Questions to Ask Students

Questions to Ask Students to Inspire Interesting and Meaningful Discussions

This list of questions was gathered from volunteers, other programs and museums. It’s far from a comprehensive list, but may help inspire an interesting discussion with students.  It may be helpful to work some of these questions into your lesson plan.

Observation: What do you see?

  • Do you see people, flowers, animals, etc.?
  • Allow students to get a close look at a print and tell what they see.
  • Look at this painting for 30 seconds. Now shut your eyes and tell me everything you remember.
  • What is the first thing you see when you look at this painting?

Analysis: How is the work organized?

  • Center questions on the elements of art. What color did you see first? What shapes do you see in this painting?
  • Are the brush strokes smooth or choppy?
  • Can you find the primary colors in this painting? How about the secondary colors?
  • How do the colors get along? Are they quiet? Noisy? Fighting or friendly?
  • Why didn’t the artist choose brighter (or darker) colors?
  • What is the mood of this paining? Does color help create the mood?
  • Look at this landscape. What season of the year is it?
  • Look at the light in this painting. What time of day is it? How has the artist used light to show time of day? Is the light natural or manmade? What is the source of the light?
  • What is the subject of this painting? Is it a realistic painting or is it an abstract? Is the subject line, form, color or movement? Why do you think the artist chose this subject?
  • What path does your eye take when you look at this painting? Why? What do you see first? Where does your eye move next? Does color have anything to do with this movement? Does line affect the movement of your eye? Does the eye stay within the painting?
  • How has the artist achieved perspective? Does he or she do it with color? Shape? Line? What would happen if the colors were changed? Would these areas recede or come forward?

Interpretation: What is happening, what is the artist trying to say?

  • Tell me the story the artist is painting.
  • What is this work of art about? Is there a message that goes beyond the subject matter?
  • Pretend you are two inches tall and you could walk into this landscape. What sounds do you hear? Would you have a long journey? What is around the corner?
  • If you could touch this painting, how would it feel? How does the texture the artist used affect the way you feel?
  • If this painting could make a sound or music, what kind of music or sound would it make? Is it the color, the texture or the subject matter that helps you decide this answer?
  • Does this painting seem orderly or free?
  • Some artists use models. They stand or sit for hours. Why would an artist use a model? Why not a photo? Do you think this artist used models?
  • Look at the expressions on of the faces of the characters. What do they tell you? Would you like to join them?
  • What is the main character doing? Ask students to stand up and imitate his or her movements. What does this tell you about the person?
  • Who are the people in this painting? What are they doing? If you could talk to them, what would you say? How do they make you feel? Look carefully at their faces, their hands, their clothes and other details. What are your impressions about them? What is the artist telling us?
  • Does this painting tell a story? Does it leave clues about the people in the painting? Are they neat, sloppy, sad, happy?
  • Some artists paint in studios and some paint outdoors. Can you guess where this was painted?
  • Why do you think the artist painted this work so big?
  • Could this painting have been painted today? Is it timeless?
  • If more than one work is displayed, how are they the same? How are they different?

Judgment: What do you think about this work of art?

  • Be open to ideas and encourage students to explain their answers.
  • What do you like most in this painting? The story it tells? The shapes and colors? The way it makes you feel?
  • Would you hang this painting in your room? Why or why not?
  • Will you remember this painting? Which part of it is memorable?
  • Could this painting really happen?
  • Does anything you see in this work of art remind you of something else you have seen or experienced?
  • How does this painting make you feel? Happy? Sad? Quiet? Confused? Indifferent? Why? Do your feelings change after you look at it for a while?
  • What do you think the artist called this painting? Why?
  • How does the artwork relate to its title? Did the artist choose a good name? If you could rename the artwork, what would your new title be?
  • Why do you like this painting? Why do you dislike it? How would you change it? Why do you think this work and this artist are important in the art world? What does this painting teach you?

Participation tips:

Encourage as many students as possible to take part in the discussion. One technique to get students involved is to bounce questions from one child to another:

  • Does anyone else see that, too?
  • Who would agree?
  • Let’s go a little further with that answer.
  • Why do you think it looks that way?
  • Does anyone else have a theory?

If the focus of a lesson is examining a painting and getting student feedback, prepare enough questions for every student to give an opinion or find an object. Consider passing out numbers to younger students or questions on index cards for older students, if one or two students routinely dominate the conversation.