Art start literacy activities and projects

Where not otherwise stated these activities can be undertaken by students in pairs, small groups or individually.


  • Spend four minutes looking at the painting.
  • Write down all the words and ideas that come to mind when you look at this painting. Include how it makes you feel and the emotions that are conveyed by the painting.
  • Choose 15 words or phrases from your list and read them aloud to the group
  • Use these and ideas from other students as inspiration to create a draft for a poem. For example:

‘Tears leak from the shades of green like rain drops down a leaf.
A heat of jealousy is sparked amongst dark company.
You search for an absent door through the roar of an empty room.
The choking fear of loneliness leaves your deepest thoughts to devour your soul.
There’s nowhere else to bury your distress but deep in a handkerchief.’
This poem is by a Middle Years student


The process of elaborating involves students building on their descriptions to build up a rich and diverse bank of words.

Nominate one student to describe a chosen item to the rest of the class. The next student adds detail to the description offered by the first. A third and fourth student further elaborates. Choose another element in the painting and repeat the process.

Expanding description

  • If you climbed inside this woman’s head what would you feel? Find three words to describe your emotions.List adjectives or similes to describe the Greens used in the painting. For example: acidic
  • Write down a simile for the eyebrows. For example: Like slices of lime
  • ot down a phrase to describe the pinks and mauves used. For example: Bruised pink, chalky mauve,
  • List five words that begin with ‘D’ to describe her face. For example: Distorted, dejected
  • List five phrases beginning with ‘W’. For example: Wretched with fear, wrought with despair
  • Think of adjectives to describe her eye.
  • Create a simile for her eye. For example: Like a little boat capsized by rivers of tears
  • Write down a simile for her handkerchief.
  • Think of adjectives to describe her nose.
  • Come up with a metaphor for her nose.
  • Jot down adjectives to describe the lines of her hair. For example: swirling
  • Think of a metaphor to describe the tears running down her face. For example: crystal rivers corroding her face
  • Write down a collective noun to describe the shapes in the painting. For example: A jigsaw of exaggerated features and sharp shapes
  • Now find a metaphor for the entire Weeping Woman, 1937. For example: She is a jagged landscape pierced by pools of emotion.
  • Create several titles for the painting using alliteration. Practise first by incorporating the words Weeping and Woman into a title. For example: Weeping woman wails as war is waged.

Stream of consciousness writing

Stream of Consciousness writing can be a good technique for reticent writers to unblock anxiety and provide a basis for more formal writing projects.

Pablo Picasso was a poet as well as a painter. He wrote the following poem during the Spanish Civil War, when he painted Weeping Woman and Guernica, which express his horror at the bombings and atrocities taking place in Spain. He has used a literary technique called free or stream of consciousness writing in the poem. This technique presents the thoughts and feelings of the writer as they flow, without use of punctuation.

‘Cries of children cries of women cries of birds cries of flowers cries of wood and of stones cries of bricks cries of furniture of beds of chairs of curtains of casseroles of cats and paper cries of smells that claw themselves of smoke that gnaws the neck of cries that boil in cauldron and the rain of birds that floods the sea that eats into bone and breaks the teeth biting the cotton that the sun wipes on its plate that bourse and bank hide in the footprint left embedded in the rock.’ Poem by Pablo Picasso accompanying the Dream and Lie of Franco. Quoted in Pre-faces to Picasso: the Burial of the Count of Orgaz, & Other Poem, by Jerome Rothenberg & Pierre Joris. Available at:

Now ‘unfocus’ your mind from specific thoughts, and try to write as Picasso has done, in response to Weeping Woman, 1937. The results can be surprising.


Poetry is like art – it allows us to see something in a different way. Its impact can be powerful and immediate.

A poem is a painting that is not seen;
A painting is a poem that is not heard
Phoebe Hesketh, A poem is a Painting, Page 7, Picture Poems, Benton, M and P, Hodder and Stoughton, 1997

Using this quote as a starting point, discuss and document ways in which art and poetry may be similar.

Poetry with a format

Working with a format can be a non-threatening way of starting to write poetry for students who haven’t written in this genre before. This activity is inspired by Weeping Woman poem, Visual Paths to Literacy at Tate, Making their Marks, An anthology of children’s writing, 2002.

Write a poem from the perspective of the woman in the painting. Use this format – make sure that every line begins with:
‘I am the woman who……………’

Each line should contain new information that builds a detailed picture of her experience. For example:

‘I am the woman who darted for cover
as the bullets came screaming down.
I am the woman who was mortified as I
watched my child being hit by shards of shrapnel.
I am the woman who has a distorted face
because of my never-ending confusion.
I am the woman who has no name as there is no need for one anymore.
I am the woman who is rotting inside my desolate body.’
This poem is by a Middle Years student

Free Verse Poetry Activity

Write a free verse poem inspired by Weeping Woman and the ideas and descriptions you created so far.

