How to Teach Elementary-School Students About Self-Portraits


A self-portrait is a portrait, or picture, depicting the artist as the subject and created by the artist. The artist may use a photograph of himself or a mirror for help in creating the self-portrait. Elementary-school students are just starting to understand their characteristics and personal strengths. A self-portrait art project is a great way to help students learn more about themselves as well as the parts of the face and how to create them.

  • Pictures of famous self-portraits
  • White drawing paper
  • Pencils
  • Erasers
  • Oil pastels
  • Mirrors

1 Before working with students

Before working with students, gather images of self-portraits created by famous artists such as Vincent van Gogh, Frida Kahlo and Chuck Close. Post the images around the room at students' eye level to use for motivation. Select an image to focus on for the self-portrait lesson and post it at the front of the room.

2 Needed for the lesson

Position materials needed for the lesson in an area easily accessible to elementary-school students.

3 Gather students

Gather students and have them look at the self-portraits around the room. Discuss the things they all have in common and what is different about the pictures. Define what a self-portrait is. Go over the parts of the face with the students. Explain that they will be creating their own self-portraits and using their own style to accomplish a finished artwork.

4 Pass out art materials

Pass out art materials and allow students to use pencils to lightly sketch out their self-portraits. Encourage elementary-school students to use their whole paper when creating their self-portraits, having their head take up most of the space on the paper.

5 Have students

Have students use the oil pastels to color in the self-portraits. Oil pastels can be blended or left alone to create distinct lines.

6 Is finished with her

When each student is finished with her self-portrait using the oil pastels, provide her with another sheet of paper and a pencil. Have her write a paragraph about herself and her self-portrait.

7 Display the self-portraits and paragraphs

Display the self-portraits and paragraphs around the room alongside the already-displayed famous self-portraits for others to see.

Sarah Lipoff has been writing since 2008. She has been published through BabyZone, Parents, Funderstanding and Lipoff has worked as a K-12 art teacher, museum educator and preschool teacher. She holds a Bachelor of Science in K-12 art education from St. Cloud State University.