Kinesthetic Learning in Humanities

In a recent lesson in Humanities on the Venus of Willendorf my fellow teacher and I incorporated a fun kinesthetic lesson to drive home the content. Kinesthetic learners, in my experience, are typically harder to engage because those lessons requires extra time, materials, and flexibility with your lesson.

**Note: I have a LOT of flexibility with Humanities so I know this lesson would not work with every subject. Also, this lesson was for a 90-minute block period but can easily be shorted for a more traditional 50-minute class by cutting out a video or shortening the activity time.



When the students walked in I had 5 different articles at each group on the Venus of Willendorf that the students read silently and highlighted then shared with their group mates until I was ready to start.

Here are the articles I provided them:

Class Discussion & Videos


Once the group conversation was dying down (or becoming sidetracked) I started the lesson asking the class to teach me something about this figure. I used questions to guide them to important information as they referred to their articles and added new information they learned from other individuals. The conversation was great because we focused in on the representations of the “ideal body” and my girls really got the ball rolling talking about the effects of magazines and social media on their self-image and body consciousness.

We also talked about the size and scale of the Venus and how that may implicate her usefulness as a fertility figure. As a class, we hypothesized what about her full-bodied figure may have meant and how she may have been used during the Paleolithic period.

After our discussion we watched two short videos: Women’s Ideal Body Type Throughout History & Venus of Willendorf, an extract from The Sculpture Diaries.

Read more: The Human Figure in Prehistoric Art

Kinesthetic Activity


Now to the fun part! After our discussion I instructed my students to each get a container of play-doh and  thin paintbrush (they used the pointy end to mark details in their play-doh). I told them that they were going to create their own Venus of Wilendorfs using these materials. They had to match the form and scale of the original. It was a lot of fun and got kids thinking about the creation. mobility, and use of art during the Prehistoric periods.

As they were creating, I played some “themed” music, most appropriately: “All about that Bass” by Meghan Trainor, “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix A Lot, and “Man! I Feel Like a Women” by Shania Twain. 🙂 It lightened up the mood and got them in a creative and fun atmosphere.

After some playing time, I walked around and talked with each of the individual groups about their creations and concepts of an idealized body in the past and today. All in all a win of a lesson! Thanks to my teacher-partner for sharing this awesome idea with me!


guide to surviving a summer roadtrip-2


Prehistoric Posts



As we all start planning the next year of school here are some blog posts to help you gather information on the Prehistoric pieces in the AP Art History curriculum:

Happy HUNTING & GATHERING for classroom materials! 🙂 I crack myself up…


Teaching Prehistoric Art in Humanities


Although there are many different Prehistoric art pieces I could chose for Humanities, I stick to a combination of Paleolithic and Neolithic and I try to make sure there are some overarching themes such as funerary or the natural world so that we can have some whole-class connections. Here are the ones I use:

As you can see there is definitely some cross over with the AP Art History, but my lessons differ enough to make it interesting for those students who take me for both courses.


I break up the class into groups of four students, each one assigned one of the images above. Each person in the group has a task to accomplish:

  1. One artist will create a representation of the image based on information given
  2. One researcher will provide the group will all the information they need to complete their tasks
  3. One writer will complete a Prehistoric Art Form with basic information on their assigned image and assist to write the short presentation
  4. One presenter will put everything together and showcase the group’s created image and deliver a short presentation on their assigned image


The Human Figure in Prehistoric Art

human figure prehistoric art

I cover Prehistoric of the Natural World day 1 of my Prehistoric Unit and the human figure day two. I use this day to look at symbolic representations of the human body. The images in this lesson from the AP Art History 250 are:

For bellwork, each student gets a color image of their assigned artwork and are instructed to look deeply for clues. I do give them a hint that all the figures are humanoid (especially useful for the Terra Cotta fragment!). Then, in their groups of 4, they discuss the theme of the human figure in Global Prehistoric art:

  • What seems to be the most important aspect of depicting human figures?
  • In your opinion, why are humans depicted in Prehistoric art?
  • How do these images differ in their depiction of humans? How are they similar?

Afterwards, we regroup as a whole class and I point out some major things I want them to know about the images. At the end of the lesson (if there is time), I have a short video from Khan Academy, A brief history of the representation of the body in Western sculpture, just to preview some later artworks.



