- Which are most relevant to the lesson you are planning?
- PLAN BACKWARDS. First Summarize the specific art skills to be developed, the specific art knowledge to learn, and the attitudes to be fostered. These are the goals and objectives of the lesson (or unit). Good teachers often write the final exam first. Some call it backward planning. As we write this, we begin to imagine ideas about how these things can be learned. Even when no actual exam is planned, we do the same thing. We identify what we want to happen to the student as a result of the lesson, the unit, or the year.
- Some lessons might concentrate more on skill building, others may be designed to encourage imagination and creativity, and some may emphasize learning the design principles and art elements (structure of art). Some lessons may primarily teach students approaches to style. Every lesson can end with some art world and/or real world examples that review and build on the frame of reference provided by the lesson. In fact, one of best ways for a teacher to get a good lesson or unit idea is to take a great work of art and deconstruct the creative process and strategies used by the artist(s) that created the work. This process yields an untold variety of ways to approach creativity and the materialization of ideas in visual art. Also see reverse engineering.
- HINT - Post the list of goals and the creative strategies learned in the hall or in the display case with the display of the completed work. It helps other teachers, parents, and other students understand the dynamics of learning in the art.
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Plan of Action
TEACHING THE ART LESSON (or unit)
Please note the sequence of these activities
Marvin Bartel - 1999, 2001 updated Sept. 2010
An Example Lesson with all the parts is at this link.
- foreshadow the lesson
- distribute supplies
- practice materials and processes - subject ideas - composition - style - observation
- main assignment
- time on task
- self doubters
- how to help
- dismissal with purpose
- post script
- outline (brief summary)
- who are the learners?
Generally, it is better to avoid surprising students with something they have not prepared for. The mind is an amazing and powerful imagination machine. Artistic ideas grow over time in the mind of the artist. It happens when we sleep, when we eat, when we watch TV, when we talk to friends, when we daydream, and so on. In studies of the brain, brain imaging shows that our hippocampus becomes active when we are sleeping and when we are not thinking about anything. Brain imaging shows actively on its own without our awareness. (Buckner, 2010) It imagines future scenarios. Just as foreshadowing in a novel stimulates our imagination to foresee several exciting scenarios, art lesson foreshadowing gets students to imagine and anticipate, imagining their own ideas. On the other hand, ideas are not apt to hit us if we have not yet focused on an artistic problem. Art teachers help students learn this skill by intentionally foreshadowing the next assignments and asking questions that prime the hippocampuses of the students. Students are asked to keep a journal of ideas that come to them when they are not thinking about the assignment.
What are some ways you can foreshadow an art lesson? List some before you read the examples I give you in the next paragraph. See how many scenarios to foreshadow an art lesson your mind can imagine. If any of your ideas are different than the ones I list in the next paragraph, that is just perfect. You have been outstandingly creative, just like you want your students to be creative.
Okay, here are my ideas. See if there are any you want to add to your list. See if you thought of things I missed.
1) Along the top of the whiteboard in front of the room, the teacher makes a practice of posing a question that foreshadows a future art project.
2) The teacher gives a sketchbook assignment that will provide ideas to use for future artworks. Can they guess what the assignment will be? What do they wish it would be?
3) Students have cleaned up and are waiting during the last one minute before the bell rings. The teacher asks them three questions and tells the class that these questions are related to the content of an assignment that is two weeks in the future.
4) The class is told that some of the homework for art is to keep a journal of notes about art ideas to do in art class. They are told that these ideas pop up anytime, and we need to jot them down immediately.
5) The teacher takes time once a week to ask students to share their unexpected 'pop up' ideas with the rest of the class.
6) Art inspiration comes from observation, from experience, and from imagination. Moving between these three sources help students minds remain flexible and and creative in their thinking.
If I missed one that you like, send it to me in an email (please include the web address or title of this page).
I do not show examples of what I think they should do. To do so, might result in imitation and a loss of appreciation for their own ideas. Top of Page
Also see Teaching Creativity
The Conversation Game
The Secrets of Generating Art Ideas
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1. ART SUPPLIES
Begin by having the class get settled with as many working materials at their places as possible. This is done first to avoid the need for interruptions, commotion, and moving about once they are concentrating on the tasks at hand.
Many art teachers develop an orderly routine where students are expected to pick up what is needed as they enter the room before they go to their seats. If they expect to see a list posted or a sheet of paper on their table, they can get things as they come into the room. Some teachers assign tasks to certain students to bring supplies in order to limit mob movements. Some teachers withhold a simple item in order to prevent students from starting before they have the motivation, focus, and instructions for the lesson. Other teachers provide written instructions for the first learning activity so no verbal instructions are needed while the teacher takes attendance, etc.
