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13-B Louis Comfort Tiffany, Autumn Landscape—The River of Life,

Olga Mironova


Skills covered:

Visual interpretation


Logical reasoning

Critical thinking


General goal:

To develop students’ English speaking skills and critical thinking through analyzing Louis Comfort Tiffany’s painting ‘The River of life’.


  • To introduce the metaphor of “river of life” and discuss notable examples of its visualization 
  • To introduce the notion of American Dream in a historical perspective
  • To enrich students’ English vocabulary with topic-related words and expressions
  • To elaborate students’ English reading comprehension skills
  • To advance students’ analytical and English speaking skills through group discussion and debate

Language development:

    • Listening
    • Reading for details
    • Speaking  and Class discussion

Materials / Visual aids:

  • Picture of Louis C. Tiffany’s “Autumn Landscape - The River of Life”
  • Text for reading.
  • Handouts for lesson activities 

Lesson  Plan
Activity 1  (10 min)
Warming up. Vocabulary Building.
Teacher gives students a list of words with their definitions to match.

Colored glass

Stained glass


Works of Dense design

Religious overtone




Glass that has a particular color or colors

Pieces of colored glass that are put together to make windows, especially in churches

Very bright in color

Difficult to see through

An emotion that is suggested and is expressed in a religious way

Something that seems to exist but in fact does not, or seems to be something that it is not

Connected with religion

After matching students are to make sentences with the words, one by one, so there should be a logical story.

Activity 2 (5 min)
Guessing what (discussion)
Teacher shows only the name of the picture and asks the students to guess what can be depicted in it, in what colors, in what century, by whom (a man or a woman).

Activity 3 (7-10 min)
Expressing feelings (In speaking)
Teacher shows other pictures with the same name “River of Life”:
by Bruce Eagle http://adoptalamb.com/RiverLife_LG.gif
by Joan Gossett http://fineartamerica.com/featured/river-of-life-joan-gossett.html;
by Veronica Jackson http://fineartamerica.com/featured/river-of-life-veronica-jackson.html;
by Steven Michael Gardner http://www.lookmind.com/illusions.php?cat=4&id=1818;
by Connie Barbour http://www.migrantwinds.com/prints.html;  
by Jude Maceren http://www.zazzle.com/river_of_life_calendar_calendar_2009-158274045687187760)

      • And asks students to express the feelings that they get when looking at them. What do they all have in common? (The image of the river passing through a landscape, the name) How do they differentiate? (Landscape is different, it features hills, mountains and/or plains, forests; some pictures show wildlife, some are pure flora, some paintings are abstract etc)

Activity 4 (10 min)
Visual analysis (discussion – first impression, in speaking)

Students look at the picture of Tiffany and answer teacher’s questions:
What did you feel with your first glance at the picture?
Is it close to what you have imagined?
Which variant do you like more? Yours, imaginary, or the original?
What image did you see in it?
What is in the center?
What time is described?
What colors are prevailing?
How is it connected with the American history? (It features the diversity of American landscape and embodies American territorial expansion, emergence of a great, big country; its tranquility also suggests religious (Protestant) interpretation, and religion is of a great importance for American first settlers and, on the whole, American national identity etc)
Does it symbolize American Dream? (Yes, it does because the river flowing freely and peacefully embodies powerful American belief that everyone has the right to become whatever (s)he wants no matter what his/her social, ethnic and cultural background is)

Activity 5 (3-5 min)
Teacher shows students definitions of the expression “American Dream” and asks students to match them with the time it was made.

“the availability of land and the continuing American expansion”

“the ability, through participation in the resonant society and culture of the United States, to bring prosperity to oneself”

"all men are created equal and they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights including Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

XIX century (the declaration)

Present time

The beginning of the American history


Activity 6 (7-10 min)
Reading and discussion
James Truslow Adams
 “The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, also too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”
“The American Dream, that has lured tens of millions of all nations to our shores in the past century has not been a dream of material plenty, though that has doubtlessly counted heavily. It has been a dream of being able to grow to fullest development as a man and woman, unhampered by the barriers which had slowly been erected in the older civilizations, unrepressed by social orders which had developed for the benefit of classes rather than for the simple human being of any and every class”.
Abstracts from The Epic of America by James Truslow Adams
available at Where is The American Dream Blog:
Teacher asks students how they understand it.
How has the definition changed over time? Why?
Does the dream come true?
Would you like to be a part of it?

Activity 7 (10-15 min)
Visual interpretation of the picture – group discussion
Teacher asks students questions to connect American dream and the idea of the picture.
Can you say that the picture conveys the idea of American dream?
What mood does the picture create?
What meaning do the colors have?
What part of the room can it be place at?
How would it change the light in the room?
Would you like to have it in your room? Why? In what part of it?
Is there such a thing as “Russian Dream”? If there is how do you understand it?

 Read the poem by W.H. Davies “Leisure” and try to imagine your own river of life.
Explaining homework: up to 3 min
Overall time 60-70 min

W.H. Davies


WHAT is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?—
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows:
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.