See, Wonder, Think: Teaching with Art

Title: Interpreting Ancient Art in Social Studies

Video Link:

This video focused on the “See, Wonder, Think” strategy which deals with inquiry based observations of art. To explain the SWT strategy, the video recorded the strategy in action in action in an actual middle school classroom.

The lesson being taught focused on Greek gods and goddesses, using art from the Getty Museum to teach about them. The strategy is a cross-curricular approach to teaching the social studies, combining content knowledge gained in class (in this case talking about the gods and reading mythological stories) alongside ancient art. The strategy is also being used to build skills in students that they can use in life, in this case to slow down, observe, and make inferences about things based upon what they can observe themselves.

The objective of the lesson for the teacher was that “Students will interpret art.” Pretty simple, yet broad in scope.

Step 1: See, observe closely.

In this step the teacher displayed an image of an ancient statue of a Greek god on the baord which he downloaded from the Getty Museum. He asked students to spend 60 seconds looking at the image. Students were told to not make any inferences (guesses) about the object, but only to look at the visual details they could observe.

After those 60 seconds he asked students to write down three things they saw. After this was done he asked students to turn to their partner and share with them one thing they saw. Then, he brought the whole class together and asked them to share out an observation with the entire class. (Note: He made sure students responded in complete sentences, which fulfilled one of the core goals of the Common Core Standards).

Step 2: Wonder, What do you wonder about what you see?

After the students shared observations with the class he asked students to write down three questions they had about what they observed in the image, what did they wonder about their observations.

Step 3: Think, what can you infer about your observations?


In this stage students were challenged to find answers to their own questions by using the evidence from their observations. Students were asked to think about their own observations to answer their own questions in the wonder stage. Students then shared out their questions among their group and the groups were asked to pick one question to answer collectively in their group. Groups used their collective observations and knowledge to make inferred judgments about the image.

The entire goal of SWT is to get students to learn strategies to solve problems or to solve their own questions. It is another kind of inquiry that is still based in primary sources (art), but requires different kinds of questions to be asked about them because it is historical material presented in a different medium. I could definitely see myself using this strategy in my future classes, even at the high school level. From my time working in museums I learned the value of exploring history through mediums like art and material culture. They seem to make history more interesting and come alive for students.

Furthermore, I think using art as a historical source is a great way to differentiate historical materials for a diverse group of students. Students who have limited reading proficiency may be able to access historical images and make inferences more easily with these types of sources as opposed to traditional written sources. Additionally, I think this strategy builds valuable skills to in students that they may, in turn, use in other classes and in the real world. It helps them slow down, to notice things, and find answers on their own.

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