Susan Riley | April 2016

Expository Writing with Van Gogh

One of the comments being shared over and over again in our Facebook Think Tank Group is about how to engage students in deeper expository writing.  This can definitely prove to be a tricky area with students – informational text can be dry and not as much “fun” as narrative texts.  So when you’re asked to write something that is informational and provides supporting evidence it can seem even more, shall we say, boring.

To help you out, we’ve created a free unit on how to teach expository writing using the works of Vincent Van Gogh. This unit is geared towards students in grades 4-6, but it could easily be adjusted up or down depending on how you tweak a few of the pieces of texts used.


I was recently inspired after visiting the Art Institute of Chicago and seeing their Bedrooms of Van Gogh exhibit.  The show provides lots of background information about the three variations of the painting The Bedroom in Arles.  It shares letters that Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo, as well as the three paintings themselves.  Seeing them all made it so clear that within just a year, Van Gogh revised, edited, and grew as an artist.  He essentially painted the same scene three times, with subtle differences in each painting.

van gogh bedrooms

Image source:


This sets the scene for a perfect tie-in with expository text.  Viewing the paintings in conjunction with the letters that Van Gogh wrote, students are able to explore the patterns of description, process, and comparison easily in the works.  We actually start the unit with a different set of paintings from Van Gogh – the Sunflowers series from both Paris and Arles.  This gives students the chance to start with the art, and then move into pulling out the details and information provided in the series.

Inside the arts integration unit, you’ll find all of the examples of artwork, a video, a sequence for teaching expository writing, and two separate projects for students, as well as all of the handouts and the assessments.  And of course, it’s all aligned with both Common Core and National Core Arts Standards.

To view and use the Expository Writing unit, just click here.

If you’re a member, you’ll be asked to login to see the unit.  If you’re not yet a member, it will ask you to create a FREE account and then you can get on with the business of using the content.  Here’s to no more boring writing lessons!