Classroom Resources

Interested in the presidents and the role of the presidency in the United States? Want to learn more about the lives of remarkable Americans, past and present, who have contributed to the nation’s history and culture? The Portrait Gallery has a variety of resources for the classroom that have been developed to complement our exhibitions.


educator lecturing teachers

Reading Portraiture, A Guide for Educators

This Learning Lab collection was designed so that educators can use portraits as a springboard for a conversation in their classrooms. Portraits present insights into history and biography, prompt writing in the classroom, inspire students to create self-portraits, and even offer great ties to science and mathematics. In this guide, you will discover how to teach students to spot visual clues in artworks and then analyze them, similar to dissecting a historical document. Teaching students to use close reading skills with portraiture will produce a rich and memorable investigation of both the subject and the artist.

 Smithsonian Learning Lab >>

cover pdf

What Kind of Nation Do We Want to Be?

Introducing the Portrait Gallery's Historic Issue Deliberation Guide: What Kind of Nation Do We Want to Be? The guide focuses on the social and political challenges facing the United States in the 1890s, specifically, highlighting women's rights during this time.  

The guide offers students a chance to examine a specific moment in history, and also serves as an opportunity for participants to expand their thinking beyond their own experiences, and foster community cooperation in decision making.

>> Historic Issue Guide (pdf)

cover of the curriculum guide

Expanding Roles of Women Curriculum Guide

In this interdisciplinary curriculum guide, portraits from the exhibition Out of Many: Portraits from 1600 to 1900 are used as entry points to teach about the history of women in the United States from the colonial period to the dawn of the twentieth century. 

Students will not only learn about the portraits’ subjects and artists but will also gain insight into the larger historical period. By studying these works of art, students will come to understand how the women portrayed located agency. Furthermore, students will reflect on the present by considering how women today continue to bring about societal change.

>> Expanding Roles of Women Curriculum Guide (pdf)

>> Expanding Roles of Women Learning Lab Collection


Young African American woman seated in a green chair surrounded by stringed instruments

Learn with Google Arts & Culture: Portraiture and Identity

In partnership with Google Arts and Culture, the Portrait Gallery has developed new online curricula that explores identity through portraiture and the ways in which artist and sitters use portraiture as a means to convey individual, community/cultural, national and global identity. Students will explore the Portrait Gallery’s Google Arts and Culture exhibitions and images related to the lesson topic. 

colorful landscape as learning lab homepage

Learning Lab Collections

The National Portrait Gallery is meeting teachers and students where they are! Check out more than 125 Learning Lab collections created by Portrait Gallery educators and classroom teachers. The Learning Lab is a free, interactive platform for discovering millions of authentic digital resources, creating content with online tools, and sharing in the Smithsonian's expansive community of knowledge and learning.

>> Visit the Learning Lab

portrait of a woman in a straw hat and red dress

Teacher Playlist on YouTube

Integrating portraiture into the classroom can provide exciting opportunities to connect students with history, biography, visual art, and many other subjects. Check out the Teacher Playlist on the National Portrait Gallery’s YouTube channel for videos highlighting strategies on how to "read" artworks and ways of bringing portraiture into the classroom.

>> View the playlist on YouTube

painting of a man in a black suit in a darkened room

America's President's Educational Resources

Do you teach about the US Presidents in your classroom? Visit the America’s Presidents online exhibition and discover the breadth of the museum’s collection of portraits of the Presidents. Explore the Educational Resources page for lesson ideas and activities. Be sure to check out our 3-D images of Abraham Lincoln and lessons created by teachers in the Smithsonian Learning Lab. You can also schedule a visit to see the actual exhibition.  

View and print our online materials or download them as PDF files. Visit our online collections to search, browse, and augment your lesson plans.

7 creative ways to vew a portrait.
This thinking routine helps students develop thoughtful interpretations by encouraging them to reason with evidence.
Use the Venn diagram to compare and contrast two different portraits.
Complete the Top Hat using two different portraits in the same gallery
Find a portrait that fascinates you, that “tickles your fancy.”
Find a portrait. If you could jump into this portrait, where would you like to be?
Learn the key terms that are used to describe a work of art in a museum
Choose an artwork and pretend to step inside it.
A fantastic routine to start with – works with any portrait!
Use the worksheet to reflect on your visit to the National Portrait Gallery
The memoir should teach the reader about the sitter’s contributions, significance, era, appearance, emotions, or actions.
Find portraits that interest you in a variety time periods.