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Great writers are great observers. They consider the world around them, notice overlooked details, and make connections. Looking carefully at art helps us to develop these observation skills. Art encourages us to slow down, look closely, and reflect on what we see. When we accept this invitation, we are rewarded with new thoughts and perspectives. These ideas and insights provide rich material for writing.

In this spirit, Looking to Write, Writing to Look brings together twenty-five remarkable works of art from the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s collections and uses them as inspiration for an array of writing activities for K–12 students. We hope that you and your students enjoy discovering the limitless potential of art to inspire writing in every form.

The goal of this teaching resource is two-fold:

  • To help students develop observation skills by responding to art through writing
  • To help students develop writing skills by using art as an inspiration

Works of art were chosen for their capacity to inspire writing in several genres and to appeal to students of diverse ages and backgrounds. The writing activities were designed to encourage focused looking and offer opportunities for student collaboration as well as personal reflection. They emphasize different stages of the writing process and include a wide range of purposes and audiences. The images and activities may also stimulate your own ideas for the classroom and can be adapted and used in countless ways.

Alignment with Writing, Speaking, Listening, and Visual Arts Standards

Both national and Pennsylvania educational standards served as guidelines throughout the development of this teaching resource and helped determine the forms and concepts explored in the suggested looking/writing activities. In addition, the National Council of Teachers of English position statement, “Beliefs about the Teaching of Writing,” provided a foundational understanding of the nature of writing and the skills students need to develop for the twenty-first century (see Bibliography).

In particular, the looking/writing activities align with the following Common Core State Standards (College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards), which were adopted in 2010 by Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and many other states:

Anchor Standard for Writing 1: Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

Anchor Standard for Writing 2: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

Anchor Standard for Writing 3: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective techniques, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

Anchor Standard for Writing 5: Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

Anchor Standard for Writing 10: Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Anchor Standard for Speaking and Listening 1: Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

Anchor Standard for Speaking and Listening 2: Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

Anchor Standard for Speaking and Listening 4: Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

The looking/writing activities also align with the following National Standards for Arts Education:

Content Standard 2: Using knowledge of structures and functions. (Students know the differences among visual characteristics and purposes of art in order to convey ideas, and describe how different expressive features and organizational principles cause different responses.)

Content Standard 4: Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and cultures.

Content Standard 6: Making connections between visual arts and other disciplines.

Rubric for Assessment

A useful assessment model for students’ writing is the 6+1 Trait® scoring guide. It provides guidelines for evaluating ideas, organization, voice, sentence fluency, word choice, conventions, and presentation. Several versions of this rubric can be found online at

Looking to Write, Writing to Look is generously supported by the Sherman Fairchild Foundation Inc.

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