Play in the Art Room

Out of the box lesson ideas designed to encourage student play, deep thinking, and to create curiosity

Recycled Material Lamps

In the fall of 2017, we had a major disaster in South East Texas. As a district, our teachers and our students were both gravely affected by Hurricane Harvey. For students coming back to school following this traumatic event was very difficult. Calling upon earlier natural disaster that upset families in our district, we looked at artists who responded to 2005's Hurricane Katrina. This exploration of ideas resulted in the Recycled Materials Lamps, as our first project when returning to school. Students then used sharpies to draw designs on plastic cups, plates, and bowls that represented their feelings after the storm. Students melted pieces were then assembled into a sculpture, finishing the work by adding a tea light inside of them, creating a work that was aesthetically pleasing. Students then photographed their pieces on a white surface in order to see the lights and shadows cast by their lit sculptures. As a class, we had discussions about disasters, trauma, and devastation, which included describing what they felt, what they saw, and how they were coping.

Cave Drawing

Students got to experience what it's like to live in and draw on the walls of a cave. They took a virtual tour of Lascaux, and discussed what they thought living in a cave would be like. Students were then able to draw using rocks on the walls of our homemade cave. Students had to share light, trade for different colors, and keep tensions low in the small space as they drew.

Walking tour of the art room cave

Teaching the Elements and Principles in Unique Ways

It seems that teaching the fundamentals of art each year is just running through the same thing over and over. It's a review for most students, and new for some but it is definitely essential to at least make sure students are aware of them and why we use them. I was getting bored with myself teaching elements each year, so I decided to create a new approach. I've taught this a few different ways however, my three favorite are featured here.

For this activity, students were able to explore the campus and try and find elements and principles within their environment. Students were also able to use themselves in order to create them.

Creating Shape

Creating Space

Another way I taught the elements/principles was by creating a digital break-out room. Students had to answer questions, create pieces, and finish tasks in order to move on to the next part. This was all structured around the idea of going on a quest.

Using the same idea of a "quest," I've also utilized ClassCraft. This is a student behavior tracking system that is based on a fantasy game. You can also create quests that the students can unlock. This quest was to defeat an evil by finding all seven elements of art.

Recreating Famous Portraits

Students were asked to choose a portrait that they found interesting, and then recreate it as close as they could.

This project is a great tool to start meaningful art history discussions in class. While recreating the chosen work of art, students became curious about the pieces they chose, which led to meaningful critical dialogue.

Anthropomorphic Portraits

Students had to choose an animal they felt they had a connection with in order to paint their anthropomorphic portrait. This project also included a writing component, requiring students to write about why they chose the animal they did. Some students wrote about their personality, some wrote short stories about their animal, and others wrote about a time in their life when they felt a connection to the animal.

Marbled Paper Illustrations

For these marbled paper illustrations, students first learned the process of marbling their own paper. After their paper was finished, they went back in with ink in order to create illustrations based on the patterns and designs they found in the swirls. Students then came up with a short story to accompany their marbled paper illustration. This project was about learning a process as well as an art career. We looked at books with covers done in marbled paper, as well as illustrators that work with a surreal imagery.

Carving/Painting Pumpkins

This project started off as just a fun way to introduce carving techniques. However, I soon found out that a lot of students on my campus had never carved pumpkins before and they were ecstatic about this opportunity. They were thrilled they were able to cut the tops off, dig out seeds, and carve whatever image they wanted into their pumpkin. We ended up washing and drying seeds so that we could roast them, and enjoyed them with hot chocolate the last day of school before Halloween. This was a project completely designed around play, new experiences, and connecting over a fun activity. In the end, I put all of the pumpkins up for display and the administrative team on campus chose the top three designs. These students were featured in the school newsletter, along with their thoughts on the activity itself.