A couple of weeks ago, my students took their first unit reading test online.  I do like how the online testing tells results very quickly. So, I took advantage of this and discovered a long list of reading skills my students are lacking as a whole. They are: Main idea and detail, sequence, generalization, drawing conclusions, compare and contrast and author’s purpose.  I have to admit, sometimes I feel as thought I assume too much.  I assume that my students have a good handle on these skills.  And while it is true that one or two students may not have been able to show their understanding on a specific test question, it’s my job to make sure they can.

The connection I made right away is how all these skills are teachable through the arts.  Luckily my class was due for another Studio Day and I figured I’d take advantage of one of my go to resources for building reading skills and strategies – Norman Rockwell!

Yep, you read that right.  As far as I’m concerned if you have a deficit in reading skills, turn to Norman Rockwell!  There is so much you can do with a Norman Rockwell painting (or other well-selected painting or photo) that directly relates to many of the skills mentioned above, plus many others.  My ebook, Integrating the Works of Norman Rockwell into Reading Instruction explains many of them from deciphering fact and opinion to making predictions.

The entire Studio Day was centered around observing works by Rockwell, commenting on what we saw – facts only and then what we inferred from our observations.  For example in The Coin Toss, students slowed down the rapid process of drawing the conclusion that the painting was of a football game, by taking the time to note the details in the image that led them to that idea.  Bringing that to light and making them think it through was a step toward them learning about their own learning.

It was also in these initial painting observations that I was able to tie in the idea of author’s purpose, but in this case, artist’s purpose.  We discussed how some of Rockwell’s paintings were to entertain, but others were to inform (such as in his painting of Ruby Bridge’s in The Problem We All Live in) or to express an idea (such as in his Four Freedoms series.)

Most of the studio time was spent creating a collection of tableaux inspired by Rockwell’s painting called “Swatter’s Rights“.  The small groups really got into studying the painting as they discussed which part each of the six students would play.  Students portrayed everything from the old man and the boy, to the cat, fly and bucket of apples.  They froze themselves into a reenactment of the picture and while in pose, I asked them questions.  “How do you feel?”  “What are you doing?”  This allowed the students to dive deep into a character analysis before even putting a pencil to paper.  The actors were then asked to create the scene before and then after this, each in tableau.  Throughout the process we discussed the cause and effect the groups needed to discuss and how they also needed to make predictions to create the third scene.  By the end, we had created an entire story sequence: beginning, middle and end, through visual art and drama.  And we were able to compare and contrast the three groups’ interpretations of the painting through tableau.  (For more ideas on integrating the works of Norman Rockwell, check out my ebook.)

It was a powerful thing to watch these students discuss the reading strategies as well as live them with their entire bodies.  They acted out cause and effect, collectively made predictions and lived the entire sequence of events.

Now I know that doing these exercises are not going to make them avid readers overnight, or get them to ace the next reading test.  BUT, when we discuss these strategies in class and in small reading groups, I will be able to pull from rich experiences they have had with these skills.  They will remember getting hit with a mock fly swatter and reacting.  They will remember creating their own complete version of a story in sequence.  They will remember how they needed to discuss their ideas with group members to come up with one collaborative prediction.

And it’s my hope that this will help them to truly become better readers.


There is so much you can do with a Norman Rockwell painting (or other well-selected painting or photo) that directly relates to many reading skills.  My ebook, Integrating the Works of Norman Rockwell into Reading Instruction explains more and gives activities to teach many of them including drawing conclusions, deciphering fact and opinion and making predictions.