En la Clase: Teaching About Frida Kahlo

Frida CanvasAs you’ve read in recent posts, this month we’re celebrating women’s history through sharing resources about strong Latin American and Latina women.  With such a focus, it would be remiss not to highlight Frida Kahlo as part of this month.  Of course, we would advocate for teaching about Kahlo anytime of year, but I think she is of incredible importance when we’re discussing women who have changed the way in which we think about female identity and the role of women in society. We’ve made great strides in gender equality, and it’s important to recognize the multitudes of women (and men) who have helped to make that happen.  I particularly appreciated the discussion in the article “Embracing the Modern Female Heroine–In All Her Forms” by the Children’s Book Cooperative (CBC).  It’s vital that we continue to highlight the ways in which we are challenging and redefining what it means to be a woman in today’s society because it is certainly happening and our students need to be aware of it:

While the challenges of ethnic, racial, and sexual diversity still loom large, I found some comfort this past year in seeing an emergence of strong, complex, and challenging female characters depicted in modern entertainment. Women depicted making morally questionable choices.  Women whose principle dilemmas didn’t revolve around a dashing leading man. Women who took on what society often dictates as standard male personality traits (physical and emotional strength, relentless determination, and even questionable moral conduct) and redefined them as their own. Women who traveled down paths of their own making, shaped by a clear understanding of who they are as people, and holding onto that identity with all they have.” (From Embracing the Modern Female Heroine–In All Her Forms)

The Tate Museum offers a description of Kahlo that demonstrates the ways in which she fits much of the description offered above:

Frida Kahlo can be seen as one of the most significant artists of the twentieth century, not just in her native Mexico, but worldwide. Repeatedly painting her own image, she built up a body of work that explored her identity as a woman, artist, Mexican, disabled person and political activist. A remarkable range of self-portraits show how she constructed an image for herself, and, with her flamboyant Mexican costumes, jewellery and exotic pets, ultimately made herself into something of an icon. Other artworks reveal how she explored the pain she suffered from a spine injury and the difficulties of her relationship with Diego Rivera, the famous Mexican muralist whom she twice married. As well as taking inspiration from her own life, Kahlo drew upon a wide range of influences including Surrealism, ancient Aztec belief, popular Mexican folklore, eastern philosophy and medical imagery.”  (From the Tate Museum: Introduction to Frida Kahlo)

There are numerous resources available for teaching about Kahlo, so in today’s post I’ve highlighted three of my favorites.  We’d love to Frida Blue House Diegohear about any other teaching materials you’ve used in the comments.

One of my favorite resources is created by the Tate Museum.  Through their unit plan students explore pairs of works that are studied and analyzed as they relate to specific themes, such as “Belief Systems and Links with Nature,” Constructing Identities,” “Relationships, Politics and Constructing Identities,” “National Identities,” and “The Broken Body, Illness, Disability.”  For each theme there is an activity created for primary and secondary classes.  To give you a sense of what you’ll find throughout the guide, for one theme, primary students learn how to make mood masks, while secondary students look at body language and clothing through keeping a sketch book journal.

Teacher’s Network has a four lesson unit on “Frida Kahlo and The Art of Self-Portraiture” created by Jessica Rivera.  The unit is based on lesson plans implemented with third grade students. While teaching about Kahlo, the unit also covers a number of technological and academic subject objectives.  Students will be exposed to skills and rules for using the internet, along with practice in using other technology tools such as scanners and/or digital cameras.  Students will also learn how to create a virtual museum. Reading and writing across genres is also incorporated into the unit.

Viva Frida PapelKimball Art Center has a wonderful lesson plan focused entirely on teaching students how to draw a self-portrait within the context of teaching about Kahlo.  It is a simple and straightforward unit plan that can be easily adapted for a variety of grade levels.  Visit the website or download the word document.

With so many excellent books on Kahlo, it’d be easy to mix and match the lesson plans shared here with a literacy unit on historical fiction or biography.  One of my favorite books is Yuyi Morales’ Viva Frida (all the illustrations included here are from this book). Lorraine did an entire post on this book last spring.  Below I’ve listed a few other titleyou may want to check out.

Jake also wrote a great post on “WWW: Food, Fashion, and Fridamania” that you may enjoy.

Until Next Week,


Images: Modified from Viva Frida. Illustrator: Yuyi Morales. Photographer: Tim O’Meara.


4 thoughts on “En la Clase: Teaching About Frida Kahlo

  1. Pingback: National Picture Book Month | Vamos a Leer

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  4. Pingback: ¡Mira, Look!: Danza! Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México | Vamos a Leer

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