significant figure being studied.

  • Essence Bags may contain some or all of the following: a brief biography, a portrait reproduction or other visual images of the figure, a primary source document, quotations, timelines, newspaper headlines, CDs containing music of the period, and objects representing the sitter as an abstraction (for example, a swatch of black velvet fabric for George Washington as he appears in the Lansdowne portrait, or a plastic gardenia for Billie Holiday).

  • By exploring the Essence Bag, a student embarks on a method of inquiry that is both multisensory and abstract. Higher order and critical thinking skills are required in order to draw conclusions from clues about the figure being studied. It is important to give students an adequate amount of time to explore their bags.

  • Essence Bags may be packed by the instructor. They may represent figures from a particular era or event in history or literature (for example: Revolutionary War heroes, literary figures, artists of the Harlem Renaissance).

  • Teachers may also choose to assign the creation of Essence Bags to students. The students would be expected to gather objects that they feel capture the essence of a figure whom they have been assigned to research. Exchanging bags encourages a common knowledge base and prepares students for further study.

  • After allowing time for Essence Bag exploration, have students list all of their discoveries about this figure on a sheet of paper. The list may contain adjectives, phrases, key historical terms, etc.

  • Students should use this list (along with information gathered from exhibition labels or online exhibition windows) to compose a "portrait poem" of each sitter.

  • Encourage students to share their written portraits in class.

Note: It is interesting to hear why students chose certain objects to place into their self-created bags as representations of their figure. Consider allowing time in class for these reflections.