Introductory Activities

  • In order to study objects or any visual medium, it is important to practice looking closely. There are many ways to help students develop their perceptual skills. These skills are not only useful in the museum but in the classroom and the larger world. This exercise will develop visual literacy and perceptual skills, and can be incorporated across the disciplines, using a variety of objects. Using objects that relate to the theme of a field trip or unit of study will reinforce the connection between what students are studying in the classroom and what they will see and do at the museum.

  • Using a projector, select an object with a large amount of detail from Odyssey Online. Ask one student to look at the object and state one observation (descriptive adjective). Then go on to the next student, and so on. The challenge of this activity is that no observation may be repeated; each must be different, yet must be appropriate. After all students have participated, repeat the cycle as many times as desired. The longer the process continues, the more careful and detailed the observations must become. This exercise can be done out loud, or in writing. The learning goal is to develop a vocabulary for talking about what is seen (visual literacy).

  • Gather sets of five specimens each of rocks, shells, cloth, clothespins, beans, etc. Give each student one set of specimens, and ask him or her to write a description of one of the objects so that other students can pick out that particular object from all the others. The more similar the objects in a set, the more challenging it becomes. The learning objective is to practice concise and precise analytical and descriptive skills. Variation: Give each student a box with an item in it, some familiar and some less so. Ask each student to describe out loud to the class what he or she is feeling in the box, and see if the others can guess what it is.

  • Be a classroom archaeologist. Ask students, "If an archaeologist excavated your home, what object would give him or her the most information about you? Why?" To facilitate a discussion, you might want students to draw a picture (it could be drawn to scale on graph paper) of "their object," or even to bring it to school. To answer this question, students must think not only about their identity and values, but also about the kinds of objects that would and would not survive after being buried for a long time. This could lead to a discussion of how the survival of material culture might influence or bias the perspective we have of cultures that we learn about through archaeological excavations.

© Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University,
Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester and Dallas Museum of Art
For more information please contact
Last Update: