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I love giving students choices in class, because I am often inspired by their ideas and use what they create to come up with lesson ideas.

This year, I had a student who earned extra choice with me if he met his behavior goals and earned a certain number of points. He earned this special time a few times this year and on his 3rd or 4th visit with me, he decided he wanted to create a large map of San Fransisco. I was all for it and we began to draw.

A few weeks in, I decided that I wanted to do this lesson with the rest of the second grade for their final project of the year. As inspiration, I showed students a short PowerPoint with a few samples of maps and images of some of the different parts of a map.

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I also read the book My Map Book, by Sara Fanelli. Students were prompted to make a map based on a real or imaginary place. I wanted to see what would happen if students could make a map about anything.

They created a sketch and then began working on their final version. The requirements were that each map needed to include a title, pictures or symbols and words (a key or labels).

There was a wide range of responses to this prompt. After looking at student work, I’ve been reflecting on what I would change when I teach this lesson again. Some of the ideas that students came up with were really original and interesting, but some of their final pieces didn’t really look like a map–they didn’t show physical features and wouldn’t help someone navigate the area.

 

Students enjoyed the freedom to “make what they wanted,” but I think they could learn more in the process. I would definitely do a demonstration of how to draw roads and lakes and make each student create a key. This would guarantee that every students include symbols/pictures in their map. I would also talk more about fonts when creating the title. I checked out a bunch of books from the library, and would tweak the handouts/samples that I printed so students have better resources at their fingertips.

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We get a lot of snow in Boston–this year we’ve had five snow days!–so I’ve designed a landscape painting unit that incorporates some of the magic of the winter season. For this assignment, students create a “snow globe” landscape painting of a cold or winter landscape (which also allows students to choose a cold place other than Boston).

As inspiration, I show students a slideshow of illustrations and student examples from previous years and ask questions like “What animals do you see when it’s cold?” and “What does the sky look like when it’s cold?”

 

I also show illustrations from The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats and describe what a horizon line is: a line that separates the ground from the sky. There are a lot of interesting lines used throughout this book!

I also create a “resource station” of picture books, reference books, toy animals and “how-to-draw” handouts for students to use as they work.

 

After this discussion, students begin composing a cold/winter landscape in their sketchbook. They begin by drawing a horizon line.

 

Then they add “clues” so that viewers know it’s a cold place, like winter trees, snow, foot prints, winter animals, Christmas lights, wind, etc.

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During the next class, students trace a circle tracer onto a piece of watercolor paper and redraw their landscape inside the circle.

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After drawing with pencil, students have the option of tracing their lines with Sharpies before coloring their picture with crayons.

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On the third or fourth day (depending on the pace of the class), I demonstrate a few different painting techniques that students can use to make a snow effect:

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1. Students can draw snowflakes with white crayon or oil pastel and then paint over them with watercolors.

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2. Students can paint with watercolors and then sprinkle salt on top.

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3. Students can paint with watercolors and then use a q-tip to paint snowflakes on with white acrylic paint.

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4. Students can add small dots of glue and then sprinkle glitter over the glue to create snow.

 

After painting, students cut out their image and then create and attach a base on to the back of their picture to create a snow globe. Lastly, students write a sentence or two to describe their artwork.

A selection of finished paintings is currently on display in the main hallway. 🙂

Below is a  list of books I check out for students to reference during this lesson:

  • The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats
  • No Two Alike, by Keith Baker
  • Snow Music, by Lynne Rae Perkins
  • Snowballs, Lois Elhert
  • Face to Face with Polar Bears, Norbert Rosing & Elizabeth Carney
  • Marven of the Great North Woods, Kathryn Lasky
  • Snowboard Twist, Jean Craighead George
  • When Winter Comes, by Nancy Van Laan
  • The Christmas Doll, by Wendy Mathis Parker
  • Snow, by Uri Shulevitz
  • The Fiddler of the Northern Lights, by Natalie Kisey-Warnock
  • The Snowman, Raymond Briggs
  • Penguins, Seymour Simon
  • Nora and the Great Bear, by Ute Krause
  • Blizzard, by John Rocco
  • Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen

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Fourth graders recently finished a unit on abstract art. After creating Abstract Portraits with my student teacher, I wanted students to learn more about abstract art and to have some time to experiment with various materials.