Teaching the Natural World in Prehistory


I group all the Prehistoric images that focus on the natural world (i.e. animals) together in a PowerPoint and teach the historical context of hunters-and-gatherers through the art they have left behind. My PowerPoints have hardly any words on them because I want to train my students to look and discuss to get the answers. As I always tell them: “In Art History, 50% of the answers are right in front of your face, you just have to know how to look.”

I try to separate form and content in this lesson to illustrate how they are distinct parts of art analysis but inevitably linked. Form is focused on how the piece looks while content is an extension of form specifically looking at the story/narrative/symbolism seen in the image.

Apollo 11 Stones


This piece is good for teaching some basic art history terms, such as: profile, composite view/twisted perspective, negative/positive space. It also has the distinction of being the oldest image in the Art History 250 so there is some room for discussion on accurately dating Prehistoric images, but I don’t focus too much on that.

Camelid sacrum in the shape of a canine


For this image (which I really don’t like FYI…) I mostly focus on materials and techniques because that is something that sets it apart from some of the other Prehistoric images in the 250. Students find it really cool that this piece is made from bone, specifically the bone of a camel-like animal. However, there are a lot of questions about its function so I present some theories and their supporting evidence but don’t focus on that too much.

Great Hall of the Bulls


With the cave painting images from Lascaux my students can begin to speculate on content (which is the story or symbolism presented). Because there are so many figures overlapping each other, some of my students suggest a whole host of ideas from a stampede to migration patterns. However, we enter into the region of content very carefully not to over speculate and immediately assume that we know the motivation behind this enigmatic Prehistoric piece.

Sometimes I asked the students to see if they can find content in these pieces and make them back up all of their elaborate story-telling with facts from the form. Quickly, they see that Prehistoric images can “develop” into multiple stories, depending all on how you look at it.

Beaker with Ibex Motifs


I begin teaching the beaker by having the class describe the form without any hints from me, as I slowly release hints and guided questions:

  • What part of the “natural” world is depicted here?
  • How many types of animals do you see?
  • How are they stylized?
  • What do you know about those animals today (i.e. wild/domesticated)
  • Why would these types of animals be on this vase?
  • Do you think this piece is Paleolithic or Neolithic? What supports your answer?
  • What may be the function of this piece?
  • What does the believed function of this piece tell us about the culture that created it?

The beaker is great to compare with the Great Hall of the Bulls because they are two pieces that show multiple animals and can address what has changed from the Paleolithic (Great Hall of Bulls) to Neolithic (Beaker with Ibex Motifs). Be sure to also address medium/media with this piece. It is terracotta and that indicates the development of pottery which is more important during Neolithic Period than Paleolithic because of the heavy use of grains in their diet and more sedentary lifestyle.

Ambum Stone


There isn’t much on this piece (as with many Prehistoric pieces…) so I focus on my discussion on the form, especially introduction the ideas of mythical or composite animal and the stylization of art subjects.

Something that I think is also important for AP Art History students to realize, especially pertinent with the Ambum Stone, is location. I have a HUGE 8 x 17″ world map in my classroom where I add images from the Global Prehistory as I teach them so students can see the geographical range of this Content Area. Most art history textbooks mainly discuss Prehistoric works from Europe or Africa and largely neglect the rich artifacts available from Non-Western areas such as the Pacific, the Americas, East Asia, or the Middle East. Considering that when depicting the Natural World, an artist’s environment directly reflects what they depict, explaining the geographical spread of Prehistoric artwork in the 250 is especially important.

If you don’t have an oversized map like I do you can easily include a slide at the end of your PowerPoint or provide students with a map to fill in as you go along!


Teaching Stonehenge

I teach Stonehenge in both my AP Art History and Humanities classes. Although there is a good deal of overlap, I teach it quiet differently in each classes (mostly because I have a few students who take me for both and I do not want them to be bored!). These lessons can also be adapted for a World History or Civilizations course – just change-up the articles used depending on your focus.

Art History

As groups of 4, each student grabs a different article from the center (see Archaeology & Smithsonian articles in the Resources section below). I try to make sure there are a diverse amount of articles floating around the classroom at various reading levels. Once I start to notice students are finished reading, I signal them to build a full discussion of the form, function, content, and context (FFCC) of Stonehenge in their small groups as I walk around to hear their remarks.


