Search this catalogue

Lesson plans for teachers
Fitz Henry Lane Online Educational Resources

Exploring the Past through an Artist's Eyes

Lesson Plan 1B: Grades 6-8

 Fitz Henry Lane Online Lessons are designed to encourage students to make observations while looking closely at artwork and archival documents, to carry out their own investigations into the nineteenth-century world of an artist and his surroundings, and to foster critical thinking at multiple levels. Lessons were designed with a 30-45 minute timeframe in mind for observation and group discussion. Assessments were designed for completion with the teacher during additional class time or independently at home.



How can observing a painting help students tell the stories from the past? Making observations about a painting or drawing encourages students to slow down and really look with their eyes. From close observation students can then use skills of making inferences to think critically and draw conclusions about life during this time period.


  • Students will describe what they observe while looking at a painting by Fitz Henry Lane.
  • Students will discuss and record observations on a chart.
  • Students will analyze primary sources.
  • Students will make inferences and draw conclusions about life in the nineteenth century.
  • Students will apply and demonstrate their understanding by writing a narrative reflecting various aspects of nineteenth-century life.
  • Students will use evidence within their reflection to give weight to their narrative. 
  • Students will use the appropriate geography terms when describing their place.


  • Wall chart of worksheet 1
  • Copies of worksheet 1 for each student  (download here)


Please note: it is recommended that the teacher preview the site including the paintings, interactive features and historical materials for the lesson in advance. This procedure can be used to examine any of the paintings in the catalog with the interactive feature.

Explain to the class that in today’s lesson they will be examining a painting by Fitz Henry Lane and related primary and secondary sources from the time period. The purpose of the lesson is for them to learn as much as they can about life in nineteenth-century Gloucester. Explain that when they are done examining the painting closely, they will be expected to write a narrative from the point of view of someone living in Gloucester during the nineteenth century.

Access Fitz Henry Lane Online from your classroom computer. Find the painting Gloucester Harbor, 1852 (inv. 38) to display on the smart board or ask students to do the same using their own personal devices. Use your cursor to zoom in and around the painting. If possible, have a student take your place to navigate based on their classmates’ directions. For 5-10 minutes, discuss the class observations out loud. Students should closely observe the painting, focus on key details and think about their personal response to the painting. 

  • What do you see in this painting?
  • What do you think is happening? Why?
  • What do you wonder about?

The Visual Thinking Strategies line of questioning may also be used. What is going on in this painting? What do you see that makes you say that? What more can we learn?

 Place students into small groups and distribute worksheets. Ask them to work cooperatively to record their observations, focusing on both objects from the land and harbor. Students should be encouraged to speculate about the artist, the painting and the context in which it was created. Explain to the students that the groups will research together to learn more about what is being wondered about. Access the interactive feature on the lower right of the screen, as well as the related Historic Materials section, to find the answers to these questions. 

Record the answers that are found on the “I know” column on the chart. It’s likely that some of the students’ questions will not be answered on the site. Encourage students to think about other places to find the information.  


Using the completed chart as a reference, students will write a journal entry about a day in their life living in nineteenth-century Gloucester. They should choose a point of view from which to write. These can include a child, a fisherman, a businessman or woman, a minister or a farmer. They should include authentic details that reflect the time period and include vocabulary about the geography depicted in the painting.


Students may contemplate the changes between nineteenth-century Gloucester and Gloucester today. They can write a letter to their character in the past to tell them how their world is different. Their writing should include references to changes in the landscape.


National Core Arts Standards

VA: Cn11.1.4a: Through observation, infer information about time, place, and culture in which a work of art was created.  

Common Core State Standards


Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.


Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.


Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.


Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.


National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies

NCSS Theme II. Time, Continuity and Change

Students will ask and find answers to questions related to the past in school, community, state and regional contexts; Students will use a variety of sources to learn about the past.

 Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks

History and Geography Skills and Concepts

Sixth Grade

2. Use geographic terms correctly, such as delta, glacier, location, settlement, region, natural resource, human resource, mountain, hill, plain, plateau, river, island, isthmus, peninsula, erosion, climate, drought, monsoon, hurricane, ocean and wind currents, tropics, rain forest, tundra, desert, continent, region, country, nation, and urbanization. (G)

Seventh Grade

1. Compare information shown on modern and historical maps of the same region. (G)

4. Distinguish between primary and secondary sources and describe how each kind of source is used in interpreting history. (H)

5. Identify multiple causes and effects when explaining historical events. (H) 

Citation: "Exploring the Past through an Artist's Eyes." Fitz Henry Lane Online. Cape Ann Museum. (accessed May 24, 2024).
Please note that the information on this and all pages is periodically reviewed and subject to change.
Please share your knowledge with us: click here to leave feedback.