  • Decide on the key idea you want to communicate with your poem.
  • Write a descriptive piece about your idea using very specific language to bring your imagery alive.
  • Break the piece into short lines.
  • Revise and edit the lines until they sound strongly expressive when read aloud.
  • Edit the lines again if necessary to polish and refine the poem.

For example:
I am alone as I cry my hot tears,
The air I breathe is thick with agony,
The walls are closing in, as are my fears,
And it is only my tears that run free,
Maybe soon I can escape from this place,
Though I may pretend its left me in peace,
The scars will remain hidden in my face,
I live knowing my pain will never cease,
Wounds may heal in the stretch of endless time,
But they are in need of a loving touch,
Though I reach out with compassionate rhyme,
Tenderness is ripped from my aching clutch,
So I am empty and crying alone,
In pain, not willing to face the unknown.

Alliterative Poetry Activity

Use the alliterative titles created for the Seriously Alliterative activity in the Language Starters activities as lines for a poem. Consider combining your own titles with those of other students or make one class poem. For example:

Weeping woman wails as war is waged,
Sadness streams from sagging sockets
Freakish face fraught with fear.

Simile and Metaphor Poetry Activity

Combine similes and metaphors that describe Weeping Woman, 1937 with those already developed above in the Language Starters activity, Weeping Woman descriptive quiz, as lines for a poem. For example:

Her face is war
She is a jagged landscape pierced by pools of emotion
Crystal rivers of bitter tears corrode her face,
She is a fierce storm streaked with lightening….

Writing from different viewpoints

Different people bring different experiences, ideas and understanding to art. Imagine you are someone else and you are looking at Weeping Woman, 1937. You could be a child, a refugee, a social worker, a psychologist, a relation of General Franco, an inhabitant of Guernica when it was bombed in the Spanish Civil War, a war correspondent.

Now write about the painting, from the perspective of your new persona. Ensure the tone of the writing matches the person chosen.

Writing as a journalist

  • Collect and read articles from various magazines that describe and promote upcoming events such as films, plays, concerts and art exhibitions.
  • Discuss the particular features of the style of language used for these promotional articles. For example: Are direct quotes, exclamation marks or sensational language used?
  • Imagine that you are writing an article for an in-flight magazine urging people to visit the Weeping Woman at The National Gallery of Victoria. Use persuasive language, powerful description, and alliteration designed to arouse the readers’ interest.
  • Create an arresting, snappy title that will attract attention.

Writing for a Weekend Magazine Activity

Imagine you are a celebrity who has been invited to take part in a series of articles entitled ‘My favourite artwork’.
Using Weeping Woman 1937 as your chosen artwork, write a short piece explaining where you saw the artwork, what aspects you appreciate, why it particularly resonates with you. Point out aspects of the artwork that you would like your readers to notice. For example:

‘Let your eyes wander over the sharp surface and you are led by the jagged lines to the picture’s centre, her mouth and chin, where flesh seems to have been peeled away to reveal hard, white bone……When you are inside this picture, you are inside pain; it hits you like a punch in the stomach.’
Extract from Weeping Woman, Pablo Picasso (1937) by Jonathan Jones, May 13, 2000, The Guardian

Presenting and performing

Presenting and Teaching a Momentous Moment in Art History Activity

  • Individually or as a class, use your research and writing projects to create a PowerPoint presentation for a group of people who are interested in learning about all aspects of the NGV’s Weeping Woman, 1937.
  • It could be a group of History or English teachers, students learning about Spain at an evening class or another class in your school.
  • You could include information about the artist who painted it, the historical background of the painting and viewers’ reactions to it.
  • Consider incorporating a Word Cloud constructed from the words and phrases gathered by yourself and other students in the Language Starters Looking Activity.

Monologue Activity

  • Use the writing from the Responding to Art Writing Projects Writing from Different Viewpoints Activity to record and/or perform a monologue. Imagine you are the character from whose viewpoint you have written.
  • Make a short film with other students featuring several monologues, or record a discussion about the painting that the imagined characters with different viewpoints might have together.

Poetry Reading Activity

The earliest poems were not written down, due to low levels of literacy. Instead, they were performed aloud. Volume, speed of reading, body language (including sometimes dramatic gestures), and pauses were all used in performances to keep the audience enthralled.
Consider these aspects of performance before engaging in the activity below. Record or film (individually or as a class presentation) a poetry reading of the poem(s) you wrote in response to Weeping Woman, 1937 in the Poetry section above.

War Correspondent Interview Activity

Record an imagined interview between a war correspondent and the Weeping Woman in the picture.