Communicating through Self-Portraits


Learning Description

In this lesson, students will use symbolism and imagery to create a self portrait. Students will support their work by writing about their art.


Learning Targets


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"I Can" Statements

“I Can…”

  • I can communicate meaning about myself using symbols and imagery.
  • I can create a self-portrait using accurate proportions.

Essential Questions

  • How can I communicate meaning about myself using symbols and imagery?
  • How can I use proportions to create a self-portrait?


Georgia Standards

Curriculum Standards

Grade 2:

ELAGSE2RI1 Ask and answer such questions as who, what, where, when, why, and how to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text. 

ELAGSE2RI2 Identify the main topic of a multi-paragraph text as well as the focus of specific paragraphs within the text.

ELAGSE2W3 Write narratives in which they recount a well-elaborated event or short sequence of events, include details to describe actions, thoughts, and feelings, use temporal words to signal event order, and provide a sense of closure.

ELAGSE2SL1 Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade 2 topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.

ELAGSE2SL2 Recount or describe key ideas or details from written texts read aloud or information presented orally or through other media.

ELAGSE2SL6 Produce complete sentences when appropriate to task and situation in order to provide requested detail or clarification.

Grade 3:

ELAGSE3RI1 Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers. 

ELAGSE3RI2 Determine the main idea of a text; recount the key details and explain how they support the main idea.

ELAGSE3RI7 Use information gained from illustrations (e.g., maps, photographs) and the words in a text to demonstrate understanding of the text (e.g., where, when, why, and how key events occur).

ELAGSE3W3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.

ELAGSE3SL1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 3 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

ELAGSE3SL2 Determine the main ideas and supporting details of a text read aloud or information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

Arts Standards

Grade 2:

VA2.CR.1 Engage in the creative process to generate and visualize ideas by using subject matter and symbols to communicate meaning. 

VA2.CR.2 Create works of art based on selected themes. 

VA2.CR.3 Understand and apply media, techniques, and processes of two-dimensional art.

VA2.RE.1 Discuss personal works of art and the artwork of others to enhance visual literacy.

VA2.CN.3 Develop life skills through the study and production of art (e.g. collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, communication).

Grade 3:

VA3.CR.1 Engage in the creative process to generate and visualize ideas by using subject matter and symbols to communicate meaning.

VA3.CR.2 Create works of art based on selected themes. 

VA3.CR.3 Understand and apply media, techniques, processes, and concepts of two dimensional art. 

VA3.RE.1 Use a variety of approaches for art criticism and to critique personal works of art and the artwork of others to enhance visual literacy.

VA3.CN.1 Investigate and discover the personal relationships of artists to community, culture, and the world through making and studying art.


South Carolina Standards

Curriculum Standards

Grade 2:

2.I.1.1 Ask self-generated questions that lead to group conversations, explorations, and investigations. 

2.I.2.1 Engage in daily exploration to formulate questions from texts and personal experiences; generate possible explanations and consider alternatives. 

2.RI.5.1 Ask and answer literal and inferential questions to demonstrate understanding of a text; use specific details to make inferences and draw conclusions in texts heard or read.   2.RI.5.2 Make predictions before and during reading; confirm or modify thinking.

2.RI.6.1 Retell the central idea and key details from multi-paragraph texts; summarize the text by stating the topic of each paragraph heard, read, or viewed. 

2.W.3.2 Plan, revise, and edit, focusing on a topic while building on personal ideas and the ideas of others to strengthen writing.

Arts Standards

Grade 1:

Anchor Standard 1: I can use the elements and principles of art to create artwork.

Anchor Standard 2: I can use different materials, techniques, and processes to make art.

Anchor Standard 3: I can improve and complete artistic work using elements and principles.

Anchor Standard 4: I can organize work for presentation and documentation to reflect specific content, ideas, skills, and or media.


Key Vocabulary

Content Vocabulary

Main idea - The central message of a text.

Supporting details - Information in a text that supports the main idea.

Personal narrative - Writing that expresses real or imagined personal experiences.

Arts Vocabulary

Self-portrait - A visual representation of oneself.

Proportions - How one thing relates to another in terms of size.

Symbols - An image that communicates meaning.

Background/negative space - The area around the subject of an artwork.



  • Pencils
  • Crayons/colored pencils/markers
  • White paper


Instructional Design

Opening/Activating Strategy

  • Show students the image, Self Portrait with Monkeys, by Frida Kahlo, without the artist’s name or name of the artwork visible. Lead students through the See, Think, Wonder strategy. Students should collaborate in small groups and share their responses.
  • Show students the title of the artwork, artist’s name, and year it was made. Explain that Frida Kahlo often included symbols and imagery that represented important things to her in her artwork, such as her pet monkeys and her Mexican heritage. 
  • Ask students what a symbol is. Provide examples such as a heart, and explain that symbols are images that communicate meaning.


Work Session

  • Explain that Frida Kahlo is a very famous artist who had polio as a child and was later in an accident that limited the activities that she could do. She had to use her imagination and what she knew about the world around her to create her artwork. 
  • Read the book, Frida’s Animalitos, to students (read aloud version). 
  • Ask students to identify the main idea or theme of the text and the supporting details (answers might include that circumstances in life don’t have to determine what we choose to do or citing that Frida continued to paint despite her illness and accident).
  • Explain to students that they will be creating a self portrait that includes symbols and imagery that represents important things about themselves. 
  • Show students the proportions of the face. Have students use this as a guide to draw their own faces on plane white paper. Have students add color and details to their self-portraits.
  • Next, go back to Self Portrait with Monkeys by Frida Kahlo. Remind students that Frida Kahlo included symbols and imagery that were important to her in her artwork like her pet monkeys. Ask students to brainstorm 3-4 things that they would like to include in the negative space/background of their artwork. Have a few students share their ideas with the class.
  • Students will then use symbols and imagery to represent things in the area around their portrait (background/negative space).
  • Students will write a response to the following prompt in complete sentences when they complete their self-portrait: What does your self portrait communicate about you? Student responses should include a topic sentence and supporting details that state the symbols they chose and why they chose them.


Closing Reflection

Have students get in groups of 3-4. Students should take turns showing their self-portraits and explaining the imagery that they used and why they chose it.




  • Class discussion around Frida Kahlo’s self portrait and symbolism to check for understanding
  • Class discussion around the main idea in the book, Frida Kahlo’s Animalitos.



  • Self portrait
  • Written response




  • Ask students to write a personal narrative (one paragraph in length) about one of the symbols that they included. 
  • Have students trade self-portraits and write an interpretation of their partner’s self-portrait based on the symbols that their partner included.


  • Allow students to provide an oral explanation of the symbols that they chose and why they chose them rather than writing them down. 
  • Reduce the number of symbols that students should include in their self portrait to two.

Additional Resources

*This integrated lesson provides differentiated ideas and activities for educators that are aligned to a sampling of standards. Standards referenced at the time of publishing may differ based on each state’s adoption of new standards.

Ideas contributed by: Katy Betts

Revised and copyright: September 2023 @ ArtsNOW