2. OPENING WARM UP
At this point some teachers establish a beginning ritual or warm-up. It focuses attention and tunes in to art. A few minutes of quiet contour drawing could serve as a routine warm-up and provide a chance to practice an art skill. The teacher has a time to take attendance while students are on task. Some teachers have a box in the center of each work area with "Today's Objects" to practice drawing for the first few minutes as students settle down for class. Instructions are on the board or on the tables.
to Teaching the Lesson to Top of Page3. REVIEW and INTRODUCE
A short review session is always appropriate at the beginning of the session. Ask students questions about the key concepts and art vocabulary learned in a recent lesson. See if they can recall recently studied concepts and help them understand how the ideas and skills will help them with this lesson.
4. LESSON INTRODUCTION
Briefly introduce the goals and issues of this lesson. Focus their thinking so that ideas have a chance to emerge during their preparation time. Wait to give the detailed instructions until they are ready to work on the main lesson project.
There are good reasons to avoid showing examples of what the students are supposed to produce. For the reasons for this see the list of Nine Classroom Creativity Killers. Numbers 1, 5, 8, and 9 speak directly to the reasons examples are not shown at the beginning of an art lesson. Art History examples are shown near the end of the lesson.
to Teaching the Lesson to Top of Page5a. PREPARATION for materials used
To quote a kindergarten child, "You can't never know how to do it before you ever did it before." Students need to know how the materials and process work in order to be creative with their interpretations of the content and design of their work. If it is a new process, it is only fair to allow and expect them have a preliminary practice session.
This part of the lesson might have some time to "play around" with materials to see what emerges by accident. Limit the time for this. As soon as students cease to be involved in a search, move to a structured activity. I may be useful at this time to ask students to share their discoveries.
Example: The class is about to do a project where the medium will be transparent watercolors over a crayon composition. Give each child five small pieces of paper and a few minutes in which to test out this combination of materials allowing any sequence and any color combinations on several small pieces of paper.
Present some carefully planned step-by-step instructions on the process. This is generally not a teacher demonstration, but hands-on participatory learning. Every student follows along using art materials. This part of the lesson is not art, it is art skill or craft carefully presented by the teacher. The art immediately follows when the students are in charge of their own ideas and work while doing the main part of the assignment.
Example: The class is about to work with B6 drawing pencils. These have soft graphite which allows for very bold dark black. Before using these pencils for drawing, have them make the following lines about five inches long.
The teacher can ask, "Why do you think artists try to use some lines that are very dark, some very light, and some that are medium?" Unless students actively think about why they are doing things, they often forget to use what they are learning. When they start there artwork, they may still revert to pervious habits unless they are reminded with this "why" question again while they are working. When an art lesson begins to change habits of thinking, the students take away benefits that are good for their whole lives. Thinking about using a varied line character to achieve compositional dynamics may not sound like a big deal, but it is an example of how every habitual way of working needs to be opened to new alternatives.
Being open to new alternatives is also true of our teaching methods. I recall a student teacher who had carefully observed how an art teacher was making many suggestions whenever a student asked for advice. It might have been better to be using questions or coaching students to experiment and learn to find ideas for themselves. When I first observed her during student teaching, she too was making many suggestions. In our conference, I simply asked her if she remembered her observation the semester before. The next time I observed her, she remembered to use questions that encouraged her students to think more for themselves and become less dependent on her ideas.
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If possible, do not do a demonstration for students to watch. Its usually more effective to have them each actively do a small sample of the process themselves. Teacher demonstrations might be used if it would be too dangerous or too complex to explain in a step-by-step way while they all do it. When a demonstration is the only way I know to introduce a procedure, I try to follow it immediately with preliminary skill practice before requiring any artwork to be produced with a new process.
5b. PREPARATION for topic and subject matter used
Nearly every art project includes subject matter. If the composition is to be nonobjective, you would skip to the next section, 5c. Preparation for compositional choices. Many teachers use topic motivation related to student interests, experiences, and concerns. Consider student development. Younger children are more egocentric and respond to "I" and "My" topics while older elementary children are quite interested in group identity topics and activities.
Sometimes teachers feel that it is more creative to allow students to have complete freedom to decide on any subject matter. This can present several problems. If the teachers says, "Do whatever you want for subject matter," most students simply do whatever was easy and successful in the past. This lassie faire approach also implies that content is immaterial and unimportant. I might say, do what interests you, but try something that you have not tried recently. Or, I might say, if you are repeating something, there has to be something changed so that after you finish, you can compare it and learn which works better.
Art lessons need to help students learn ways to come up with meaningful and important content for their work. How can we expect ownership and motivation if the content is trivialized?
