Van Gogh Museum
Bring Vincent van Gogh into your classroom

Mental Narratives: Courage and Doing Your Own Thing

Mental Narratives: Courage and Doing Your Own Thing
1 / 17
Slide 1: Slide
Health & Social CareLower Secondary (Key Stage 3)Upper Secondary (Key Stage 4)Further Education (Key Stage 5)BTEC, GCSE

This lesson contains 17 slides, with interactive quizzes, text slides and 1 video.

time-iconLesson duration is: 45 min


Using Vincent van Gogh’s work and life story, and a film by Mentale Thee, the students will explore the subject of ‘courage and doing your own thing’. Propositions and assignments will be used to prompt discussion, to enable them to reflect and determine their own view.


General goals
- To prompt discussion of ‘courage and doing your own thing’.
- To get to know Vincent van Gogh.

Link with curriculum
- The subject of this lesson is suitable for tutor group sessions.

- This lesson can be combined with the lessons on stress, sad feelings, and friendship and asking for help.
- Feel free to give the lesson as you see fit, adapting it to suit the level and age of your students. Slides may be omitted or added.

• The students can use their mobile or another device to read the propositions and questions. The lesson can also be given without the use of mobiles.
• Pen and paper.

Mental narratives
How do you get students talking about subjects like stress, courage, asking for help and sad feelings? And how do you shape the discussion? We have developed four lessons based on the art and life of Vincent van Gogh to help you start a discussion on these subjects and explore them further. The videos feature Maren Porte and Sanne Haak from the Mentale Thee (‘Mental Tea’) podcast talking to their peers about these subjects. The lessons have been developed with academic experts, and people who have personal experience of these issues.

Items in this lesson

Mental Narratives: Courage and Doing Your Own Thing

Slide 1 - Slide

This item has no instructions

Vincent van Gogh

Slide 2 - Mind map

Question: What do you know about Vincent van Gogh?

Practical instructions: The students may answer using their mobile. If you prefer to give the lesson without using mobiles, the answers can be written on the smartboard (click on the pencil icon).
Vincent van Gogh was headstrong. He always did his own thing, even though it was often not the easy choice. He looked for inspiration everywhere, and eventually came up with his own style, which was very innovative.

Slide 3 - Slide

Introduce the subject of the lesson, incorporating the students’ answers (to the previous slide). See the hotspot for the context. 
Vincents’ parents’ home in Nuenen
This is where Vincent was living when he painted his masterpiece The Potato Eaters. He was 32.
Social climbing
Vincent lived in a class-based society. He had to climb the social ladder in order to be successful. His father was a pastor in the church. Vincent had to do at least as well, if not better, for the family’s honour.

Slide 4 - Slide

This item has no instructions

Free choices?
Not really. Your family decided what you trained for and what job you did, and who you married. And not just your parents – members of the wider family, like uncles, had a say too. Vincent had a few relationships that were brought to an end by his family.
Vincent and his parents
The photos on this slide show Vincent and his parents.

Slide 5 - Slide

This item has no instructions

The path that Vincent’s family had chosen wasn’t right for him. He was not successful as an art dealer, teacher or pastor. At the age of 27 he decided to become an artist. Not everyone believed in this decision, but Vincent did. He was certain this was his path.

Slide 6 - Slide

This item has no instructions

I feel I have a raison d’être! I know that I could be a quite different men! For what then could I be of use, for what could I serve! There’s something within me, so what is it!
Vincent wrote:

Slide 7 - Slide

This item has no instructions

Vincent’s art was incredibly innovative. He experimented with clashing colour combinations, depth effects and brushwork. He developed his well-known dots and stripes, and he put feeling into his work. That took courage, because apart from his brother, a few good friends and some art critics, most people didn’t understand Vincent’s art yet.

Slide 8 - Slide

This item has no instructions

It’s sometimes risky to ‘do your own thing’. What risks do you think Vincent faced?

Slide 9 - Open question

The students can answer this question individually or in pairs. Then discuss with the whole class. 
Proposition: The risks Vincent took when
he chose to do his own thing still exist today.

Slide 10 - Poll

Have the students answer individually using their device or by standing on the left (agree) or right (disagree) side of the classroom. Then debate the matter.
You also need COURAGE to do
your own thing. Complete the
sentence: Courage is…

Slide 11 - Open question

Make groups of 3 or 4 who will complete the sentence: "Courage is...".
Each group should come up with a number of options. Then mix up the groups. Each student takes a sentence to their new group and explains why they decided on this answer. Does everyone agree, or do some have a different opinion?
Courage can also include:
- standing up for someone else
- looking at yourself critically
- going back on a decision
- admitting you’ve made a mistake

Slide 12 - Video

Duration of film: 2.57 min.
Match your views
Place the things in the category where you think they belong. 
I decide these things MYSELF:
These are things to decide TOGETHER:
These are things to be decided by OTHERS:
What you study
who your friends are
whether you’re doing your best
what sport you do
what subjects you do
who you love
how much time you spend on your phone,
what job you do
what music you like 

Slide 13 - Slide

Have the students do this assignment individually.
Ask them to swap answers in pairs.
Then you can discuss it with the whole class.
Think of a time when you decided
something for yourself. How did it feel?

Slide 14 - Open question

Each student should do this assignment individually on their device, or on paper.
Then check answers in pairs.
What do you need to be able to do your own thing?
Describe it in one sentence.

Slide 15 - Mind map

Share the answers with the whole class.
Students may give their answers individually or in pairs.
'But even as we stray we sometimes find the track anyway, and there’s something good in all movement.'
Vincent wrote:

Slide 16 - Slide

This item has no instructions

Talk some more?
  • Tutor/teacher
  • Counsellor
  • Pastoral care coordinator
  • Someone you trust
  • GP/school doctor
  • Mind / YoungMinds

Slide 17 - Slide

This item has no instructions