Standard Lesson

Outside In: Finding A Character's Heart Through Art

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Four 50-minute sessions
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Alienation is an important theme in contemporary literature, and it's an idea that adolescents need to confront in order to fully understand what it means to be a human being in our modern world. This activity, based on the art of Edward Hopper and combined with fiction by Raymond Carver, allows students to explore the idea of alienation while tapping into their creative talents as they learn to create vivid characters through voice. Students view and reflect on several Hopper paintings before selecting one as a focus. Working in small groups, students brainstorm everything they can about a character in the painting. They then write a powerful monologue from their character that express the loneliness that pervades modern society. They share their monologues with other groups and revise them based on peer feedback. This work is especially appealing to visual learners who can read paintings as well as pages.

From Theory to Practice

By combining fiction by Raymond Carver and paintings by Edward Hopper, this lesson plan helps "students understand . . . the essential sense of alienation in contemporary life that, paradoxically, connects us all. In doing this, [Carver and Hopper give] teachers and students a place to begin discussion of what it means to be a human being in our modern world, and there begins the development of empathy" (30). The process begins by exploring the stories behind the images depicted in the paintings by Edward Hopper. "These paintings give students a strong visual portrayal of the same people, places, and emotions that Carver captures in his fiction" (31). The technique is at once both simple and sophisticated:

Many of the characteristics of minimalist fiction-from the coolly realistic settings to the aching but unexpressed emotion, from the comfortable familiarity of common characters and brand names . . . to the menacing undercurrent of mystery, from the immediacy of the present scene to the unresolved ambiguity of its outcome-are reflected in Hopper's paintings. As they create lives for Hopper's subjects, students, especially visual learners, can find another door into Carver's world.


Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 9. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology




  • Collect samples of Edward Hopper’s art. A number of Hopper’s paintings are available online or through slides; however, it is often more effective to give students a physical copy to hold and examine as they work. For that reason, art prints, pages from an Edward Hopper calendar, or even Hopper postcards work particularly well.

  • Choose the specific paintings that students will use for their monologues. Six paintings are available in the Travelogues, if online paintings are the best option for your class.

  • Obtain copies of Raymond Carver stories that will be read.

  • Familiarize yourself with biographical material on Hopper and Carver. Useful Websites are listed in the Resources section. Additional information on Carver is found in Chapter One “Where Life and Art Intersect” in Raymond Carver in the Classroom “A Small, Good Thing” by Susanne Rubenstein (NCTE, 2005).

  • Prepare copies of the Reflection Sheet for students’ self-assessment.

  • Test the Painting Travelogues (see links in the Resources section) on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tools and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • examine the art of Edward Hopper and discuss the themes of his work.

  • analyze the design of a monologue and consider how voice reveals character.

  • apply their knowledge to write their own monologues.

  • compare their writing to the voices of characters in Carver's stories.

  • develop an understanding of the concept of alienation in terms of contemporary literature.

Session One

  1. Explain that this session will focus on exploring Hopper’s paintings and beginning to consider what Hopper is trying to express in his art.

  2. Hang pieces of Hopper’s art around the room and ask students to move from painting to painting, writing down quick first impressions of the works. Ask them to consider the overall mood, the use of color, the interplay of light and dark, their sense of the situation that is depicted, and so forth.

  3. Ask students to share their reactions to the paintings. Generally students use certain words over and over again, describing Hopper’s figures as sad, isolated, cut off, desperate, distant.

  4. Ask students to talk about his use of windows as ways to “see in,” but also “to cut off.”

  5. Guide students to think about Hopper’s use of shadows and pools of light.

  6. Encourage them to share their ideas about the situations the characters are in (i.e.“her husband has left her,” “she’s leaving home,” “he’s done something bad and feels guilty.) Often students offer a series of scenarios that reflect characters feeling enormous loss and loneliness.

  7. Allow students to form small groups of three to four, with each group choosing one particular painting to focus on. If desired, ask students to choose one of the paintings included in the Travelogues.

  8. Tell students that their ultimate goal will be to write a monologue in the voice of the figure in the painting. If more than one figure is in the painting, the group should decide which will be the subject.

  9. Ask students to brainstorm everything they can about the character. Use one of the Travelogues to guide students’ explorations of the images; or use the Questions for Exploring an Edward Hopper Painting handout, which asks them the following questions:

    • Write down any words or images that you connect to the character.

    • Write down any phrases that you can imagine the character speaking or thoughts that you can imagine the character thinking.

    • Why is the character speaking? Whom is the character speaking to?

