Circa 1900: An Art and Humanities Resource

Art Social Studies | Grade 6

Move, Read, Talk, & Write

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In 1885, the city of Calais approached French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) to make a monument commemorating an event from the Hundred Years’ War. It was to depict the heroism of six prominent townsmen, or burghers, who offered to sacrifice their lives to save Calais which had been laid siege to and defeated by the English. The monument, commissioned just over ten years after the French lost the Franco-Prussian War, was intended to inspire French patriotism. However, instead of idealizing the burghers’ heroic characteristics or presenting the volunteers with one prominent leader, Rodin chose to depict the tragic emotions of six individual men approaching their death. He wanted the viewer to understand that heroism includes determination and personal self-sacrifice.


  • Explore emotions related to heroism through movement and posing.
  • Trace characteristics of nationalism to historical events.
  • Explain the relationship between societies and their monuments.
  • Evaluate cultural contributions of individuals and groups from the past through discussion and writing.
  • Build a background for study of nationalism


  • Space for each student to move during Living Sculpture activity.
  • Sticky notes.
  • PowerPoint slides.
  • Paper or journal to write on.
  • Rodin Graphic Novel (printed color copies, one per every 2 students).
  • Picture vocabulary handout.
  • Technology with internet access for students to navigate to and read Kids Handbook on Nationalism.

Related Artwork

Living Sculpture

  1. Divide the class into pairs with one student as the sculptor and the other student as the hero sculpture. The sculptor has three minutes to “sculpt” his or her partner into a statue of what they think a hero should look like.
  2. Each pair of students uses one of the following sentence stems to describe their sculpture to the class: The idea or emotion this sculpture best represents is ____ because ____. Characteristics represented by this sculpture are ____.
  3. Build an informal word wall listing the words used to describe the hero sculptures.
  4. Tell the students they are now the sculptures and the teacher is the sculptor. Students listen and watch the teacher who will model and give the following instructions:
    • March forward, then backward. Left, right, left. Repeat three or four times.
    • Hot hands: rub hands together to “super-charge” them, increasing sensation. Then, swing your arms.
    • Combine the two: march and swing arms.
    • Bend at the right elbow as you step forward with your left foot.
    • Freeze. Right arm should be up, left foot forward. Hold the pose. Raise your right heel off the floor, shifting your weight onto the left leg. Twist a little to look over your right shoulder and open your right hand.
  5. Discuss the following questions in partners:
    1. What is the relationship between society and the characteristics desired in heroes?
    2. Why are these qualities and emotions represented?

Looking Activity

  1. Give each student four sticky notes and have them write one of the following stems on three separate notes: I see ___; I think ___; I wonder ___. On the fourth note, have them write information about the art: “Auguste Rodin, French, 1840--1917 Pierre de Wissant from the Burghers of Calais, late 1890s, bronze.”
  2. Use the PowerPoint slide for “Looking Activity”. As each slide reveals one of the three views, students will use the sentence stems on their sticky notes to answer the following questions associated with each view:
    • What is going on in this picture? What does the artist want to represent?
    • How does the artist creates emotion? Movement?
    • If this artwork could talk, what might it say?
    • What characteristics or qualities does the artist give to his subject? Did the artist want you to believe that this is a hero? What evidence do you have to support your claim?

Graphic Novel Analysis

  1. Give students between five and ten minutes to read the graphic novel silently and write a summary. Encourage students to create their own summary using complete sentences, but students can also use the following stem:
    • This passage is about the ____. It originated in the ___.
    • The effect was ____ because the passage said ____. 

    Challenge students to use the picture vocabulary handout as a resource for including academic vocabulary for discussing a topic.

  2. Divide students into pairs. One partner states their summary. The other partner adds one of the following stems to build on what their partner said:
    • You bring up an interesting point, and I also think ____.
    • I thought about that also, and I’m wondering why ____.

Discuss the graphic novel using the following questions:

  • In what countries does this story take place?
  • Look at the map on page two of the graphic novel. Why would it be important for an army to siege, or block, a shipping port?
  • The famous artist Rodin was commissioned to create a sculpture depicting this story. Where is he from? How would that influence his depiction of the burghers? What qualities would he want to represent?
  • Compare the dates when the story occurred and when the artwork was commissioned. How much time passed? Why do artists look to the past?
  • What is the relationship between this work of art and the society that commissioned it? Why would the community want this type of artwork? How does it benefit the community?

Nationalism Explanation

  1. Students work in pairs using technology to read the Kids Handbook on Nationalism which explains the lead up to and reasons for the Franco-Prussian War.
  2. Ask the following questions:
    • Compare and contrast the story of the burghers with what was happening in Rodin’s time.
    • What are the most important characteristics in both.
  3. Students answer these questions with the following stems:
    • By comparing ____ and ____, it is clear that / I realized that / I learned that ____.
    • ____ and ____ are similar because they are both ____.
  4. Students individually write a short response to the following writing prompt using terms from the picture vocabulary handout as well as the word wall list from the Living Sculpture activity:
    • How is the Burghers of Calais an example of Nationalism?
    • How would the presence of this sculpture in your city make you feel if you saw it regularly?
    • How might it influence your reaction if your government called you to serve in the military? Would it inspire you to feel courageous?

This resource is made possible in part by a grant from Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.