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For the first lesson of this unit, I played several instrumental songs and students tried painting the sounds they heard by using colors and brush strokes. At first, some students looked at me with confused looks–those looks that ask, “You want me to do what?” I asked students to try it out and told them that it would make more sense as class went on. As the music played, I asked questions like, “What color could you use to show how loud or quiet this instrument is?” and “Does the song sound fast or slow? How can you show the speed of the music using your brush?” After a few minutes, the students were dancing and painting along to the music!

 

During the next few classes, students could add to or change a painting they had started previously or create a new abstract drawing/painting. I limited the paper to 6″x9″ because I wanted students to be willing to try out new ideas and not be too precious with their work. We talked about different things that inspire abstract artists, like experiences, feelings, elements of art, favorite materials and new tools.

As inspiration, I read the book The Noisy Paint Box, by Barb Rosenstock, which tells the story of Vasily Kandinsky, an artist with synesthesia (who experienced sounds as colors), and who became one of the first abstract painters. The students were really interested in his story and had lots of questions about synesthesia. I also showed them footage from On a River, a short video about contemporary artist Heather Day. The video includes footage of Day traveling, sketching and working in her San Francisco home/studio.

In addition to learning about these two artists, I showed students images of abstract art created by Beatriz Milhazes, Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler, Odili Donald Odita, and Shinique Smith.

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On the last day of this unit, students were also given the option of creating their own abstract painting tool using old paintbrush handles and everyday objects like toothpicks, q-tips, plastic forks and string. Students came up with some very creative tools!

Below are some examples of the work that students created. I am so impressed with their willingness to try new materials and engage with this process! It can often be intimidating to create something abstract–something that you cannot quite put a finger on and name. I’m so grateful for students’ openness and willingness to try something new and learn from each other as they worked.

 

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Kindergartners started a line unit a few weeks ago. For the first lesson of this unit, I taught students different types of lines (straight, thick, thin, wavy, etc.) First I said the name of the line and drew it in the air with a “paintbrush” (my finger) as students repeated the words and gesture after me.

After learning each line, I told students that they would be creating a BIG drawing together. To do this, students needed to take turns drawing lines, so we practiced how to do this on the rug first. We talked about some of the skills we would be practicing–like collaboration, compromise and cooperation. As one student put it, “compromise means you take part of what one person wants and part of what the other person wants and put it together.” Once I felt students understood the rules of this drawing “game,” I split them into small groups and each child got a pencil.

Then I played a song from the Broken Flowers soundtrack and the first student in the group began to draw. When I stopped the music, the first person stopped. When the next group member was ready, I began the music again. Students had to start their line where the last person left off and try to fill the entire page without overlapping. I continued the rotation so that each student had about 3-4 turns and then I gave the next direction. Students also had reference pages at their tables with the different types of lines on them.

 

 

I passed out markers and told students that next they needed to trace their pencil lines with marker. This time they could work at the same time, but had to talk to each other so that everybody could participate.

 

 

The next day, when students got to class I told them that I had cut up their big drawing! Some students were shocked at first, but then got interested when I told them their next step… to choose one of the pieces and add to it. I put different materials at each table I told students that they could choose the materials they wanted to use today by going to different “stations.” We took a “field trip” around the room and I demonstrated how to use the materials at each station. After giving the instructions, students went to the rug to select a part of the drawing to add to.

 

 

Students could change stations as they worked, the only rule was that they couldn’t use Sharpie on top of the watercolors.

