Whole-school projects: Take One Picture

Written by: HTU | Published:

The annual Take One Picture project allows schools to explore all corners of the curriculum using one of the National Gallery’s famous paintings. Helen Frostick explains how her school has been inspired.

The annual project Take One Picture is organised by The National Gallery in London with the main aim to get art in to schools. Each year, one of the paintings displayed in the gallery is selected to promote the use of a single painting for cross-curricular teaching and learning in primary schools. 

The project champions engagement with, and exploration of, a National Gallery painting as inspiration for enrichment of learning through making meaningful connections both inside and outside the classroom.

My school, St Mary Magdalen’s Catholic Primary, is located a two-minute walk away from the River Thames in Mortlake in the Royal Borough of Richmond Upon Thames. The painting selected by the National Gallery for 2012/13 was ideal for our school, which is situated right beside the point at which the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race reaches its climax. 

Bathers at Asnières was painted in 1884 by George Seurat (1859-1891) and is a painting depicting a Parisian river scene. It was to prove inspirational for both the pupils and the teachers.

The reformed English national curriculum says that in reading “good comprehension draws from linguistic knowledge and on knowledge of the world”. The high-quality discussion involved in understanding a painting increases pupils’ vocabulary because they encounter words they would rarely hear or use in everyday speech. An increasingly wide knowledge of vocabulary and grammar also leads to effective composition in writing. Effective transcription in writing requires clarity and an awareness of the audience. 

The reception class extended their vocabulary by discussing what they could see in the picture. Year 1 wrote speech bubbles for the characters in the painting: “What would they be thinking? What could they be saying?” A wide variety of hats feature in the artwork, so year 2 created their own “Hat Stories” with many hats available to wear in class to get them into character. 

Year 3 used the Infant Pug Wash boat in the playground to bring the painting to life through drama and freeze-framing scenes from the painting. They then wrote a postcard home from one of the characters. Year 4 produced poems and raps inspired by the people they could see. Year 5 used their imagination to describe the setting from different points of view, including the dog’s!

Year 6 took the theme of the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race to link in with their local area study. They researched online and found out a wide variety of historical facts about the race. Through this opportunity they were able to make meaningful connections to where they themselves live.

The Take One Picture project affords many opportunities to meet the requirements of the new mathematics curriculum too. Mathematical activities inspired by the Bathers at Asnières included pupils making their own hat to scale. This involved them working in pairs to measure the circumference of their heads.

Year 1 recreated the picture using 2D shapes; circles, squares and rectangles. This activity generated lots of discussion about which shapes tessellate. Year 2 split the picture into 16 grids and worked on coordinates. Working in pairs, they then created a collage of their 16th. Finally the class worked to reassemble the painting referring back to the coordinates.

Year 4 took coordinates work a step further. Using string they divided the picture into coordinates, labelling them with sticky notes. They worked together in groups producing a set of questions about the picture for the other groups. For example: “What can you see in D3? Which coordinate is the dog in?” They also added items of their own to the picture to generate further questions.

In the revised national curriculum for science there is a stronger focus on the importance of scientific knowledge and language and a greater emphasis on the core scientific concepts underpinning pupils’ understanding. 

Materials remain part of the primary school curriculum and reception class explored the different properties of materials they might find floating on the river. They extended their scientific vocabulary by describing the materials and sorting them in to soft, bendy, hard and so on. Year 3 pupils explored mixing oil and water together through the art technique of marbling. They produced bubble pictures using marbling inks in the style of the painting.

Scientific thinking was explored by children in year 4 who considered how the boy at the forefront of the picture might get across the river.

Year 6 researched the type of habitats that could be found along a riverbank and in a river. They focused on wildlife along the river Thames. They became particularly interested in the Royal Swans and their protection by the Queen. 

The national curriculum programmes of study for ICT at key stages 1 and 2 were disapplied with effect from September 2012 and are no longer statutory. ICT as a subject is to be replaced with computing with a greater emphasis on computational thinking and practical programming skills.

The pupils enjoyed using the computers in a variety of ways as part of the project. In reception class the children created boats using the Paint program. In particular they learnt about the function of the spray tool, selecting appropriate colours, presenting their work and saving it.

As part of year 4’s freeze-frame and drama work they filmed their re-enactments using the school video cameras and took stills too. Year 6 used ICT to research the River Thames and in particular the Boat Race. They presented PowerPoints on their findings to the rest of the class.

All of the year groups created a display of their work in the school hall for all to enjoy. An exciting part of the Take One Picture project is that a portfolio of work can be presented to the National Gallery in the autumn term following on. The gallery selects schools to go on and display their work at the gallery itself. We created our own gallery at school in case we weren’t selected for this honour.

The project is fully recommended as it feeds the pupils’ imagination and opens up a treasure-house of wonder and joy for curious young minds. It is exciting each year to await news of which pictures will be the focus for the next project. The pupils’ favourites at St Mary Magdalen’s along with the Bathers at Asnières have included The Fighting Temeraire by Turner and Umbrellas by Monet. 

  • Helen Frostick is the headteacher of St Mary Magdalen’s Catholic Primary School in south London.

Further information

Take One Picture: www.takeonepicture.org

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