After their small group discussion, I pull up a PowerPoint slide of vocabulary words they need to know and actively use in our whole-class discussion to follow. Here are the words I teach:

  • Henge: Neolithic monument characterized by a circular ground-plan which was believed to be used for rituals and marking astronomical events
  • Lintel: horizontal beam over an opening
  • Megalith: an uncut stone of great size
  • Mortise-and-tenon: a method of construction in which a groove is cut into stone or wood, called a mortise, that is shaped to receive a projection, a tenon
  • Post-and-Lintel: a method of construction in which two vertical posts support a horizontal beam, a lintel

Then, as a class, we build a very in-depth FFCC (sometimes there are different ideas for function and construction and we discuss the viability of each theory in turn). After our discussion I show a short video, English Heritage: Who built Stonehenge?, to end the class.



I take two days to teach this Prehistoric site in Humanities because the kids really enjoy learning about such a well-known monument and they get into deep discussion.

Day 1

As groups of 4, each student grabs a different article from the center (the same articles as AP Art History plus a few more “fun” ones like “Stonehenge Visitors Used To Be Handed Chisels to Take Home Souvenirs“). Once I start to notice the groups are finished reading, I signal them to discuss the similarities and differences in their small group, walking around to hear their discussions.

After their small group discussion, I have a set of PowerPoint images with questions about Stonehenge’s creation, materials, function, culture or society, recent news, oddities (hello aliens!) and so on. 🙂 We go through the questions as a class and students that had articles that answer parts of the questions get to share their knowledge. Once we have exhausted our whole-class discussion, I have a short clip, Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites (UNESCO/NHK) (3:15 minutes long) to pull together all the important information.

As you can see, I do little direct teaching here but I use my questions to guide them to important information and I make sure my questions can be answered by at least 2 different articles in the crowd.

Summer Solstice at Stonehenge

Day 2

Today is simple: we watch the NOVA Secrets of Stonehenge documentary (53:07) & complete the guided questions.


There are numerous resources on Stonehenge so these are just the ones in my personal arsenal:


title image:


Student Series! A Caveman’s Way of Creating Art

a caveman's way of creating art.pngCreated from approximately 16,000-14,000 BCE, the Hall of the Bulls was rediscovered in 1940. These amazing murals show the techniques and intuition of the Paleolithic society that thrived in what is today modern-day France.


Materials & Painting Technique

Paleolithic artists of the Lascaux caves in France were surprisingly creative in their techniques in painting the animal scenes. The caves offered a perfect site for these paintings because of its white walls. Built-up calcite created a highly reflective surface and a clean white canvas for the painters to create on. Being surrounded by natural resources, the cavemen used minerals to create colors such as red, brown, orange, and yellow.

Once they ground up these minerals, they applied them to the wall by brushes, plant stems, or bones. The brushes consisted of animal hair at the end of sticks, although no traces of these brushes have been found within the cave. They also utilized plant stems by sticking them into the mineral paint and drawing on the walls with them.

Evidence of hollowed out bones had been found in the cave and are believed to have been used to blow paint onto the walls as shown below. The bone tools may also helped the artists create the amazing use of shading applied to the animals. They most likely used the plant stems to form the many silhouettes seen that could then be filled in with the hollowed out bone.




The artists painted to show meaning, not to be realistic. The animals were painted in a composite view so that the viewers could see the head from the front but also so one could see both horns. It was important to show that the animal had two distinctive horns because the artist wanted to make sure the viewer knew it was a bull. If they had hidden one horn behind the other as it would be seen in real life, it wouldn’t send the same message. People of this era weren’t concerned with reality or making images accurate. What mattered was the meaning, which suggests that the paintings were made for religious or ritual purposes instead of being open to the public. This is supported by the fact that it was hard to access the paintings because they were located in a distant shaft.

Deep within the caves, the shaft with the murals had no natural sunlight coming through. This means that the painters must have used some artificial light to illuminate the walls. It has been suggested that candles made of animal fat were used in order to create a long-lasting light source. They also may have used torches made of the plant material nearby. Either way, these devices must have created flickering light, which may have affected how the caveman painted his or her image.

Despite the lack of light, ready-made paints, and efficient tools, the artists of the Hall of the Bulls were able to create beautiful pictures that are awesome and are pretty unbelievable saying as we tend to view cavemen as “ugga” and “ugga” who just grunt to communicate. Plus, their techniques are still utilized today. Modern artists still draw, and blow pens are available in our stores to create the same effects of the hollowed out bones. In this way, the Paleolithic painters began a process thousands of years ago that we continue with today.

cover & title image: