Spending time with a work of art can be an opportunity for thoughtful inquiry and ideation. For students, documenting their ideas as they work to interpret an artwork offers the chance to exercise metacognition. The Thought Ladder activity helps students build their interpretations step by step while giving them insight into the way they are processing their observations and forming their ideas.
Adjust this activity in whatever way makes sense for your classroom. The instructions below are merely an outline for students to document their thinking.
Invite students to use the steps below to spend at least 10-15 minutes with a work of art, challenging them to document the ideas it presents to them.
Ask them to refrain from reading information about the art until they are fully familiar with the visual aspects of the work, and have formed thoughts about what they see.
Choose from the objects below or visit the VMFA Collections page to search for other possibilities:
This first step is simple. Take note of the very first thing that comes to mind as you first glance at this artwork. Write it down.
Now it’s time to get better oriented and take a closer look. For this step spend a full minute making a visual inventory.
Great! Now take a few moments to see what ideas you have to work with.
Now it’s time to build on your ideas a little bit more by thinking about what questions they stimulate for you. Consider the following and write down your thoughts. Refer back to the artwork as well as what you have already written down.
Discuss your individual findings with a partner or a group. Compare your experience and ideas.
Finally, read the label copy available about this artwork. Consider the date, place, and material with which it was made. Look at the artist’s name and culture.