All art content comes from three sources: Observation, Memory, and/or Imagination. Lessons in observation are important for the student's skill formation. See this link for a list of helpful ways to help children learn observation skills. This Beginning Rituals page describes careful observation practice. This link discusses the human need to give aesthetic order to our world. Top of Page
Memory is rich if it comes from rich experience. We remember what we notice. When a child is fascinated and absorbed in an experience, it will be a pleasure to remember and express it. Teachers and others can encourage curiosity and awareness. Teachers, parents, and others can make a point to ask many awareness building questions before, during, and after field trips and similar activities. "Why do you think the giraffe has such a long neck?" "What shape (color) are the spots?" "Are some a different shape?" Some on-site sketching can be done. In the class it can be developed into a larger drawing, painting, collage, diorama, and so on. Students should be told in advance of the field trip that it will be the basis for artwork. This heightens awareness, attentiveness, and observations while on the outing.
Imagination gives us amazing power. It is what allows us to speculate about the future. It even allows us to imagine what others think of us and how our actions might effect others. It allows us to think of alternative ways to act. Art, creative writing, story telling, pretend play, drama, songs, etc. allow us to practice and develop our powers of imagination.
We need to increase the number of ways we teach the development of new ideas for art work. Here are a few ways used by art teachers and artists to help decide on content for an art project. These can be used for observation, memory, and/or imagination. We can encourage our students to practice these methods.
- Listening to short sections of several very different styles of music. Students can do 30 second mark making sessions in response to contrasting music sounds and rhythms.
- Using a dark marker, each student signs their name across the paper. Compare them.
- Making a series of descriptive lines across the paper such as, "calm and nervous" "waltzing and stumbling" "running and swimming".
- Filling textures into pre drawn boxes. Do not allow images or subjects. Have the textures represent noises that can not be identified so that each student will have to listen to the texture of the noise.
Periodically, during these experiments, the teacher points out that every person is finding a unique way of doing this. Every person eventually, with lots of experimentation and practice, develops their own "aesthetic stance" and their own "signature style". Great artists are not great because they learned how to copy or mimic another style. Great artists are great because of what they contribute.
Top of Page5b. PREPARATION for design and composition
Art lessons need to help students learn ways to use the visual elements and principles of design to achieve the effects they want to express in their work. Good design generally seeks unity, harmony, and good integration of diverse visual effects. On the other hand, it needs strong interest, emphasis, repetition, variation, motion, emotion, and expressive content.
Consider special motivational activities to enrich their frame of reference for creative media work projects. These might be sensory exercises to make them more aware of texture, tone, hue, size, depth, intensity or some other visual quality being learned.
Preliminary sketching and planning on separate paper are an excellent way for students to prepare for the main project. For many lessons it is appropriate to require some preliminary planning. It is also a chance to help them learn about quality by helping them learn ways to discern their best ideas and the best ways to arrange their compositions.
5c. PREPARATION for stylistic approaches
Art lessons can help students learn ways to understand and develop style in their work. This may seem difficult to do without showing examples of artists' work. However, there are many examples of individual style in other areas of our students' lives that they already understand. They know about style in music, in clothing, in dining, in hair, in handwriting, in cars, and so on. All these areas have are large categories as well as individual variations. We do not develop a personal style though copy work or even by mimicking somebody else's style.
Most mature artists fall into one of four large categories, but also have a very individual recognizable style within the larger category. Most art styles fall under realism (naturalism), expressionism, formalism (including minimalism), or surrealism (fantastic).
Students often experiment with several styles. Ideally, we want students who can experimentally develop original styles rather than students that mimic or copy established styles. Since it may take years and many works before an artist can be expected to have a mature distinctive style, students are encouraged to experiment with style, looking for effective ways to achieve results. In the following experiments, every student is likely to see individual style emerge.
Preliminary experiments directed to style might include:
5d. PREPARATION for observation to Teaching the Lesson to Top of Page
I said, "When I draw something new, I like to sit and look at all the shapes and lines before I start. When I look at this part (pointing to the top) of the handle, I notice that the top here is more round, when I look at this part down here I notice that it is almost like a straight line. I also like to look at how big the different parts are, and compare the size of the handle and the spout, or the size of the handle and the belly of the pot. I like to imagine each line before I draw it."
I do not draw any examples because I do not want children to observe my drawing when they need to learn to observe the subject. I dotalk about drawing experiences. I know that children fail to learn because the are afraid to fail. Therefore, I talked about all the mistakes I make when I draw something. I said, "Usually, I draw a line, but after I draw it, I can notice that it should have been a little different shape or a little different size, but I don't erase right away. I just leave it and I try another line. When I am finished, I might go back and erase some mistakes. My mistakes are good because I learn to see better from them - they are my practice lines. Whenever we try a new thing we expect to make some mistakes, but with practice we get better at it."
She was noticeably pleased with her own achievement. In this one drawing of the teapot she moved from the "schematic" stage of geometric simplification to the "dawning realism" stage in her drawing. She now has a basic foundation for learning to observe. She can now draw anything she wants to (with similar observation and practice). With enough of this kind of instruction and practice in the first grade, she can be spared the crisis of confidence that many third grade children experience.