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The following day, students began class with a pop quiz! I reviewed the different types of lines that students could use on the white board and students practiced drawing them one at a time. Then students got their artwork back and continued working. Check out some of the amazing results!

 

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The inspiration for my line handout came from Art is Basic.

After learning about blind contour and contour drawing, students used their drawing skills to create an abstract self-portrait. Ms. Nemes taught students about abstract art and students discussed some of the reasons an artist might choose to make something abstract. After looking at images of abstract portraits as a group, students brainstormed ideas for their own Abstract Feeling Self-Portrait. During this unit, students thought about what colors, lines, shapes and features would describe their feeling best. I am so impressed with all of the portraits that students created!

As part of a fall drawing unit, I want to share three drawing prompts I use with 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders. I love teaching these lessons in the beginning of the year! It’s a great way to build students’ drawing skills, practice routines and build students’ drawing skills from year to year.

 

 

1st Grade Apples Drawings: I put one fake apple on each table before students arrive. On the first day, I walk through a few steps of how students might approach the drawing and give them a few tips along the way (like sketching lightly before pressing harder). After drawing for about 5-10 minutes, I do another short demo explaining how to blend colors. Then students have the rest of class and another two classes to finish their drawing.

 

 

2nd Grade Pumpkin Drawings: This lesson is similar to the first grade lesson. Before students arrive, I put one mini pumpkin on each table. On the first day, I walk through a few steps of how students might approach the drawing and give them a few tips along the way (sketch lightly before pressing harder). After drawing for about 5-10 minutes, I do another short demo explaining how to blend colors. Then students have another two classes to finish drawing their pumpkin and creating a background from observation or memory. This lesson usually falls around Halloween, and students love adding spider webs, ghosts, vampires, and other Halloween-themed ideas to their picture.

 

 

 

 

 

3rd Grade Leaf Drawings: Third graders have been talking about how scientists and artists are similar. For this unit, students chose a colorful autumn leaf to observe carefully. Students made sketches of their leaf and labeled it with observations and questions they had. After reading the book My Name is Georgia and learning about how Georgia O’Keeffe made paintings large, so that viewers, “[would] be surprised into taking time to look at it,” students enlarged their scientific sketch onto a new piece of paper. Ms. Nemes taught students how to blend colors using colored pencils or mix colors using watercolors. Then, students colored or painted their drawing and created a background to unify their image.

 

For this lesson, kindergarteners looked at the work of Jasper Johns for inspiration. We looked at a few of his paintings and I asked students if they could find clues “hiding” in his paintings. Students noticed different letters, numbers and shapes. I asked students why he might want to “hide” these things in his paintings. Some answers included, “Because it’s fun.” and “To make it like a game.”

Next, students filled out a handout of things that are important to them that they might want to hide in their own picture.

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To create their own artwork, students drew the words, numbers, and pictures that they wanted to include with pencil first. Next, students used Sharpies to trace (around) the lines of their letters/numbers and pictures. Using Sharpies is always a big hit!

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After tracing, students colored in their letters, numbers and pictures with oil pastels or crayons.

 

Last, students painted with watercolors. I love how each student painted–some students picked just a few colors, some students used a wide range of colors, and some students tried unique painting techniques. 🙂

How do you encourage student choice & voice when teaching about the styles and techniques of famous artists?

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As a follow up on my recent post, Managing Materials: Watercolors, I wanted to share one way I use up old watercolors in my room… by making painted paper!

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When watercolors run low, I replace them, but usually there is a little bit of paint left over in the paint pans. So I use them up and create “painted paper” that students can then use when they make collages or ATCs.

