An Exploration of Leonardo da Vinci's Life and Work

The original Renaissance man, da Vinci is a wonderful subject through which to discuss history, art and science.

By Daniella Garran

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Leonardo da Vinci activities

Leonardo da Vinci, a keen observer of man and nature, lived and worked during the Italian Renaissance. A study of this incredible man presents a host of opportunities for collaboration. History teachers will find it quite easy to collaborate with science, art and math colleagues to give students a truly interdisciplinary learning experience.

Consider having your students create a series of short skits to present "The Life and Times of Leonardo da Vinci.” Students can write scripts and peer-edit one another’s work. Then, they can perform their skits in costume for the rest of the class or for other groups.

Students should certainly be familiar with his paintings, especially "The Last Supper," "The Virgin of the Rocks" and "Mona Lisa." They should write brief essays in which they compare and contrast one of these paintings with the work of one of da Vinci’s contemporaries (e.g.: Bosch, Botticelli, and Michelangelo).

Da Vinci spent a great deal of his artistic energy studying the human face and body. Have students draw either self-portraits or portraits of one another emphasizing the same themes as da Vinci (accurate proportions, emotions, etc . . .). Da Vinci was also known for drawings of his inventions. Ask students to design an invention and draw a sketch of it. Then have them write a detailed description of the invention and its purpose, including dimensions and materials needed.  

Have students generate a multi-tiered timeline of da Vinci’s life and of the Renaissance. Color code each tier according to topic (arts, science, technology, politics, and religion) and illustrate using copies of da Vinci’s paintings and drawings, as well as those of his contemporaries.  Here are some other lesson plans which will help your students explore the incredibly creative life of Leonardo da Vinci.

Leonardo da Vinci Lesson Plans:

Leonardo da Vinci: Creative Genius

In this lesson students learn about da Vinci as a creative genius. With an emphasis on his acclaimed notebooks, students explore his ideas about anatomy, aerodynamics, physics and engineering, among other topics. Students are asked to complete a writing assignment in which they research da Vinci’s contributions to a specific field and how his ideas are still used today.

Assignment Leonardo

Working in small cooperative groups, students do research and document da Vinci’s life and work as an artist, a scientist or an inventor. Each group then assembles a portfolio on da Vinci’s work from a particular perspective. Students may present their work upon completion. This lesson is particularly useful for those educators seeking interdisciplinary connections.

Leonardo da Vinci: Are His Body Proportion Theories Still Valid Today?

Using da Vinci’s "Vitruvian Man" as the foundation for this lesson, students examine proportions of the human body employing da Vinci’s theories. They present their findings to the rest of the class. Students can also look for other naturally occurring proportions, and sequences such as the Golden Ratio and the Fibbonacci sequence. Again, this is another excellent lesson for interdisciplinary connections.