Teacher Workshops

Be inspired to use portraiture in your classroom. No matter what subject you teach—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 the present.

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).

Learning to Look Summer Teacher Institute

The Summer Teacher Institute takes a broad look at the Portrait Gallery's collection. During the institute, the museum's curators and historians provide in-gallery content lectures, introducing the collection. Utilizing an interactive approach, NPG educators model a variety of "learning to look" strategies—unique ways to hook and engage students when they look closely at portraits.

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Curator giving a talk to a group of teachers


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.

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The Presence of Absence: An Exploration of Underrepresentation and Misrepresentation

Saturday, September 15, 2018
9:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.

How do contemporary artists grapple with the under- and misrepresentation of certain minorities in portraiture and American history? Participants will explore the newly unveiled portraits of President Barack Obama by Kehinde Wiley and former First Lady Michelle Obama by Amy Sherald and discuss how these artists are looking to the past to paint the present. After close reading these images, participants will consider how artists Ken Gonzales-Day and Titus Kaphar, in the exhibition “UnSeen: Our Past in a New Light,” uncover voices previously unheard. Those attending this workshop will be the first to receive the Portrait Gallery’s new teaching posters of the former president and first lady.


Charred portrait of an 18th century woman

Silhouettes and the Democratization of Portraiture

Tuesday, October 23, 2018
5:00 p.m.–8:00 p.m.
Location: NPG Education Center

Silhouettes—cut paper profiles—were a hugely popular and democratic form of portraiture in the 19th century, offering virtually instantaneous likenesses of everyone from presidents to those who were enslaved. During this workshop, participants will examine the exhibition Black Out: Silhouettes Then and Now and explore this relatively unstudied art form by considering its rich historical roots and considering its forceful contemporary presence. Participants will uncover pathways between our past and present, particularly with regard to how we can reassess notions of race, power, individualism, and even, our digital selves. (Each participant will receive a complimentary Black Out catalogue.)


silhouette created with letters and numbers

Express Yourself: Creating a Graphic Novel Exploring Identity

Saturday, November 17, 2018
9:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.
Location: NPG Education Center

Considering the growing popularity of the graphic novel, could they be a venue for your students to explore and express identity? A classroom art teacher and Portrait Gallery educator will lead you through interactive activities that incorporate building the structure of comic book and graphic novel pages. Utilizing the special exhibition Eye to I: Self-Portraits from 1900 to Today, participants will take a close look self-portraiture as a means of exploring identity. This workshop will include both gallery and studio experiences. Be ready to create!


six graphical portraits of the artist on a single page

Perspectives in Portraiture: Exploring the Theme of Social Justice

Saturday, January 26, 2018
9:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.
Location: MacMillan Education Center

Social justice and activism are common threads throughout the American story. Join us and learn from fellow educators who have been immersed in the Portrait Gallery as multi-year advisors to the education department. We will take a broad look at the Portrait Gallery’s collection to examine how to use portraiture as a tool to explore these themes in your classroom. We will introduce stories of social justice and model strategies that encourage activism through art, writing and action.


black and white photo of a civil rights protest