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I keep a box of “throw away” drawings… those “mostly-empty-pieces-of-paper-that-a-kid-spends-10-minutes-drawing-on-and-then-insists-that-it’s-“bad”-and-that-they-need-a-new-paper” drawings. The ones that usually end up in the garbage/recycling bin. I am usually able to convince students to erase a “mistake,” turn it into something new, or use the back of the page. But, sometimes the student has already tried alternatives and is getting frustrated because nothing seems to be working. Sometimes I agree with the student–sometimes it’s better to start fresh. So I keep the unfinished papers and put them in a box. I also add my incomplete teacher samples (I teach 5 sections of each grade level, so some times I end up with A LOT of teacher samples) and work that gets left behind at the end of the year (or work that gets left behind when a student moves and forgets to tell me).

Then I color all of the white parts of the page (using crayon, oil pastels, texture plates, and those almost-empty watercolors). After I have a bunch of painted papers, I cut them up into smaller pieces and add them to the “painted paper” box.

It is so gratifying when students reuse those almost-thrown-out pieces of paper and create something complete new with them.

How to you reuse/repurpose materials in the art room? What creative solutions do you have for managing supplies and minimizing costs?

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I love watercolors. They’re simple to use and they allow students to focus on painting without have to spend time mixing colors. (Have you ever had a student spend 15 minutes mixing one color only to have to clean up as soon as she is ready to use it?). I also use tempera and acrylic paints with younger students, but I often wait until a little later in the year when routines are established and they can manage getting, using, sharing, cleaning and returning more supplies.

Because students usually use watercolors without mixing colors (although you can also mix them!), I like to give them a variety of colors. A few years ago, I bought some new sets of Crayola Watercolors, 16 Color Set. The one thing I don’t like about this set is that the pans are not refillable. (The Crayola Watercolors, 16 Brilliant Colors Set is, but it’s almost twice as much and doesn’t have a clear cover, so you can’t see the colors until you open it.) Luckily I had a bunch of extra single-strip plastic watercolor strips. After a using the sets for a year, a lot of colors were empty, so I replaced the non-refillable strips with refillable ones. I also ordered Crayola Watercolor Refills and Prang Watercolor Refills to replace colors as they get used up. (Because certain colors are more popular than others and run out more quickly.)

In order to keep all of my refills organized, I sort them into an old marker box. (I love marker boxes and use them for so many different things.) This way I can see when a color is running low and when I need to order more refills.

Because watercolors are so popular, I try to clean the containers every few months to keep the trays clean and the colors fresh. Here’s what I do:

  1. Take out the plastic strips.
  2. Wash the watercolor containers.
  3. Set the containers in the drying rack to dry.
  4. Replace the plastic strips.
  5. If the strips are really dirty and I’m feeling ambitions, I’ll pop out all of the tiny refill pans, wash the plastic strips and then refill the colors (and replace the ones that have run out).

What are your favorite supplies? What creative solutions do you have for managing supplies and minimizing costs?

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The week before vacation and all through my class, students… have been making Artist Trading Cards!

The week before vacation is usually unpredictable. Some students go on vacation early, or, during this time of year, students are often absent because they’re sick. Because of this, I put most projects on “hold” and started calling this week “ATC week.” (Kindergartners and first graders worked on completing unfinished work so that they can have more 1:1 help and so that we can start new projects when we get back from the break. When kindergartners and 1st graders were finished with all their unfinished work, they had the option of drawing in their sketchbook, or making a “free choice” collage or painting.)

When my second, third and fourth graders came to class, I told them the plan and showed them my ATC Idea Binder. It has samples of cards organized by media–drawing, collage, painting and mixed-media. We spent five minutes looking through the binder and discussing, “What makes a good ATC?”

Then students got to choose where to sit based on media. I had students “vote” what material they were most interested in using (by raising their hand) and then set up the stations based on popularity. In some classes, drawing was most popular, in others collage or painting was more popular, and in some it was split pretty evenly.

Students enjoyed the freedom of choosing their seats and materials, moving from station to station, and working with other students in the class. It was a great way to transition into break and I’m so proud with the ownership students took over coming up with and implementing their own ideas. Check out some of the results…

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