The problem with many drawing instruction books is that they prescribe shortcuts and formulas that give success without any actual observation. Without developing much ability, they replace the motivation to actually learn. Observation practice and many more links on teaching drawing can be found here. Teachers who teach drawing by drawing for the children are not directing their minds to right learning task. The task is not to replicate a drawing. If the learning task is to imagine and create a drawing by observing the real world, the child learns to draw anything - not only the specific thing being taught.Top of Page
6. DEFINE and Begin THE MAIN PROJECT
Give or review the detailed explanation of the assignment. Be sure instructions are understood, and they feel comfortable about your expectations. Empower them to create. Define limits to encourage problem solving, but allow individual ownership of ideas and work. Explain the main points that you plan to evaluate. This link has a rubric for grading artwork. Some teachers make a poster with their assessment points. Some use a handout.
Be especially sensitive to questions as they first start to work. If there are more than one or two questions, stop and clarify things for the whole class. If there are slow starters, make sure they understand, but allow time to think, to experiment, to plan, and time to look at more than one option.
to Teaching the Lesson to Top of Page7. MAINTAIN CONCENTRATION
While they are working, stay tuned to the class and be thinking of ways to keep them on task. Art teachers sense when a class is getting off track. Students begin to discuss their social lives and other topics that have nothing to do with the problem at hand.
A series of focused but open questions can bring the students back on task. Good open questions bring richness and content into their work. "Does the dog have a special smell? What is the part of the dog that is the darkest? ... the lightest? How much larger does the dog's body seem than the dog's head?" Questions help passive knowledge becomes active knowledge and gets it included in the artwork. Open questions (those with many possible answers) stimulate the imagination.
If they are working directly from observation of the subject (the dog is in the room), they will be encouraged to make better observations if the teacher goes over to the dog and asks about specific aspects of the subject. Ask, "How does height and length compare?" while placing hands near the subject to show height and width. Focused but open questions generally result in much richer student work. They surprise themselves with how well they can do if they have actually made careful observations. This works with an individual or with the whole group. If several students are floundering at once, it may be more efficient to call the whole class to attention and take time to refocus.
What questions might have been asked related to the tennis picture shown at the top of this page? Top of Page
7a. IMPULSIVE QUICK WORKERS
Some students are impulsive and rush to finish without giving enough attention to important aspects of the work. You should encourage them to develop more complex products. "This part looks really interesting. I wonder what you could do to make this other part as interesting." "I see some nice depth effects here by the way the colors work. Here's some empty space. What could happen in this area that adds interest?" A teacher can help these students become more thoughtful and deliberate by raising issues to think about in their work. Eventually, the student's habits will improve if the teacher is insistent and consistent. Stay positive, but keep asking questions. I notice that many students begin to imitate this and they begin to ask themselves similar questions as they work. They learn how to learn.
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MOTIVATION - verbal - I resist making suggestions - I use open questions to raise issues for them to consider in their work. Their greatest need is thinking practice. I do not want to take this away from them by providing answers. I try to use focused questions. Eventually they learn to anticipate the type of questions needed to produce better art, and they will need less hand holding. Good teaching empowers them by helping them learn the kind of questions artists use to improve their own work. When I am asked for a suggestion, I first ask what the student has been thinking about. Often the student already has an idea or two, but was not confident to try it.
MOTIVATION - multi sensory - There are many kinds of motivation. I have used unseen (hidden) sound making devices as motivation for texture. When when working from food, flowers, plants, smell and sometimes taste is incorporated into the preliminary experience. Studies show that students who examine something by touch create richer artwork than those who only work from visual observation.
MOTIVATION - animals - Live animals elicit instinctive attention. Every child pays attention to an animal moving around. Field trips to farms, zoos, etc. are great venues for drawing and/or for asking lots of observation questions.
I avoid showing examples as motivation because imitation is too easy. It shortcuts original thinking. to: Top of Page
7b. DELIBERATE AND SELF-DOUBTING STUDENTS
Other students are handicapped by being very slow and deliberate. They may be perfectionists because they are afraid to make a mistake. Reassure them. They need confidence to experiment with expressive approaches. They need to appreciate the learning that comes from mistakes and to see how "happy accidents" happen. Sour lemons make great lemonade with the right additions. Empower them by building their confidence. Don't encourage these students to start over unless they have a better idea they are anxious to try.
Do not be tempted to tell them that quality doesn't matter and don't say, "I'm not an artist either." Say, "I often make mistakes when I am learning a new thing, but I like my mistakes because they help me learn by pointing out what I need to practice more. Often I don't erase my mistakes until I finish so that I can learn from them. When I finish, I even leave some mistakes because they add motion or extra excitement and magic to the work. Sometimes my mistakes are the best part. Sometimes they give me an idea for something better to try." Encourage them by pointing out that some things are only learned by practice and the more we practice the better it will get.
Find the best part of what they have done and tell them why you think so. Don't use praise that is empty or general, but praise together with specific information so they can learn from it. Top of PageA serious mishap can justify a start over. Deliberate and self-doubting perfectionists may particularly benefit from assignments that begin with "intentional accidents" that are changed into artwork by the individual's creative efforts.
