These resources, compiled by the education teams across the Smithsonian Institution, feature lessons, activities, exhibitions, videos and tools that can use art as a way to learn about the world around us.

Art in Science

Botany and Art and Their Roles in Conservation
These lessons introduce students to the work of botanists and botanical illustrators, specifically their race to make records of endangered plant species around the world. The students try their own hands at botanical illustration, following the methods of a Smithsonian artist. Also included here are additional resources on the topic: a one-hour webinar and a website.
Provider: Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access
Grade(s): 3-12

Making Friends with Franklin
This lesson uses portraits of Benjamin Franklin to introduce his writings and scientific experiments. Students do their own writing and conduct their own experiments. In addition, they learn about the international scientific community in which Franklin was a prominent member.
Provider: Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access
Grade(s): 3-8

Build-A-Bird
This lesson explores the anatomy of birds and their evolutionary adaptations. Students look at bird art to get a deeper understanding of their anatomy, then consider evolution in order to make connections between physical traits and habitat. Finally they create an imaginary bird in its environment.
Provider: Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Grade(s): 9-12

Color My World
This lesson uses the scientific method to explore how to make different colors with paint, then using the paint to create a "Colors of the Season" book.
Provider: Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Grade(s): PreK-3

Dinosaur Designs
This lesson has students do research on a dinosaur species while exploring the challenges of dealing with form and balance in sculpture. They make 3-D models of their dinosaur with attention paid to correct proportions based on their research.
Provider: Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Grade(s): PreK-8

China’s Terracotta Army: Exploring the Tomb Complex and Values of China’s First Emperor
In this activity, students will take on the role of archaeologists and make inferences about what objects included in the elaborate tomb complex of China’s First Emperor, Qin Shihuang (259 – 210 BCE) can reveal about his afterlife beliefs, values, and how he saw himself in the world.
Provider: Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Grade(s): 3-12

Art in Cultural Studies

Commemorations Across the Disciplines
In this lesson, students explore how cultures commemorate people and events. They learn how commemorations are created through music, painting, sculpture, photography, architecture, and poetry.
Provider: Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Grade(s): 9-12

How Was Your Day? Creating Mixed Media Designs
Students learn about the daily life, history, and beliefs of different countries and express their understanding by designing a mixed-media composition.
Provider: Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Grade(s): PreK-3

Make Your Own Buffalo Hide Painting
This lesson focuses on the culture of the Native American people of the Great Plains. Students create their own buffalo hide paintings using a printable outline. Inspired by the Great Plains Indians, they will draw pictures representing important events in their lives and their family history or draw a hide with a geometric design. Images of actual buffalo hide paintings provide inspiration.
Provider: National Museum of American History
Grade(s): K-12

Reading “When Clay Sings”

Students use this worksheet to examine objects to explore cultures and people. Includes a readying of When Clay Sings, a book about Native American culture seen through its pottery and imagery. Useful when visiting a museum, library, website, or any location where objects are used to interpret the past.
Provider: National Museum of American History
Grade(s): K-4

Portraiture Now: Communities
How do we define community today? Each of the three painters selected for “Portraiture Now: Communities” has explored this question through a series of related portraits of friends, townspeople, or families.
Provider: National Portrait Gallery
Grade(s): 4-12

AP Art History Curriculum Framework: Focus on “Jahangir Preferring a Sufi Shaikh to Kings”
This education resource designed especially for teachers and students in advanced placement art history courses. It focuses on an artwork from the Freer|Sackler collection, Jahangir Preferring a Sufi Shaikh to Kings; one of the 250 works that are featured in the AP Art History curriculum.
Provider: Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Grade(s): 6-12

Exploring visual Narratives through Thangkas
What are some ways in which one can tell his/her life story? Express personal perspectives and visual narratives through the Tibetan art form of thangkas.
Provider: Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Grade(s): 6-12

Art in Language Arts

Portraits, Visual and Written
These lessons introduce students to the lives and works of Louisa May Alcott and Samuel Clemens through portraits as well as through their writings. Students come away with a better understanding of how the events of one's life can be an inspiration for creative writing.
Provider: Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access
Grade(s): 4-12

Dreams Can Come True
This is a lesson about careers in which students create a self-portrait collage representing how they will look as an adult in their chosen career, research the requisite training and education, and write how they plan to attain their dream career.
Provider: Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Grade(s): PreK-3

Celebrating People with Disabilities Through Stamps
This lesson plan uses postage stamps to introduce notable Americans with disabilities. Students design a stamp of their own.
Provider: National Postal Museum
Grade(s): 4-8

Ekphrastic Poetry Lesson
In this lesson plan, students view a work of art and articulate what they see. They go on to write their own ten-line ekphrasis—a poem inspired by a work of art.
Provider: Smithsonian American Art Museum
Grade(s): 4-12

Kinder-Pictionary
In this lesson, students design a visual dictionary. They draw the pictures to accompany the words.
Provider: Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Grade(s): PreK-3

Artist and Society
In this lesson, students design a "system" that shows the impact that society had on a given artist and the impact that this artist might have had on others in an artistic movement. The system might be a flow chart, a diagram, or a timeline.
Provider: Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Grade(s): 9-12

How to Look at a Qur’an
This teaching poster discusses how artisans produce Qur’an manuscripts and guides students through close-looking activities.
Provider: Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Grade(s): 9-12