    • Where is the character now? What is happening to her right now?

    • What has happened to the character in the past?

    • What other thoughts come to mind when you think about the character in the painting?
  10. Encourage each group to amass material which they can then sift through in order to choose the most interesting and appropriate ideas.

Session Two

  1. Ask students what they know about monologues. Students with dramatic experience will likely talk about dramatic performances. Most students are familiar with monologues in Shakespeare’s work. Others understand the concept of monologue from late night shows like David Letterman or stand-up comedians. Suggest to students that they might have even been the unwelcome recipient of a monologue from a stranger in a waiting room or on the street!

  2. Guide students to develop a definition of monologue that includes the following ideas:

    1. It is spoken in the first person.

    2. There is an implied listener/audience.

    3. Through the monologue the character reveals his/her nature/personality.

    4. Through the monologue the character reveals facts about his/her situation.

    5. The character’s “voice” (vocabulary, diction, pacing, etc.) communicates c and d.

  3. Ask each group to use the material generated in the previous class session, and make decisions about what they believe should be part of the written monologue.

  4. Begin first draft writing through a collaborative group effort.

Session Three

  1. Tell each group to pair up with another group and share its monologue. The responding group should offer positive comments as well as suggestions for improvement with the focus on the voice of the character and the clarity of the character’s situation.

  2. Direct both groups to note the similarities in their monologues in terms of character and situation and use of particular words.

  3. Ask groups to be prepared to share these comparisons with the entire class after the response period.

  4. Tell students to use response material to continue revising and rewriting their monologues until they reach a final draft stage.

  5. Determine with student input how much additional time is need for completion, and allow additional class sessions if necessary.

Session Four

  1. Ask each group, one after another, to read its final monologue with no discussion in between. This sort of “choral reading” allows students to hear vividly the connections among the characters and to appreciate how powerfully Hopper’s works express the idea of alienation.

  2. After the reading is complete, ask students to discuss how Hopper achieves this theme in his paintings. This discussion also offers an excellent opportunity for the “artists” in the class to share their special expertise.

  3. Following this discussion, either introduce students to the work of Raymond Carver (see list of selected stories) or, if students have already read Carver, ask them to think back to the stories they have read.

  4. Guide students to see how both artist and writer illuminate similar themes through their work, and how these themes are prevalent in contemporary life. Ask questions that help students to see that the work of both Hopper and Carver reveals the loneliness and sense of isolation that seems to be a paradoxical yet inevitable part of America’s continuing growth and success. For example, the monologue students create for the character in Hopper’s “Morning Sun” might, for example, parallel the feelings of the woman whose husband is leaving in Carver’s story “Little Things,” or perhaps the man in “Sunlight in a Cafeteria” is like L.D in “One More Thing,” wanting desperately to speak but at a complete loss for words. Students generally discover that the language they use in these monologues is also very similar to the simple, terse, stripped down language of Carver’s fiction, and this allows teachers to lead students into a discussion of how the minimalist style of writing best captures the sense of alienation in modern culture.


  • As a form of student publication, the monologues can be hung alongside the Hopper art work, almost in a “museum” design.

  • Edward Hopper’s paintings can also be used in conjunction with the work of other writers. Among the possibilities are the following:

    • Hopper’s Nighthawks is often connected to Hemingway’s short story “The Killers,” originally published in Scribner’s Magazine in March 1927. Some believe that Hemingway’s story, the tale of two hired gunmen who wait for their prey to enter a diner, may have inspired Nighthawks.

    • Two works edited by Hopper scholar Gail Levin, The Poetry of Solitude: A Tribute to Edward Hopper and Silent Places: A Tribute to Edward Hopper, offer fascinating literary connections to Hopper’s work. The first is a collection of poems about Hopper’s work and includes poems by Joyce Carol Oates, John Updike, and Stephen Dunn among others. The second presents excerpts from fiction that make reference to Hopper’s art with accompanying images and includes such writers as Stuart Dybek, Lawrence Block and Michael Connelly.

      • Levin, Gail, ed. The Poetry of Solitude:A Tribute to Edward Hopper. New York: Universe Publishing, 1995.

      • Levin Gail, ed. Silent Places: A Tribute to Edward Hopper. New York: Universe Publishing, 2000.

Student Assessment / Reflections

The teacher can grade each monologue as a complete writing assignment with each group member receiving the same grade because it is a collaborative effort.

Another approach, however, is to also ask each student to turn in an individual Reflection Sheet and include that response as part of the individual grade or as a separate grade entirely.

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