ESL and Art: Self Portrait Lesson Plan

This is an art lesson I do with my students, from fifth grade to high school. This lesson is about 50% art lesson and 50% English lesson (although, the whole thing is taught in English). You can watch the video below to see how I execute the lesson; otherwise, just read on!


Lesson Details:

Age Group: Fifth/Sixth Grade to High School

Objectives: To teach students about self portraits and adjectives describing themselves (and their peers); to encourage students to think about their talents, what they like about themselves, and what they like about others.

Prep Time: ~30 minutes

Lesson Time: ~50 minutes


Materials (for 10 students) (Include one extra so you can do it with students.)

  • 10 laminating sheets or transparent sheets
  • 10 black permanent markers
  • 2-4 sets of permanent markers in assorted colors
  • Various colors of construction paper that will fit inside/under the transparent sheets
  • A printed black and white picture of each student on regular white paper (see prep materials below)
  • Optional: Laminating machine
  • Optional: A PPT explaining this process and what a self-portrait is

Prep Materials:

  • Camera/camera phone
  • A way to upload photos for printing (computer/laptop plus a way to view and print photos, such as Microsoft Word/Powerpoint, or any photo software)
  • A printer with black&white ink


1. Take photos of your students, from the shoulders up, against a white background. They can smile or do a cute pose.

2. Print these pictures in BLACK AND WHITE, not color. Tip: Edit the pictures to high contrast if you can, so that the shadows and light areas are easily discernable. You can do this in Word or PowerPoint.

3. Explain what a self-portrait is. Look at some famous examples, and some real-life examples from other students (you can use Google).

4. Slip the photos inside the laminating sheets, or under a transparent sheet. If using a transparent sheet, use paperclips to hold the sheet and photo together.

5. Trace the picture with the black permanent marker. Students can use a colored marker if they wish. The easiest way is to begin with the outline of key areas: the hair, cheeks, chin, and neck. Then keep tracing the outline of smaller features, and finally trace details (such as eyelashes, palm lines, wrinkles in clothes).

Remind students NOT to color/shade in anything. Just use lines!

Students can add the words/decoration in Step 7.

6. Remove the photo and replace it with a colored sheet of paper.

7. Students should write 3-5+ adjectives about themselves on their picture. Encourage them to use dictionaries, get help from each other, or even describe words to you so you can help them with the correct English word. They can write these words in funky fonts and different colors.

8. Now they can draw pictures about their personalities: their likes/dislikes, hobbies, heritage, goals, etc.

9. After this, you can laminate the papers, leave them as they are, or remove the colored paper completely.

Laminated portrait

Optional: After writing about themselves and laminating, have students pass their pictures around and write on each others’ pictures. They can write one comment/adjective about a good quality of another student on that student’s paper, sort of like a yearbook.

cbflis students art class

Finished! Review different adjectives the students learned today. You can have students share their pictures and have other students comment on what they like about that student.

art and esl self portrait drawings

art esl self portrait drawing lesson

Let me know how the lesson turns out for you, and if you made other modifications! I’ll have more ESL Art lessons on the blog soon!

About Atembe

Atembe is a Cameroonian-American who is exactly 27 years old (because saying "20-something" is SO 2016) and currently teaching kiddos art and English in South Korea. In her free time she's dancing, drinking too much celebrity tea, living vicariously through characters in her favorite TV comedies, or [sometimes] letting her husband Eric beat her at Wii. Catch her on Twitter or Instagram via @sothisisfate, and for a faster response, tweet her a "TAR!..."

1 comment on “ESL and Art: Self Portrait Lesson Plan

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