8. PRECAUTIONS and HOW TO HELP WHEN IT IS TOO HARD
Never do any of the work for the students. Do not draw on their papers. There are other ways to help without taking away ownership and empowerment. Good teaching is making the hard stuff easier and making the easy stuff harder, but a good teacher never does the work and never solves the problem for the student. If you must draw to illustrate a point, do it on your own paper - never on theirs.
If they are having trouble drawing or modeling from observation, go over to the thing being observed and ask in detail what they see. If more is needed, explain in detail what you see. If they are working from imagination or memory, use detailed questions to help them remember and value their own past experiences. Encourage the word challenging instead of too hard. Top of PageAvoid assignments for which they have no reasonable frame of reference. Amish children should not have to make art about TV characters. As you listen to student conversations, learn their real interests. Base topics on their interests, experiences, and what can be observed in or near the classroom. Click here to review list making and other ways to generate ideas.
When a student is afraid to try something, give them extra paper on which to make several experiments or to practice on. Artists frequently do experiments, practice, and research before they feel ready to try it in their actual work. Of course artists work according to many different styles and strategies and some of them want all the expressiveness of mistakes and false starts to remain as evidence of the creative process. For an abstract expressionist (action painter) much of the meaning and feeling of the work would be lost if they pre planned or practiced it, but for most art styles it is common to practice or make sketches ahead of the actual work. Top of Page
9. MEANINGFUL ENDINGS - making criticism pleasant
Discus the finished work as a way to affirm student efforts and review the concepts learned. Be fair and inclusive. Critiques that are affirmative and discovery based help produce a great studio art learning culture. Everybody can answer the question, "What do you notice first?", but not everybody can explain the reasons they notice something it first in a composition. Have them practice the analysis and interpretation of work. Require comments that speculate about why we notice something first. Help them learn to analyze the effects of color, size, brightness, uniqueness, subject matter, and so on.
Interpretation refers the the meanings and feelings seen. We can ask for ideas for titles. We can discuss the visual reasons for meanings and feelings observed. The one who created the work may want to verbalize about this, but I try to delay this until others have a chance to respond. We need to learn about the richness of meanings and feelings that are possible in a group setting.
Never allow judgmental comments like, "I don't see why anybody would use that color for . . . " When commenting on a perceived weakness allow only neutral questions so the student artist may be asked to explain rather than defend a choice. "Can we talk a bit about the effects that this color is producing? Who can give us an idea?" Frame the questions in non-judgmental terms. Use questions to raise awareness, not to declare mistakes. Art is a search. Critique makes discoveries.
Allow time to include each work or adapt a fair system that includes everybody within a series of lessons. Emphasize the positive and use questions to get discussion going. Take advantage of learning opportunities. Some situations may work better if this is done in smaller groups. This might begin when the first four to six students complete a project. Each time another four to six students finish, another discussion group is formed. Written forms can also be used at times. Top of PageHelp students learn how to question, how to describe, how to analyze, and encourage them to speculate about possible meanings (interpretations) and feelings in each other's work. We have to help them learn to be careful viewers and critics that empathize with each other and their work, ideas and feelings. One of the main purposes of the critique is to find, recognize, and exploit discoveries in the work. The secondary purpose is to cultivate a positive culture and better relationship skills. Studio artwork is a search for art. If we skip the critique, we may be missing half the learning.
10. CLOSING CONNECTIONS
Relating this project to their world and the art world.
Your lesson planning strategy often starts by thinking about the closing portion of the lesson. What creative activities will best build a frame of reference for this experience? What do you want students to take with them from the experience? Just as a beginning ritual can help focus and center the class's attention, an ending ritual gives meaning and relevance which is so vital to learning. This link is a beginning ritual that includes an ending connection from art history.
This is also a good time to ask questions about ways they will now notice things differently as they leave the art room because of the lesson they have worked on today. Will it change the way they see colors? What will be the new things they notice in their everyday experiences?
Helps in finding artists on the web and using their images
How to spell and pronounce artists names To get back here, use your Back button (top left on your browser). This is an offsite link to ArtLex, Copyright © 1996-2002 Michael Delahunt. Once we have the right spelling of an artist's name, we can find examples by using a search engine like google.com.
Using copyrighted artwork images - when you get to this link, scroll down in the left frame and click on copyright. To get back here, use your Back button (top left on your browser). This site gives explanation of what is legally permitted in the classroom. This is an offsite link to ArtLex, Copyright © 1996-2002 Michael Delahunt. Top of Page
11. DISMISSAL WITH PURPOSE
We have a chance to improve student minds and thinking habits by doing at least one of these things at dismissal time.
- Review today's main points and vocabulary.
- Talk about lessons being planned for the future.
- Invite ideas for future art lessons.
- Ask open art questions to think about.
