History & Memory: Elementary Adaptation

How Artists Use Pictures to Tell Stories from the Past 
Grant Wood (American, 1892-1942), The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, 1931, Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund, 1950 (50.117) © Estate of Grant Wood/Licensed VAGA, New York, NY

This Lesson adapts content for elementary learners to think about memory, history and how artists use pictures to tell stories about the past.

Suggested Time Frame:

1-2 class periods 


  • Students will discuss how they remember  personal and historical events
  • Students will identify what we can learn from the past by looking at pictures made by artists
  • Students will identify source materials used by artists and research their own sources to create an artwork
  • Students will create an artwork that tells a story from their history


  1. Instruct and guide the students to draw a picture of a memory.
  2. Students present their drawings and the story connected to this memory to the class.
  3. Define the word memory. Have one students look up the definition and write it on the board.
  4. Remember and discuss something about a famous person or event from history. Reference a figure or event from the social studies curriculum. What helps us to remember this person or event? Documents, paintings, story books?
  5. Discuss what kinds of things (pictures, instructions, sounds, etc.)  help us to remember things in school or at home?

Sources for Learning About the Past

Use the following questions for discussion:

  1. Who tells us about the past?
  2. How do they tell us? For example, how did the students learn about Lincoln or the American Revolution?
  3. How would you learn what clothing styles looked like in America from the 1960s? How about 1910? Or in 1750?  Would there be photographs from the 1700s (Photography was invented in France in the 1830s)?
  4. Where would you go to look for these styles if there were no photographs?
  5. List on the chalkboard, the sources students think of as ways to learn about the past. (Newspapers, photographs, artworks, eyewitnesses, family, magazines, books, museums, etc.)

Paintings of Historical Events

  1. Present Grant Wood’s Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, 1931.
  2. Student should look at the artwork and tell the story they see.
  3. Write on the chalkboard main elements of the story: setting, character, sequence of events, plot or problem and the story’s resolution (if there is one).
  4. List adjectives to describe the colors, use of light, the atmosphere and mood of the painting.
  5. Discuss how Grant Wood’s picture-story of Paul Revere’s ride is his own version of the original story. For example, the houses and buildings in this painting are not historically accurate; Wood made them look more simplified and “dreamlike.” Grant Wood painted this painting more than a hundred years after the American Revolution and had never met Paul Revere.
  6. Ask students what they think Grant Wood wanted us to remember about Paul Revere’s ride? Encourage them to base their responses on what they see in the artwork.

Andy Warhol’s artwork about John F. Kennedy

  1. Introduce students to Andy Warhol and the series of artworks he made about John F. Kennedy. Give a broad overview of Kennedy, his presidency and American culture in the 1960s using the resources in Lesson 6. Adapt information for your grade level.
  2. Use the following intuitive response questions as you show Warhol’s art works:


- Describe this woman. What is her personality like?

- What is she feeling in each picture?

- Who is with her? Why is she alone in some frames and not others?

- What story would you tell with these pictures?

- Try to identify the time between the images.

- Are the images presented in chronological order or are they random?


- Who and what are recognizable in this series? Make a list.

- What story could you tell using these images?

- Describe the colors Andy Warhol used in the Flash series and the feeling you get from each picture.

- Try to identify the time between the images.

- Are the images presented in chronological order or are they random?

For Both Paintings: 

- Where do they think Warhol got the images he used in these artworks?

- What were his sources?

- Where would you look to find information about a famous person or president?

- What do you think Andy Warhol would want us to remember about this event (students should base their responses upon what they see in the artwork)?


  1. Students create an artwork in the style of Andy Warhol that presents a story of an event from their generation, one they remember and think is important for others to remember.
  2. The class should select one event (or one is selected by the teacher). Students brainstorm sources for information about this event, such as eyewitness accounts, newspaper articles and TV news clips, etc.
  3. Review the main elements of a story:
  4. - Setting

    - Characters

    - Sequence of events

    - Conflict

    - Resolution

  5. Break students into small groups and assign each group one of the above story elements. Each group must:
  6. - Collect photographs or draw pictures that represent their story element. Depending on the age group, the teacher may want to collect this information and have available for students to sort through.

    - Select 3 pictures they feel best represent their element of the story.

    - Present their choices to the class along with their reasons for selection.

  7. Students choose one image from each group to use in their collage - 5 images total.
  8. Teacher makes copies of the images chosen by the students.
  9. Students should think about what they feel is important to remember about this event now and in the future. Some of the people seeing their artwork may not have been alive when the event happened, and this artwork will be one way for future generations of young people to learn about this event.
  10. Students will retell the story through their images using collage techniques: cropping, overlapping, sequence, color, etc. Utilize the following design principles:
  11. - Balance

    - Emphasis

    - Repetition

    - Rhythm


Warhol Education Rubrics

Click the Warhol Rubric headers below to reveal associated rubrics to which this lesson applies.