Art in History

Abraham Lincoln: The Face of War
These lessons use portraits of Lincoln introduce a study of the Civil War. An analysis of the portraits—including the famous “cracked-plate" photograph, two plaster “life masks," and an eyewitness drawing of Lincoln's arrival in the enemy capital of Richmond, Virginia—leads to an analysis of the times.
Provider: Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access
Grade(s): 4-12

Beyond the Frame
These lessons encourage students to delve into the meanings of artwork and the history of the artists and their subjects.
Provider: Smithsonian Education
Grade(s): 4-12

1812: A Nation Emerges
Four lessons in which students use critical thinking skills to examine, analyze, and compare/contrast artworks to better understand the events of the War of 1812. Lessons include a historical research project that has students create a textbook entry to demonstrate their understanding.
Provider: National Portrait Gallery
Grade(s): 4-8, 9-12

African American Artists: Masking Matters
These lessons demonstrate the influence of the Harlem Renaissance of visual artists and helps students understand the conscious attempt to express ancestral heritage and racial pride through art.
Provider: Smithsonian American Art Museum
Grade(s): 5-12

African American Artists: My People, Our People
These lessons explore the diverse experiences of and cultural connections among African Americans and how African Americans influenced and contributed to American culture.
Provider: Smithsonian American Art Museum
Grade(s): 5-12

Then, Now and Tomorrow
In this lesson, students will use photographs to research the history of the New York’s Lower East Side and to predict the future of the neighborhood.
Provider: Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Grade(s): 9-12

Integrating Social Studies and the Visual Arts
This lesson helps to develop the critical skill of “reading” a work of art. Students use their prior knowledge of a historical period to make inferences about the piece.
Provider: Smithsonian American Art Museum
Grade(s): 4-8

The Struggle for Justice
"The Struggle for Justice” showcases major cultural and political figures—from key 19th-century historical figures to contemporary leaders—who struggled to achieve civil rights for disenfranchised or marginalized groups.
Provider: National Portrait Gallery
Grade(s): 7-12

Emergence of Civilization in China: Oracle Bones
In this student activity, students learn about life in early Chinese urban society by analyzing oracle bone divinations. These divinations, consisting of characters inscribed on turtle shells and animal bones over 3,000 years ago, are among the earlies systematic Chinese written language extant today.
Provider: Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Grade(s): 3-8

Art in Math

What Is Currency? Lessons from Historic Africa
These lesson plans allow students to gain a basic understanding of money and economics by exploring the currency system of the Akan people of Ghana in West Africa.
Provider: Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access
Grade(s): 3-8

Musical Math-terpiece: The Art of Piet Mondrian
In this lesson, students learn about the jazz-inspired life and art of Piet Mondrian to create their own Mondrian-style paintings. They do internet research, create a computer art piece using grid patterns of repeating shapes, and paint their own music-inspired painting. Examines both geometrical shapes and painting.
Provider: Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Grade(s): 4-8

Batting Practice and Poetry in Motion
These two lesson plans focus on the life of Roberto Clemente. Students look at statistics of his baseball career, using mathematics to gauge his athleticism, use visual art skills to create an action portrait of Clemente, and write a poem inspired by his famous quotes and centered on themes in his life.
Provider: Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service
Grade(s): 4-8, 9-12

Design Explorations: Frieze Patterns
This is a lesson on frieze patterns (a mathematical concept to classify designs on two-dimensional surfaces, which are repetitive in one direction, based on the symmetries in the pattern). It is understood through explorations of multicultural examples in architecture, art, and in everyday life. Students create their own frieze pattern.
Provider: Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Grade(s): 4-8

Art and Community

Culture Labs
The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center developed Culture Labs to bring artists, scholars, curators, and the public together in creative and ambitious ways – and to show that anyone can make a “museum without walls” by curating collaborative, participatory, and socially responsible spaces where people can come as their true selves (especially those who haven’t always felt like museums are for them). A Culture Lab is a 2-3 day event that transforms a space relevant to its community into a festive environment. It’s hands-on, colorful, musical, emotional and highly interactive. It can be big or small and take many forms as long as it’s centered on building and empowering its community through art, history, science and stories.

The Culture Lab Manifesto Playbook encourages you to dive into the Culture Lab process—each activity is linked to a work of art that was made for a Culture Lab. In each activity, you recreate sensations felt, heard, seen—and in some cases, tasted, from previous Culture Labs. This edition of the Playbook includes activities that dive into the themes of empathy, beauty, ability, action and wellness.

Provider: Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center
Grades: The Playbook activities can be molded for grades K-12.

Visual Arts

Class of Cards
This lesson reflects on the work of influential designers Charles and Ray Eames. Students create their own playing card with symbols and patterns that represent themselves. Each card becomes part of a class “House of Cards.” Activity introduces the principles of design.
Provider: Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Grade(s): 9-12

Logo Design Basics: School ID
In this lesson, students translate verbal ideas into visual images. They create a logo that meets the objectives and needs of a client. Along the way, the learn to differentiate between fine arts and graphic design.
Provider: Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Grade(s): 6-8

What is Art?
In this lesson, students become familiar with contemporary art forms and artists.
Provider: Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Grade(s): 9-12

An Introduction to Japanese Painting
A collection of artworks from permanent collections of the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the Smithsonian’s museums of Asian art, draws from a wide variety of formats, styles, media, and subjects that represent many of the major trends in Japanese painting.
Provider: Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Grade(s): 3-12

(Banner image: Nam June Paik, "Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii" Smithsonian American Art Museum, © Nam June Paik Estate, Gift of the artist)