Enabling Visual (Art) Literacy

Thinking visually begs us to look closely and in detail, using visual cognition to examine, question, debate about and reflect on everything visual around us. Thinking visually requires visual literacy – learning to read images and understand what they say. Thinking in this way means we engage our imaginations and physical responses.  But it takes practice… 

AHiS teaches about ‘active looking and questioning’. It encourages visual art literacy – which goes further.

It trains us to look at human creativity – what people make as art – and to critically evaluate and reason about it. It involves the hows and whys of conceiving and making art. It asks us to think about purpose and meaning, as well as forms that art takes. It shows us how works have been or could be interpreted.   

Visual art literacy adds ‘key facts’ to learning by adding knowledge to stimulate greater understanding and depth.  Opportunities arise to appreciate, recognise and learn about different contexts of time and place. Learning through artworks can help us understand about ourselves and others. It encourages us to make connections and associations about what we see, feel and understand. 

AHiS views this kind of looking and thinking about art as the early foundations of Art History.

In the Classroom

Engaging with art translates well into school-based enquiry, using students' personal knowledge, experiences and memories as the basis for constructing new knowledge. 

Looking, thinking and talking about man-made creations can open up discussion about identity:

  • You and Me

  • Who am I?

  • Who are you?

  • Who are they?

Children as young as 5 can become citizens of the world when they look at art from the past to the present. Or art detectives when they examine visual material for clues to understand them. Or time travelers when they consider contexts of time and place. All these students can learn to hone skills for evaluating, analysing, reflecting on and communicating informed opinions. They can experience deep reflection and take ownership of their learning – beginning with their own ideas and ending with new interpretations.

This type of learning develops:

  • visual strategies for reasoning and questioning ideas and information.

  • learning to support and justify opinions

  • effective questioning

  • collaborative group work and individual reflection; and

  • communication skills

Everyone sees things differently, from personal viewpoints and perspectives. This makes visual literacy important. It explores personal and shared ideas, promotes valuable discussions and allows everyone to hold an opinion – it creates a level playing field for many students.   


Teacher Training

AHiS offers training workshops for all primary classroom teachers interested in using visual strategies in their teaching and learning.

Sessions aim to address key issues and offer teachers tested approaches for talking about, questioning and understanding art.

And more, AHiS offers teachers practice for extending students’ critical visual thinking and analysis. Keywords, discussion points, image resources and information about art works are also provided.  



Online Resources

  • Online material offers examples of lessons, schemes of work, lists of artworks (with images) and related materials (in development).

  • Monthly – in line with public London gallery exhibitions – we offer Art Cards for a selection of exhibited works- to encourage seeing the originals.

  • Guidance – updated tips and notices – on a regional and national scale.

  • Packs of Art Cards for artworks, organised by category, theme and curriculum topics.

  • Links to resource material, websites and useful information sites are provided and updated regularly

  • Annual teacher training workshops bring experienced and inexperienced classroom teachers together

  • Bespoke workshops for individual teachers, schools or cluster school groups also available.

  • Contact point – AHiS offers advice, support and training on request.





This Book Thinks You're An Artist is a new book for children published by Thames & Hudson. With illustrations by Harriett Russell, the book asks budding artists to imagine their eccentric- artist alter ego before working through seven key topics: observation, drawing, color pattern, design, sculpture, and, crucially, how to steal ideas (Be inspired! Offend the viewer!). Each spread offers a different project—everything you need to make your own work of art inspired by a famous artist or movement in a lighthearted and playful tone. Activities include making a Bruegel circus, playing a Surrealist game, selling a scribble for a million dollars, and painting your face like a Russian Futurist. A section of paper-based crafts at the end of the book even includes a kit to build a viewfinder and make a mini-manifesto book. AHiS trustees Caroline Osborne and Laura Worsley provided art historical consultancy.

The book is now available to order via Amazon.


Art History in Schools is a non-profit charitable organisation.

We provide our online resources and guidance for free.

We only charge for workshops and hard copy resources to cover the cost.