(adapted from Eileen S. Prince)

I found the “AUTOBIOGRAPHY” lesson in Eileen S. Prince’s Art Mattersto share similarities in a unit I teach called “The Search for Identity” to sophomores in my Pre-AP English 2 classes.  I adapted the core concept of the assignment into an introductory activity to stimulate initial perceptions of students’ identity to set the groundwork for the rest of the unit.

Grade Level/Age: 10thgrade (15-16 years)

Curriculum Addressed: The assignment is an introduction to our “Search for Identity” unit in which students read a central text, Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, and smaller texts to answer questions about how they see themselves, how they think others see them, and define a core belief or principle they live by.

Process Goals: The goal of the assignment is for students to create a portrait or sculpture of him or herself to serve as a springboard into deeper reflection on personal identity.

Materials: Students need to be presented with a series of self-portraits or sculptures to examine how other artists have represented themselves visually. For the creative piece, I would provide paper, pastels, colored pencils, paints, and clay.

Desired Understandings:  The central goal is to create a portrait or sculpture.  The portrait serves as an initial conversation piece in which students reflect about what their art reveals about themselves.  Through displaying their artwork and hearing other’s comments about the art, the activity introduces the essential questions that our unit is centered on:  Who am I? What’s the dichotomy of how I see myself and how others see me?  What is my central code or conviction?


  1. Because this is an introductory lesson, I don’t place too many parameters on students’ expression. We simply explore various self-portraits of artists and discuss what the paintings reveal. Students discuss which portraits engage them, leading to a discussion on how art may be interpreted differently by viewers.
  2. In their journals, students answer a list of questions about themselves to generate ideas for their portraits. The list provided in Prince’s Art Matters(108-109) provides some solid questions for students to consider.
  3. Students use their answers as inspiration to create their portraits.
  4. Portraits are displayed in the classroom. Discussions about individual interpretations of each other’s art lead into the introduction of our unit’s Essential Questions.


Standard 2: Reading for All Purposes

  1. Literary and historical influences determine the meaning of traditional and contemporary literary texts.

While we aren’t reading literary texts for this activity, we will certainly be “reading” the visual texts for information, purpose, and meaning.

Assessment:  Again, because this is an introductory activity, I use a “Professionalism” rubric to grade students’ effort on their portraits.  It’s basically a completion grade, but we could easily return to their portraits later for a reflective analysis essay.

Adaptions/Accommodations:  I expect all students to do their best in completing the assignment.  I could adapt the medium, as needed, to accommodate students’ interests and abilities.