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Van Gogh’s hidden paintings

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By Catherine Gilhooly

This poster explores the real-life mystery of Van Gogh’s hidden paintings and explains how they were discovered. It includes examples of technical language and descriptive vocabulary, as well as demonstrating the conventions of layout and illustration that are typical of an information text.


Shared teaching and learning

Before reading

  • Talk about real-life mysteries and riddles – eg, yetis, the Loch Ness Monster, the Marie Celeste. Modern research methods are making it easier to solve some of these mysteries, but not all.
  • What do the class know about Vincent Van Gogh? Can they name some of his paintings? When and where did he live?

Shared reading

  • Display the poster and discuss the features of its presentation – the use of bold subtitles, photographs and captions. How does the layout suggest the chronological order of the explanation?
  • Invite individuals to read each section or paragraph, stopping to identify interesting facts and to make notes of the main points.
  • Encourage readers to attempt to pronounce unfamiliar words by segmenting them into syllables and making plausible phoneme choices.
  • Clarify the meaning of technical vocabulary, eg canvases, vibrant colours, portrait.
  • Discuss the use of ellipses to demonstrate the passage of time taken to reveal the image during the scan. Why did the author use them at the end of the final paragraph?

Previous learning

Children should: be able to draw together ideas and information from across a whole text and explain organisational features of the text including layout, diagrams and captions; be able to select different presentational features to suit a particular writing purpose.

Responding to the text

  • What is the poster’s purpose? Highlight the ordering of information. The opening paragraphs give background information on what was known already and why it was so important to the scientists to x-ray the painting. The poster then describes the discovery, before explaining the science behind it.
  • Which facts impressed you most? Give reasons.
  • What would it be like to be an artist who sold only one painting? Imagine being the scientist who revealed the lost painting. Ask individuals to prepare a presentation, in role as Van Gogh or the scientist, and answer questions about their feelings.
  • Imagine a similar thing happening in other genres – a musician recording over a track; a writer changing a story on their computer.
  • Scan the text for descriptive phrases – eg, a very thin beam of light, tiny particles of light. The author uses similar but different phrases to describe the same thing. Stress the importance of synonyms to vary the vocabulary without affecting the meaning.

Group and independent activities

  • Find synonyms in the text and use a thesaurus to replace a word like ‘painting’ – eg, portrait, work, canvas.
  • In pairs, research/produce a poster on the life and work of Van Gogh.
  • Create a glossary of terms based on the poster. Add other vocabulary related to art and artists.
  • Find complex sentences and study the use of punctuation, subordinate clauses and connectives. Rewrite the second sentence, paragraph 1, as a series of simple sentences. How does this change the information? Find other examples to investigate.
  • Use the activity sheet below to solve mystery sentences using adjectives, verbs and nouns for precision, clarity and impact.

Key learning outcomes:

  • To be able to explain a process using clear sequencing and relevant detail;
  • To be able to group related material into paragraphs.


  • Recap the features of an explanatory text. Share and evaluate the children’s posters to see if they have included these features effectively.
  • Encourage empathy by inviting the class to interview the children in role as the characters involved, using questions to reveal the characters’ emotions and feelings.