- Tell or show an art joke.
- Offer to show them a gymnastics trick if they are quieter next time.
- Students are assigned things to look at and look for in their lives.
- Students are sent away with their subconscious minds actively creating imaginary solutions to art problems anticipated in the future.
- Students are sent away formulating new art problems to work on.
- Art teachers expect students to come to the next session with new journal entrees and new sketches of what they have seen and imagined.
Artists never get away from thehomework of the eye and the mind.We dream art both at night and in our daydreams. We sketch and journal these rich ideas so that when we finally get to enter the studio, the ideas force themselves onto the canvas or into the clay. Art teachers understand this and find ways to inculcate their students with artistic ways of seeing and thinking about all of life.Materials Needed:
The best way to build confidence is to do the activities and projects yourself before teaching the lesson. It is easy to find out what materials are needed when you do it yourself. I have often made important discoveries while doing this. Make a list of the materials as you use them.
While working, make notes about essential questions to ask to get students thinking and keep them focused while they are working. Doing it is a great way to be sure everything in planned. Refrain from showing this work until students have had a chance to do their own thinking.
What do we learn from planning and teaching this lesson?
Teaching is practice. Every experience is a chance get better. Make notes of successes and shortcomings. As in any skill, we seek to make the best of our strengths and try to remedy our weaknesses. If I ask a teaching job candidate about her/his mistakes, I would hope for a response that lists many mistakes, but also many things improved because of being able to recognize teaching mistakes. If a teachers says, "I've had a few bad results, but it was not my fault. The students were just having a bad day." I would hesitate to hire that teacher.Next Steps: Top of Page
Art Education Links
Pink, D. H. (2009) Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Penguin Group, New York.
Posner, M. I. & Patoine B. (2010) "How Arts Training Improves Attention and Cognition" The Dana Foundation website.
Author NOTES: Much of what is offered on my web site is motivated by the desire to help students learn to think for themselves. Few educational goals are more important than this. Many authors have influenced my ideas and helped me think about thinking, expressing emotions and ideas, and how this is learned.
Notice: © 1999, 2001, 2005 Marvin Bartel. Those who wish to copy or publish any part of this electronically or otherwise must get permission to do so. Teachers may make one copy for their own personal use. Links from other sites are okay.
Contact the Author at bartelart.com/mb.html
Check this online book of eight drawing lessons
Let’s be honest, seventh grade is a unique year in a child’s (and a teacher’s) life. It takes a special kind of patience to teach middle school, and particularly seventh grade. So, look no further than these 50 tricks, ideas, and tips for teaching seventh graders from our community of teachers on the WeAreTeachers Helpline and around the w
1. Connect the Middle School Years
Seventh graders don’t understand how each year builds on the one before, so you’ll have to make it explicit for them. Use the upcoming year’s syllabi to set goals for summer work. For example, reading four short stories that take place during the Civil War to prepare them for studying the Civil War in eigth grade or, read five science articles to prepare them to work with current events in science class. Get more ideas for teaching 7th grade from Lessons from the Middle.
2. Start the Year with Ice Breakers and Review
“Do a day of getting-to-know-you and then check for prior understanding of content. I teach social studies, so some maps and a quick review of topics they should have been exposed to.” –Beth T.
“I teach seventh grade English and actually had BINGO posted the first day but changed a few to specifics about our city/school. In addition to BINGO I made a classroom scavenger hunt students completed in groups…Making time for procedures in between is, of course, critical for the year as well.” –Erin B.
3. Don’t Assume that Yes means Yes
“Asking ‘do you understand?’ is the wrong question when you’re teaching 7th grade. They will always ‘yes’ you to death. Instead, after you have explained what to do, ask five people to tell you what they’re supposed to do. After that’s over, if someone still asks a question, get one of the students to answer the question to the whole class.” –Kym M.
4. Don’t Assume that they Remember (or Heard) the Directions
“After I give directions, I ask, ‘what are your questions?’ Then, wait time…make them uncomfortable for a minute or two, until someone asks a question…then the questions will flow and you’ll get to see what you need to clarify.” –William W.
5. Teach a Growth Mindset
Put simply—some people believe that intelligence is fixed, while others think that it’s malleable depending on effort. Identify your students who have a fixed mindset, those who see having to try as a threat to their intelligence, and build a culture that fosters a growth mindset. Check out this interactive quiz and TED Talks to learn more “fixed” and “growth” mindset.
6. Don’t Think they Don’t Care
Blogger Lessons from the Middle suggests finding a place for student mementos and thank you cards. You’ll want to review them on the days that make you feel like middle schoolers are the ficklest of creatures.
7. Get to Know Your Students’ Brains
Middle school brains are changing every day. After infancy, this is the time when kids’ brains are growing and reshaping the most. Know what’s happening in your students’ minds by reading books like Age of Opportunity by Laurence Steinberg. As Lessons from the Middle writes, “so many times I have found myself thinking, “Why did he do that? Why would she take that risk? Didn’t he consider what would happen based on that choice?” Well, now you’ll know.
