Silhouettes and Interiors

By Catherine Perry, November 7, 2006

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • Other

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts

Lesson Time

Three or four fifty-minute class periods


In this lesson students will create an internal self portrait (using the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum video "Design Charette: Thinking and Making" as a springboard).The lesson focuses on metacognition and discovering the self through genres of art and literature. It is relevant to the students because they are in the developmental phase of adolescence in which kids become more concerned with self identity, and social categorization. At the end of the assignment, students will present a personal piece of poetry along with a well-balanced, skilled collage by using the steps: inspiration, brainstorm, application, presentation, and reflection.

National Standards


Students will be able to:
  • create a multi-media piece integrating drawing and collage
  • integrate the Principles of Design: Balance, Rhythm, Proportion, Emphasis, and Unity; as well as the Elements of Art: Line, Color, Texture, Shape, Form, Space, and Value
  • create their own poetry using Pablo Neruda's poem "On My Bad Education" as inspiration, paying special attention to Neruda's interpretation of what purpose a portrait serves


  • poster of Alfredo Arreguin's portrait of Pablo Neruda
  • Pablo Neruda’s poem “On My Bad Education”
  • "Bronx Masquerade" by Nikki Grimes (optional)


  • Pablo Neruda's “On my Bad Education” poem handout
  • large, unlined paper
  • thin washable markers
  • scissors or Exacto knives
  • glue sticks
  • Mod Podge
  • magazines
  • overhead projectors or spotlights
  • tape


emphasis, proportion, meter, tempo, rhyme scheme, line break


1. Post or display various types of self-portraits around the room. Lead a class discussion about what students see; what the self-portraits represent about the artist; compare and contrast the artists' purpose in the self-portraits; and discuss the Principles of Design/Elements of Art in each work.
2. Present the Portrait of Pablo Neruda by Alfredo Arreguin. Use the previous discussion to encourage students to describe what they see, what the artist is trying to convey, and how they feel when looking at the work. Tell the students that they will be creating their own self-portraits in a similar manner to the portrait done by Arreguin, using markers and collage.
3. Divide the students into pairs and have them hang 2 sheets of the large, unlined paper against the wall. Turn off the lights and shine spotlights or overhead projectors towards the paper while students take turns drawing the silhouette of their partner.
4. Once students have finished their silhouettes, revisit the portrait of Neruda paying specific attention to the symbols, designs, and images contained within the face and background of the painting.
5. Have the students use the symbols and images from the portrait of Neruda as examples to create their own symbols. Their symbols should define themselves in terms of what they value, who they value, what they find important, and what they want for their future. Have them draw their created images on and around their portraits with marker.
6. Next, have them look through magazines for images which further convey the messages represented by their symbols. They should use collage and cut and paste any relevant images onto their self-portraits.
7. While they are working on their portraits, remind the students to use the Principles of Design and Elements of Art to make strong compositions. When they have finished their portraits, post the final project for a class critique. Encourage students to give positive feedback and have the artists tell about the messages they are trying to convey through their work.
8. Next, pass out the worksheet that contains the words to Neruda's poem "On My Bad Education." Compare the themes in the poem to the Neruda portrait. Ask the students if they think there is any relation between this poem or other Neruda poems and the depiction of Neruda. Have them explain their answers.
9. Emulating the poetry created by Neruda (or the characters in Nikki Grimes' "Bronx Masquerade" if your class is familiar with this book) have students write their own poetry. Encourage them to build off of the themes and symbols in their self-portraits. Hold a class critique and ask students to identify the themes mentioned in their classmates poetry with themes represented in their self-portraits. Students can have a poetry slam as an additional critique.


Use a 3-point rubric for the self-portrait using Principles of Design and Elements of Art. Since both the self-portrait and the poems will be positively critiqued by the class, these critiques can also serve as an assessment. Differentiated instruction: 1. Spanish speaking students may access the language of Neruda's use of language, tempo, meter, and other poetic devices in Spanish. 2. Kinesthetic learning through associating one's name through creative movement and through the art making process. 3. Visual learning through creation of symbols associated with the self. 4. Aural learning through enjoyment of reading poetry aloud. (Extension/Enrichment Activity Assessment: audience participation during poetry slam)

Enrichment Extension Activities

For additional poetic inspiration, check out or research other poetry websites (or poetry competitions) that will allow submissions for website posting. Students can then submit their poems as homework.
Community involvement: Research public exhibition spaces for a visual arts exhibition or public poetry slam.

Teacher Reflection

After the initial implementation, this lesson could be shifted in terms of timing, depending on the depth of the involvement with other curriculum content areas. Student success: The ability to switch between group work/social skills and individual work/metacognition will determine the extent to which student success occurs. Assessment/Student learning: The 3-point rubric, in order to make clear expectations as to how the final product looks, will inform future projects in terms of how the expectations could more accurately integrate differentiated learning. Revisitation: Students will more than likely need to hone in on collage techniques in terms of accuracy in cutting out carefully and using glue with paper properly. Instructional strategies: The aspects of kinesthetic learning, social interaction, and making connections both verbally and visually contributed to the success of the lesson. Change: I would definitely use a different material for the paper. The 3-M Post-Its, while temporarily effective when hung for the silhouettes, ended up losing adhesion by the time the project was in its final state. It was too thin for sustaining glued papers on top, and as a result it buckled. I would also stress more drawing before looking through magazines that more closely match the images, rather than having students choose images somewhat more randomly.

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