making a masterpiece

lots of the work we do at the elementary level is formative; teaching kids the basics of what it means to think creatively and how to look at, think about and analyze art work. the biggest challenge for me in teaching a subjective subject is to protect the creative nature of art making while simultaneously giving kids opportunities to feel successful. img_9709this project does a fantastic job of facilitating both.

my beloved teaching partner here at shanghai american school, elyse, introduced this project to me and after teaching it once, i know it’ll be one of my favorites forever. it’s just so good!

so a basic overview of the project is this: you put out a bunch of art supplies (any that you’d like) and the kids draw words (nouns of things to draw) from a box and get two minutes to draw whatever is on the paper. after two minutes is up, they rotate around the table and the process repeats itself until the entire paper is full. once the paper is full, the kids discuss mood and art or the elements of art and then they each get a viewfinder and cut out the center. they have to use their view finder to find pieces of the composition that represent the mood or element of art they pick from the pile, tape their view finder to the composition and then explain their selection.

i was a bit hesitant about this activity at first but we had so much fun working on this and it’s really cool to see the compositions the students choose.

now the details:

img_9737set up

this is  a collaborative activity so space is important. if your table set up isn’t conducive to group work, you can always get the kids down on the floor, they’re young and limber. 😉

i started by putting out a long piece of butcher paper and all kinds of drawing materials. i chose the materials i chose because i taught this lesson to 3rd graders immediately after the christmas holiday – not the ideal time to jump into painting. but thats just me! this lesson can be done using almost any art material which makes it incredibly versatile.


after the table is set up, you’ll need two sets of words. one group of nouns. the other should be adjectives or ‘art words’. (literacy integration!) img_9739

your nouns group should be things the kids can draw. clouds, rain, hills, grass, under water animal, etc. i cut mine up and put them into a box so that we could draw them out as a surprise but the lesson can be done by selecting a specific progression of things to draw as well. (yay flexibility!)




for the adjective group, we used words that describe mood but this group of words could also be the elements of art or principles of design. you’ll need at least one word per student. in the future i could see mixing, adding, or reducing words to scaffold this lesson for different age groups.


the last thing you’ll need for set up is “viewfinders.” we just drew them on a piece of paper and made copies. the kids do all the cutting during the less. super easy.


making the masterpiece

now the fun part! have the kids spread out around the paper and let them know in advance not to get attached to what they’re making because they’ll be rotating. i also warn them against the temptation to scribble because it’s a fast paced project and we all get really excited.

i let one student pick a word out of the box and everyone draws what’s picked for two minutes.


once the two minutes are up. the kids rotate two chairs to the right and we pick a new word and repeat the entire process until the paper is full.

img_9711once the paper is full we have a quick class discussion about mood in art. we clear all the materials away from the paper and have a quick discussion about how different moods and/or elements of art are represented through visual clues. as a class we look through the composition and identify a variety of moods or elements of art represented in the drawings.

finally, each child is given a view finder, scissors, a sharpie and a random adjective from the 2nd pile of words. they cut out the center of the view finder, write their name and adjective somewhere big on the front, then tape their view finder to a piece of the composition that represents their word!





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