AP Beauty and Aesthetic: “How do visual arts affect us individually and collectively?”

This is the third of a series of posts about French AP. Several colleagues told me it would be helpful if I shared my materials so here we go! Feel free to critique them, use them, share them, toss them, ask questions about them, whatever you like! I try to give credit where credit is deserved but if you find that I forgot to credit someone/an organization, please do let me know.

For my AP curriculum, please click here.

A few years ago, I made an important discovery : I do not need to be an art expert to incorporate the arts into my teaching! I went to a wonderful training at the Cincinnati Art Museum on how to incorporate visual arts into World Languages teaching. There, I met a fellow French teacher who loved the arts and used to take her students to the art museum every year. I thought to myself “What a fantastic idea, only I don’t know much about visual arts and there is no French-speaking docent”. That’s when I got the idea of letting the students organize and lead their own guided tour of the museum!


Back at home, I started planning backwards: what do students need to know and what do they need to be able to do (can do) in order to conduct an interactive self guided tour? That is how a unit on visual arts was born.

Here is the folder and a summary of what students can do during this unit:

1. Identify major 19th century artistic movements and painters

I chose the 19th century because it is such a prolific century! I use cultural pre and post tests, so that students may see how much they had learned about 19th century paintings at the end of the unit. They are super impressed with themselves!

2. Discuss how visual arts affect us and the world around us through the viewing of authentic texts/videos, and the analysis of paintings

This is the meat of the unit and I differentiate a little by having an advanced student packet with opportunities for students to go further into the analysis. I also show them paintings from various movements and we talk about them either as a whole class, in small groups, or in pairs.

There are two great tools to get your students to talk about and analyze visual arts without apprehension:

First, you may ask  “Qu’est-ce que vous voyez?” (what do you see?) — this is a non threatening question and you will see that students will move out of descriptive mode when they are ready and go onto making interpretations on their own. Next, you can ask them  “Comment vous vous sentez?” (how do you feel?) — this will get students to further reflect on how visual arts impact them. I love these open-ended questions because anyone with or without background in arts can answer them and it gets students to reflect on the essential question.

Another other great tool I use is a conversation guide, where students take turn answering questions about the painting, moving from the descriptive mode (describe the objects, the characters, the actions, etc.) to the analytical mode (what does it remind you of in your own life? How do you think the painter was feeling at the time? etc.). You may find this tool in the student packet on p 17.

3. Organize and lead a self-guided tour of the Cincinnati Art Museum (European Wing)

Everyone look forward to this! Currently, I don’t make this field trip a big Project-Based Learning (PBL) on purpose. After all the work we have done on reflecting on paintings, I like to see how my students do in a museum with minimum preparation. I ask them to roam the European wing in pairs and find a painting from a movement we studied in class, they get to tell us a little bit about the painting and the painter but mostly we spend our time asking and answering questions about the paintings. Super fun!

Cincinnati Art Museum

4. Final assessment 

In pairs, students have 5 min to freely discuss a painting from one of the movements we have studied in class. While I choose painters they know, I give them paintings they have never seen. I am looking for:

  • maintaining the exchange
  • cultural understanding
  • stating and supporting opinions
  • rich and varied vocabulary

Here are the paintings I use for this assessment, as well as the rubric. And now, listen to a sample of two students discussing “Le Moulin de la Galette” by Renoir! These students scored 0% and 40% on the cultural pre test so they had very little prior knowledge when we started this unit. Now, they have so many relevant observations and they are clearly enjoying this conversation! It does not even feel like they are being assessed.

How do you include the arts into your AP curriculum?

photo credit: www.enjoythearts.org

image credit: http://www.shenet.org/


  1. Do you have any suggestions/resources for helping students learn more about these artistic movements? Did you just use the categorization sheet you include in the packet? Did you reinforce details from that as you showed pictures?

    • Hi Rachel, the categorization sheet and the mini research on artists in each movement gave them an overview. Then, we looked at different paintings (in the Powerpoint called FrAP-student-3-vocabulary-artistic-supports-mouvements-de-peintures) and orally discussed why they belong to a certain movement. The idea is to give them enough background to enable them to talk about and analyze paintings, but we don;t have time to become experts (welcome to the AP world!)

  2. Hello,
    The link to your curriculum no longer works. Would you mind sharing again, please?

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