A (class) Museum without Walls

Lesson Name: A (class) Museum without Walls

Primary Museum Pedagogy: Narrativity and Class-as-Curator/Putting it All Together

Course Title and Description: Advanced Foreign Language / ESL course

Lesson Overview: This assignment invites students to draft a collective narrative based on artworks on display in museums located nearby their college (here, NYC). The different stages of the curating process along with the final outcome is archived on a class blog. Ultimately, the students go visit some of the artworks featuring the class thematic exhibition, and compare the display they created with the “physical”, existing one.


  • Developing critical insights into digital, museal and visual displays in different cultural contexts
  • Creative Writing, Collaborative writing
  • Vocabulary Acquisition
  • Secondary source research

Pedagogical Considerations & Content Objectives:

  • Students are introduced to the task of museum curators as storytellers. This assignment fosters written and oral communication by drawing on the power of images and their ability to catch attention and spark discussion. It also taps into students’ widespread interest in “curating” visual content digitally.
  • Students are introduced to the vocabulary necessary to talk/write about art and exhibitions in the target language.
  • The assignment aims to strike a balance between cognitive knowledge acquisition (written and oral skills) and learning through socialization (creative work made collectively)


  • A list of different types of exhibitions that highlights the variety of narratives encountered in museums (typological, geographical, historical, “master” based, thematic, etc). The instructor may want to do research on recent exhibitions and provides examples from New York and museums from the countries where the target language is spoken.
  • A vocabulary list on art and exhibitions, which should be adapted to the level and target language of the class taught. The instructor may draw on existing glossaries available online, select the most useful definitions. In French, the “lexique thématique français – anglais des termes d’art” by Université Paris I is highly recommendable, although it will have to be simplified in most cases.
  • The instructor may choose the CMS they are the most comfortable with to create the class blog. WordPress is a safe bet.

In-class Activity 1: introduction

  • Introduction: Students are introduced to the task of museum curators as storytellers. The instructor walks them through most prominent types of narratives (historical, typological, geographical, thematic, etc.) to be found in NYC museums, and/or museums from the countries where the target language is spoken. It is recommended to use museums’ website. Vocabulary related to museum display in introduced in the process (the words for museum, gallery, room, display, artwork, etc.) The relevancy of each type of narrative is contextualized and discussed.
  • The instructor may want to focus on a few, specific and telling examples. In New York, The Brooklyn Museum and the Bronx Museum frequently hold thematic exhibitions, while the Metropolitan Museum regularly hold artist-based ones. On the other hand, about a half of its permanent collection is geographically designated, while the other half is non-geographical, that is either typological (the Arms and Armor room, the costums, photographs, etc.) or historical (Medieval Art, Contemporary Art, etc.)
  • Follow up: In-Class group discussion. 1/ Which museums have you already visited? Could you tell which type of display is to be found in these? 2/ Explore the websites of Centre Pompidou, The Louvre, Musée du Quai Branly, Musée du Quai d’Orsay, etc. In groups, pick exhibitions that reflect the types of organization possible (geographical, historical, etc). Explain your choices to the other groups.

Assignment & in-class activity 2

  • Show up with ideas for the topic of the class thematic exhibition. You will elect one in class.

If students don’t initially have inspiration, the instructor may provide a few suggestions (“Dreams”, “Gender bias”, “Friendship”, “Technology”…) but the class theme should come from the students. Duration will depend on the class, and the time spent in discussing the pros and cons of each theme.

  • As the instructor explains the next step, show students where they can find visual reproductions online that have fallen in the domain public. An option is to draw on museums’ online collections. Besides, If you want students to compare their final digital exhibition with the physical one, you may want to have them choose their artwork form a museum located where you teach. In the case of NYC: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection or https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/collections.
  • You may want to make sure beforehand that all the students are familiar with the CMS used to create the class blog (are all students able to log in, upload images, post, etc)
  • Introduce them to the vocabulary list on art and exhibition.

Assignment & in-class activity 3

  • Each student does research and selects an artwork form an NYC museum that fits with the theme collectively chosen.
  • They post their image on the class blog and write a short paragraph explicating why this artwork is relevant to the exhibition theme. The length required should be commensurate with class level. Students should be using words from the vocab list provided.
  • The latter part can also be done orally in class, depending on the number of students and the time allotted.

Assignment & in-class activity 4

  • In groups of 3 or 4, and after they went over/listened to their classmates’ individual presentation, students decide on the path(s) of the exhibition and form sub-topical clusters of artworks. Each group accounts for its decision, which may be based on associations of ideas and emotions. The emphasis is put not merely on describing artworks, but on the connections between one another.
  • To make this part more interactive, students may be working on hard copies of the artworks, so they can recreate in the classroom the paths they envision.
  • The paths proposed by each group are discussed. Final decisions are made.

Final Assignment and class activity [museum trip and in-class presentations]

  • Once the final form of the exhibition has taken shape and posted on the class blog, students go visit the physical display of some of the artworks featuring their digital exhibition.
  • Depending on the time allotted, students will do a written and/or oral report in which they consider the way a change of display and narrative affects the meaning of the artworks they worked on.