The Art of Creating Activities: Using Museum Websites for Language Teaching

As we all know, the Internet has opened up a wealth of learning opportunities. The trick is to find a resource and then figure out how to use it. While reading my favorite magazine, The Week, I discovered that the world’s museums have been busy making much of its contents available to people who cannot physically visit them. The Louvre, the Hermitage Museum, and the Smithsonian are three such institutions. 

Not every trip to Paris allows time for a day at the Louvre (at least, that’s been my experience). Now anyone can go online and take a virtual tour. If your students do so, remind them to select English on the home page before they begin the tour! Here another possibility.

  • Choose Kaleidoscope and select a visual theme, such as “Daily Life”. Click to enlarge or zoom in on the images in the order you wish the class to view them. Have students state a brief description of what they see using targeted grammar. Be sure students know the words painting, sculpture, work of art, and any other vocabulary relevant to the pieces you’ll be showing. Examples: (present progress) “Seated Man Writing” is a sculpture. The man is sitting, and he is writing. / (adjective clauses) “Reading” (by Fragonard) is a drawing in which two women are sitting. One is reading. The other, who is dressed in a beautiful gown, is in the front, and she is listening.


The Louvre
Virtual visits to the Hermitage are also possible. Here’s an idea to develop reading skills.

  • Attend the Virtual Academy. Challenge upper level students to read for details. For example, if they select the “course” on the history of the Winter Palace, they could be given this list of questions to answer as they move through the slide presentation.

Model: [Slides 1-6]

  1. Who lived at the Winter Palace?
  2. How did Russia’s relationship with Sweden influence the construction of the Winter Palace?
  3. Name at least two positive contributions Peter I made to Russia.
  4. How did Elizabeth choose to decorate the palace and why?
  5. Who was the first true owner of the palace?
The Hermitage

Of the three, I found the Smithsonian site to be the most attractive. Maybe the appeal had to do with the introductory video hosted by the popular American actor Ben Stiller. The video itself could be used for listening, speaking, and vocabulary practice.

  • Comprehension questions based on the video (first 3 minutes)
  1. Who founded the Smithsonian?
  2. How large is the Smithsonian?
  3. (1:40) What does Ben Stiller emphasize “the” when he says, “A lot of people think the castle…is the Smithsonian”?
  4. (2:09) Retell the story of the “The Peacock Room” designed by the artist Whistler.
  • Vocabulary. Listen to the video (first 3 minutes) and explain the meaning of these phrases:
  1. (1:05) hall of fame
  2. (1:37) (not) kidding around
  3. (2:21) went to town (on it)
  4. (2:57) crack a code


Got another suggestion for using one of these sites? Please share it.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. englishcentrerome. Corsi di Inglese a Roma says:

    Looks really useful. Will use in class.

    1. Wonderful. Thank you for posting your comment!

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