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School and Teacher Programs / Classroom Resources


Teacher Programs for 2015-2016:

Be inspired to use portraiture in your classroom. No matter what subject—social studies, English, or visual arts—you will learn and practice techniques to involve your students in creative and innovative ways. By using portraiture as a springboard into deeper discussions about biography and our collective history, the Portrait Gallery strives to create an unprecedented experience for teachers as we gain a glimpse into the past and examine portraiture of the present. By using portraiture to teach critical thinking skills, teachers will translate the strategies presented seamlessly into the classroom. All workshops require preregistration and include interactive tours of a selected exhibition, hands-on components, and take-away resources that provide teachers with innovative ideas and techniques they can adapt for classroom use. All programs begin in the National Portrait Gallery’s Education Center, room E151, in the “American Origins” exhibition on the first floor (unless otherwise noted).

Elaine de Kooning: Portraits
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
5:00–8:00 p.m.

John F. Kennedy Let’s break out the crayons and the sketch pads! Drawing people can be intimidating, but when we turn the human figure into a group of circles, squares, rectangles, and ovals, it becomes simple! In this workshop, participants will discuss how to see the human figure not as the complex living machine it is, but simple shapes. Using the “Elaine de Kooning: Portraits” exhibition as inspiration, participants will draw the human figure using fun colorful scribbles. We’ll kick off the workshop with a curator’s tour, led by Brandon Brame Fortune, the Portrait Gallery’s chief curator and senior curator of painting and sculpture.

Process and Portraiture: Alexander Gardner Photographs
Saturday, September 26, 2015
9:30 a.m.–1:00 p.m.

Abraham LincolnDid you know Alexander Gardner is considered the man who shot the Civil War? Have you ever wondered what an albumen silver print is and how it is made? In this workshop, participants will be introduced to both Gardner’s process and his photographs. David C. Ward, the Portrait Gallery’s senior historian, will guide participants through the “Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1858–1872,” exhibition. Mark Osterman, photographic process historian at George Eastman House International Museum of Photography in Rochester, will provide a demonstration on the techniques Gardner used in both the studio and the field during the Civil War.

Using Portraiture to Teach a Socratic Seminar
Saturday, October 24, 2015
9:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m.

John BrownThe Portrait Gallery has teamed up with an eighth-grade U.S. history teacher to consider the Socratic seminar in the context of portraiture. The Socratic method involves a shared dialogue between teacher and students—the teacher leads by posing thought-provoking questions, and students engage by asking questions of their own. In this workshop, facilitators will model the method, considering text, both visual and written, from nineteenth-century U.S. history. Participants will then participate in a Socratic seminar, and finally time will be given for participants to create their own seminar . . . all through the lens of portraiture!

Sparking Student Writing with American Art and Portraiture
Presented with the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Saturday, November 7, 2015
9:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m.

Alice WatersHow can analyzing art inspire readers and writers across the humanities while also engaging critical thinking skills? Explore the connections among social studies, English language arts, and visual arts in this session with the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Teachers will discuss artworks from each museum and participate in object-focused activities with educators who model effective teaching strategies and link to standards. During a collaborative reflection and planning period, teachers will use these objects as writing prompts and to teach the Common Core State Standards.

Eye Pop: The Celebrity Gaze
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
5:00–8:00 p.m.

Shaun White“Eye Pop” examines twenty-first-century celebrity and achievement in the context of portrait-making. The concept of achievement is a traditional American idea, but how do we measure it today, when everything is reduced to online popularity? From surfers to scientists, athletes to actors, “Eye Pop” uses the National Portrait Gallery’s recent acquisitions to survey the landscape of American culture and question celebrity and peel back its layers. Who will be in the limelight five years from now? Asma Naeem, assistant curator for prints and drawings, will guide participants through the exhibition. Participants will brainstorm ways to integrate this exhibition into classroom instruction.

Engaging Students in Design Thinking
Presented with the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Saturday, March 5, 2016
9:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m.

Roger Shimomura

Artists can raise our awareness of issues of the past and present and help us imagine alternatives for the future. In this workshop, museum educators will use artworks as a springboard for engaging participants in the design thinking process: discovery, interpretation, ideation, experimentation, and evolution. Teachers will then consider how to integrate design thinking into lessons that challenge students to identify and address problems that scientists, historians, and writers have been grappling with throughout American history.

Portraiture and Math
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
5:00–8:00 p.m.

LL Cool JDid you know that the eyes mark the halfway point on the human head? The average head is three eyes wide? And the lips are halfway between the nose and the chin? There’s a lot of math in creating a portrait or drawing the figure. Artists use fractions and geometric shapes to measure out the figure and the face to make sure everything stays in proportion. In this workshop, we’ll take a look at the math behind the creative process. Using figure drawing to teach math gives students a new context for learning their fractions and geometric shapes.

"Learning to Look with the National Portrait Gallery" Summer Teacher Institute
The institute will be held twice during summer 2016:
June 27-30, 2016
July 11-14, 2016


Integrating portraiture into the classroom provides exciting opportunities to connect students with history, biography, visual art, and many other subjects. The National Portrait Gallery collection presents the wonderful diversity of individuals who have left—and are leaving—their mark on our country and our culture. The museum portrays poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists whose lives tell the American story.

The Summer Teacher Institute will take a broad look at the Portrait Gallery's collection. During the institute, the museum's curators and historians will provide in-gallery content lectures, introducing the collection. Utilizing an interactive approach, NPG educators will model a variety of "learning to look" strategies—unique ways to hook and engage students when they look closely at portraits. Participants will learn how to "read" portraiture and use the art as a springboard into a more in-depth discussion about biography and history. Teachers in grades kindergarten-12 may apply as individuals or as part of a team. Priority will be given to social studies, English/language arts, and visual arts teachers.

Institute participants will:
  • Gain expertise from museum educators, curators, and historians through gallery talks, discussions, and hands-on activities
  • Learn to use portraiture in the classroom, identifying and analyzing key components of a portrait and relating visual elements to relevant historical context and significance
  • Make interdisciplinary connections among portraiture, social studies, and English/language arts
  • Develop and share lesson ideas with colleagues

To ensure participation, a nonrefundable program fee of $100 per person is due upon acceptance into the teacher institute. Participants are responsible for travel and lodging costs. Each participant will receive a stipend of $200 at the conclusion of the workshop.

Please direct queries to or 202-633-8503. Application deadline is April 22, 2016.

 Application (pdf)

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Phone: (202) 633-8500
FAX: (202) 633-8521
Mailing Address:
Office of Education
National Portrait Gallery
P.O. Box 37012
Washington, D.C. 20013-0712



Please use the printable application for the Summer Teacher Institute, and be sure to include all required information. The application should be emailed to the address above.

 Application (pdf)



Please use the online registration for all teacher workshops, and be sure to include all required information.



In addition to our scheduled professional development workshops, we are able to accommodate groups for customized workshops or in-service days. Please call or email; we will work with you to develop a program appropriate for your group.



Take a look at past issues
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ideas on how to integrate portraiture into the classroom.

Spring 2015
Winter 2015
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