8. Do Deck out your Classroom Library with Seating
“I use the camping chairs and my kids love them.” –Martha C.
“I got pillows from thrift stores, cheap pillow cases, and made my own covers. I let my students sit on the floor or lay under their desks to write and read if they feel the need.” –Linda W.
“Get camp chairs, you can get quite a collection for cheap and they take up little space when folded up.” –Deanna J.
9. Be Specific when Giving Directions, like Very Specific
“The biggest shock for me about teaching 7th grade was how detailed and specific I needed to be in giving direction. Assume they don’t know anything.” –Tiffany P.
10. Break Out all your Organization Skills
“Be ORGANIZED. Have a procedure for everything.” –Pam W.
11. Let Students Write the Book
Lessons from the Middle uses Picaboo Yearbooks to turn student writing, in this case, memoirs and student artwork, into bound books that students can take home.
12. Create a Foolproof Lesson Plan
“You need a foolproof lesson plan (one that you’ll love to teach and they’ll love to participate in) to pull out of the air during high-stress times.” –Lisa A .
Here are five we love for the days when you’re seriously exhausted.
13. Class Dojo Works for Teaching 7th Grade Too
“Get Class Dojo on your smartphone and the computer. It’s a great classroom management tool.” –Kathy K.
14. Laugh (and Laugh Some More)
“My best advice after teaching 7th grade for 13 years is to have some fun with the kids and laugh every single day!” –Tammy S.
15. Schedule Class Time for Projects
“Seventh graders need more direct instruction and in-class work time when it comes to projects.” –Tesha L.
16. Make Writing Explicit
Teach seventh grade students how to write clearly by assigning them to write a simple essay—how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Then, try to follow each set of directions. The results might not surprise you (the essays won’t be easy to follow), but your students will take the lesson to heart. Get more ideas for teaching 7th grade from Dayle Timmons.
17. Don’t Skip the Daily Read Aloud
Seventh graders do like to be read to, in fact reading to them can inspire them to explore new genres and share a common reading experience. This read aloud list from Read Aloud America suggests titles like Boy by Roald Dahl and My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George.
18. Divide Projects into Chunks
“I found it helpful to provide students with project worksheets that divided the project into stages. Each stage has its own deadline.” –Candy J.
19. Use Mini-Rubrics to Keep Students on Track
“I recommend mini-rubrics along for each section along with strong guiding questions.” –Lindi E.
20. Consider Pre-research
“With some groups, I needed to do pre-research for them to narrow down the scope of information to filter. I simply found quality resources, printed and organized them into a bundle and gave them to students.” –Linda E.
21. Share Stories
Fiction helps seventh graders develop their empathy and expands their worldview. Check out Because of Mr. Teruptby Rob Buyea, Out of My Mindby Sharon Draper, and this list by PragmaticMom.
22. Go On Stage and Go Big
“Go to the MTI (Music Theatre International) website. You can buy what’s called a Showkit that has everything you need to do a show, and a great guide for first-time directors. I am directing the first show at my school although I’ve directed community shows. Make sure you communicate well with parents, and get them involved! It’s a great thing for kids!” –Beverly B.
23. Inspire Young Readers
Seventh graders are passionate people, and they’ll get excited about a good read. For inspiration, The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller is filled with suggestions!” –Libby C.
24. Adjust the Reading Level for Current Events
“NEWSELA has current events articles that span a variety of topics. Students are able to adjust the Lexile to the appropriate (or close) level.” –Kimberly W.
25. Hold Kids Accountable for Homework
“I use to have a binder with a folder section for each student. Every time they weren’t done an assignment they had to write a sticky note with an excuse as to why it wasn’t done. That way, when parents asked what was going on I had a running record of excuses written in their child’s handwriting.” –Sammi Q.
”I have a color coded system on my class rosters. Their box gets highlighted when they miss one assignment, two is a lunch detention, three an after school ETC. They must turn in a missed assignment form of they miss something so I know who is missing what. Keeps a lot of the responsibility off of me. Then, when they complete the late or missing assignment, they staple the missing form to their now completed work.” –Marissa S.
26. Use Virtual Field Trips
Middle schoolers want to learn all they can about the world, but a field trip a week just isn’t in the cards. Check out our Pinterest board to start planning.
27. Try Flipping your Class
“Try flipped class with Movenote. You can record your whole group work where kids can watch at home or in a small group/center. The other groups can work on the assignments in class.” –Mark C.
28. Differentiate Reading Instruction and Keep Pace
“Let them choose from several books with similar themes rather than having everyone in the class read the same book at the same time. Give them assessment options (such as tic-tac-toe boards) so they can choose. Don’t spend forever on the same book (i.e. 6-week units) because most will finish the reading the first day or so and be bored when the book is still being picked apart a month later.” –Kristy W.
