Posted 4/9/07

The Venus of Willendorf is an icon of prehistoric art. It is housed in the Museum of Natural History in Vienna. One day, a visitor to the museum asks a guide how old it is. The guide replies that it is 25 thousand years and 8 months old. The visitor is surprised and asks the guide how he can be so exact. The guide replies, “Well, it was 25 thousand years old when I started working here and that was 8 months ago.
  • Language level: Elementary; Pre-intermediate (A2)
  • Learner type: Young learners; Teens; Adults, CLIL
  • Time: 60-90 minutes
  • Activity: Listening; Drawing; Making questions
  • Topic: Art
  • Language: Question forms
  • Materials: Images
The Venus of Willendorf pdf [downloaded 2132 times]

Lesson plan outline

  1. Write The Venus of Willendorf on the board and ask your students if they can tell you what it is and what they know about it.
  2. Show students an image of the Venus of Willendorf (click here).
  3. Tell your students that you are going to ask them to draw a picture. Ask everyone to have a pen or pencil and a piece of blank paper ready.
  4. Tell everyone to put down their pens (no drawing yet!) and then give the following instructions:
  5. “I want you to draw a picture of a visitor in the Museum of Natural History of Vienna. He or she is pointing to the Venus of Willendorf and speaking to a guide. The Venus of Willendorf is in a glass case in the foreground of the picture. The visitor and the guide are in the background. The visitor is on the left hand side and the guide is on the right hand side. There are two large speech bubbles: One coming out of the visitor’s mouth and another coming out of the guide’s mouth.”
  6. Before students draw their pictures, ask them to relay the instructions back to you (there is a lot of useful language here). You could even ask them to write them down.
  7. Let everyone draw their pictures – one drawing per person. Tell them not to write anything in the speech bubbles at this stage. The drawings don’t have to be masterpieces.
  8. After letting everyone compare their artwork, ask students to suggest what the visitor and the guide are saying to each other. Be prepared for rude ideas, especially if you are teaching teens. Note that the speech bubbles should still be left blank at this stage.
  9. Tell students that the visitor is asking a question. Elicit a few possibilities and write them on the board. Help with grammar and language as you go. Some example questions:
    • Why is she called the ‘Venus of Willendorf’?
    • Where does she get her name?
    • How long has it been in this museum?
    • How did the museum acquire it?
    • Did they discover anything else next to it?
    • What was it used for?
    • What do we know about the people who made it?
    • Who made it?
    • What does it represent? / What does it mean? / What do you think it meant to the people who made it?
    • How much is it worth? / Is it valuable?
  10. Draw a cloud on the board that contains the following items:
  11. Use the answers in the cloud to elicit more possible questions that the visitor asks. Each time a question is successfully constructed, score of the answer from the cloud and add the question to the board if it is not already there.
  12. Q: What is it?
    A: A statuette

    Q: What is it made of?
    A: Limestone

    Q: How was it made?
    A: It was carved

    Q: Where is it kept / displayed / housed?
    A: The Museum of Natural History in Vienna

    Q: Who discovered it? / Who was it discovered by?
    A: Josef Szombathy

    Q: Why is it important?
    A: It is an icon of prehistoric art

    Q: When was it discovered?
    A: 1908

    Q: Where was it discovered? / Where is it from?
    A: Near Willendorf, a village in Austria

    Q: When does it date to? / When does it date from? / How old is it?
    A: Sometime between 24,000 and 22,000 BC

  13. Divide your class into two groups: Group A and Group B.
  14. Bring students’ attention back to their drawings. Tell them that you are going to dictate the captions for the speech bubbles. Dictate the following:
  15. For A students only – to be written in the visitor’s speech bubble:
    Can you tell me how old this statuette is?

    For A students only – to be written in the guide’s speech bubble:
    Yes, it’s 25 thousand years and 8 months old.

    For B students only – to be written in the visitor’s speech bubble:
    How can you be so exact?

    For B students only – to be written in the guide’s speech bubble:
    Well, it was 25 thousand years old when I started working here and that was 8 months ago.

  16. Put your students’ drawings up on the classroom wall. Make sure that you pair up student A drawings with student B drawings so that the comic strip makes sense.

Follow up

Ask students to go online and find out the answers to any of the unanswered questions that arose in step 9.

Variation

Use the same joke for any of the following:

  • Other examples of prehistoric art
  • Early tools or artefacts
  • The Tyrannosaurus Rex (64 million years and 8 months old)

“I want you to draw a picture of a visitor in the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. He or she is pointing to the skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex and speaking to a guide. The guide is standing on the left and the visitor is standing on the right. The T. rex skeleton is in the background, facing left. There are two large speech bubbles – one coming out of the visitor’s mouth and another coming out of the guide’s mouth.”
Posted 4/9/07

4 Responses to The Venus of Willendorf

  1. Ines says:

    Thanks!! The lesson plan you devised fits like a glove a CLIL course I’m teaching, and I know quite little about sculpture, so it’s always good to have input from talented colleagues. Great use of images to prompt language and interaction. Will be on the lookout for your resources from now on, and as soon as your book arrives in Uruguay, South America, I’ll be buying it.

  2. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank you Ines
    I used this activity 2 days ago. I’m with a group of teachers from China and they were going to visit Norwich castle. I set up the trip with this activity (a few changes made):

    * Situation: A visitor looking around Norwich castle.
    * Age: 900 years and 3 weeks old

    Here are the questions they came up with:

    * How did it survive the war?
    * What was it used for?
    * Do you have any anecdotes about the castle?
    * Are there any legends associated with the castle?
    * Are there any valuable antiques or artefacts here?
    * Who built and when?
    * How high is it?
    * Was it ever restored or reconstructed?

    They got a guided tour but the guide spoke a bit too fast and they all thought that it was their fault that they didn’t understand him!

    Jamie :)

  3. Emese Molnar-Kovacs says:

    I liked you idea, it’s very useful in teaching primary school children. In my country (Romania) we have history classes for the 4th grade students
    (age 9/10) so I developed a little role-play game based on this lesson, and we use it to review several history lessons in the class. Course, we use our native tongue to do that.
    Thanks!
    Emese (primary school teacher)

  4. Jamie Keddie says:

    Hello Emese
    I am always happy to hear from teachers of other subjects and how they can make use of these activities.
    Thank you for your comment
    Jamie :-)