29. Use Pattern Folders
A folder with pockets and notecards is an innovative way to get students to track their thinking through an entire text. Students write their observations, evidence, and conclusions on notecards and use the pattern folders to organize their thoughts across an entire novel or book. Watch how one educator is teaching 7th grade using this strategy.
30. Develop Your Own Style
“The classroom management system that ends up working for you is likely very different from the management system that works for every other teacher in your building. I made the mistake my first two years of trying to emulate a teacher who screams all the time…what ended up working for me was a more positive tone and having a concrete system of behavior grades that students could see and check. Experiment and try everything until you hone in on what works for you.” -Lillie M. quoted in Education Week
31. Use Text Messages
If seventh graders know how to write anything, it’s a text. Use IFakeText to have students create conversations between historical figures or characters in literature. Get more ideas for teaching 7th grade from Surviving in Social Studies.
32. Help Students Develop Research Skills
Seventh graders are developing the research skills they’ll use in high school and beyond. Help them ask authentic questions, complete useful prewriting, narrow their purpose, and share their work with these tips from the Middle School Teacher to Literacy Coach blog.
33. Talk Positive
“Aim to make more than half of what you say positive and enjoyable to listen to. If everything you say is consistently harsh, punitive, or nasty, humans of all ages are far less likely to listen.” -Lillie M. quoted in Education Week
34. Blow Their Minds
It’s easy (too easy) to catch middle schoolers off-guard and surprise them. Blogger 7th Grade English uses curveball questions like: “When the day after tomorrow is yesterday, this day will be as far from Friday as this day was from Friday when the day before yesterday was tomorrow. What day is it?” to catch his students off guard and really make them think.
35. Make Vocabulary Instruction Interactive
Seventh graders want to get up and move around, so take the opportunity to get them focused on vocabulary. This teacher from Wilmette Junior High School get students up and moving around to practice analogies. Students put a sticker with a word that completes an analogy on their backs, then they walk around the room trying to find the words that complete each analogy.
36. Hold Students Accountable
It’s inevitable that you’ll get unacceptable work from your students. Combat that by stapling redo slips to work that is a far cry from A-material. Students have to rethink their work, fix it, and return. This and more teaching 7th grade tips on Panicked Teacher.
37. Check out YA Books
You’ll get more students engaged in reading if you can recommend books yourself. Check out this list of YA must-reads even reluctant readers will love.
38. Get Flexible with Annotation
Annotation is a difficult skill, but 7th graders need to master and internalize it. Have them use plastic covers to practice annotation in different kinds of books—the classics, textbooks, and even magazines.
39. Host a Socratic Seminar
Socratic seminar is a way for students to both engage in and reflect on deep discussion. Here’s a guide to Socratic seminars from ReadWriteThink.
40. Use the Article of the Week
The article of the week from Kelly Gallagher is a great way to bring nonfiction into your classroom. Use the articles to expose kids to new ideas, current events, and spark discussion.
41. Use Instagram
Embrace the selfie culture (kind of). These tips for teaching 7th grade using Instagram (like creating a historical figure’s account) will make them learn and smile.
42. Get Boys Reading
Check out these books for middle school boys to get ideas on what you need to read to share book recommendations with the boys in your class. To start: Ender’s Game, Shooting Kabul, andA Place Beyond the Map.
43. Expand their Reach
Seventh graders love to read through a genre. Use this list of books you’ll love if you like John Green to start building lists of books students can go to when they’ve finished a fan favorite.
44. Teach Thesis
A song’s chorus is similar to a research paper’s thesis—it’s what the singer wants the listener to take away, no matter what. Connect chorus and thesis with this series of lessons, you’ll capture your musical students.
45. Play with Power Tools
Yes, we’re serious. Don’t believe us? Read all the ways using power tools empowers students and teaches content here.
46. Be Ready to Remediate
We love this idea for immediate differentiation. Whenever a student is working on a higher level problem, but they’re missing a lower level skill, stock a wall full of review sheets to help them practice the skill they need in the moment. Get more tips for teaching 7th grade math from Crafty Math Ed.
47. Turn science into a challenge
When you’re teaching science, “stress that the goal isn’t to make the lab experiment ‘work’ but to work collaboratively and problem solve together. Teach students how to ask questions and watch them figure out how to find answers.” –Laurie P.
48. Mix up your science instruction
“Do a rotation of lectures and notes with videos, labs, other labs. Do mini labs that last 15 minutes and longer labs that last class periods or multi-day project. That way, they don’t get bored and neither do you.” –Kathie N.
49. Get Practical
Make math applicable for seventh grade students by bringing in lessons like scaling up candy wrappers and using Barbie to teach proportional reasoning.
50. Visualize Tone
Seventh graders still like to express themselves, teach them tone by having them pull out words from literature that convey tone and add an image to a poem or section of narrative text. This and more ideas for teaching 7th grade from Creativity 2.0.